Pablo López was credited with the Twins' 9-7 victory over the Blue Jays on Saturday, but let's give credit where it's due. Earl Santee played a role, too.
Santee is the architect who designed Target Field and who decided, most critically to Saturday's game, that the fence in straightaway center field would stand 406 feet from the plate, and 408 feet as it curves around the visitors' bullpen. Had those fences been planted a foot deeper, the game might still be going on.
Willi Castro hit a 3-2 cutter from Chris Bassitt about 405 feet, where Blue Jays outfielder Daulton Varsho leaped to get his glove on it, but accidentally tipped it over the fence, a two-run homer. Two pitches later, Matt Wallner hit a sinker from Bassitt about 409 feet, where Varsho once again reached the ball with his glove but failed to keep it from dropping into the bullpen.
"I'm glad as hell he missed 'em," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Added Wallner, "I would have been very disappointed if he took back that one."
The as-close-as-you-can-get homers were the pivotal plays in the Twins' biggest offensive outburst in nearly two weeks. Castro homered again two innings later, this time with nearly three feet to spare over the center fielder's glove, Wallner went 4-for-4 with three RBI, Edouard Julien doubled twice and homered, and the Twins racked up 14 hits while evening the series with Toronto.
"There was a ton of good stuff out there," Baldelli said. "Our bats really came alive today."
Especially in that near-miss fifth inning, which tormented Varsho perhaps only because Kevin Kiermaier, a three-time Gold Glove winner, wrenched his lower back while making a throw home in the second inning. Varsho shifted from left field to center, and the Wisconsin native probably wishes he hadn't.
"It's an all-or-nothing play. It was in my glove, and then I hit the wall and it bounced out," Varsho said. "Both times."
Wallner, a fellow outfielder, said he empathized, to a point, with Varsho. "Wall plays are so tough. We work on that all the time in spring training," Wallner said. "I thought he got it at first, because I didn't see it go through."
That Varsho missed them both, though, turned out to be critical, because the Twins and Blue Jays both racked up extra-base hits. There were 10 of them in the game, including four homers by the Twins and three by the Jays.
López gave up four runs over 5⅔ innings, not his smoothest start but enough to end a four-game winless streak. The righthander gave up a first-inning run for the sixth time in 11 starts, this time a solo home run to Bo Bichette, plus a two-run triple to Bichette in the third and a solo shot by Cavan Biggio in the fourth.
But he kept the game close enough for the Twins offense — which had averaged less than four runs per game since May 17 — to find its footing. Castro was a big part of it, stealing a base, scoring three times and collecting the first two-homer game of his career.
"To be honest, the last two or three years [with Detroit], I haven't had much opportunity to show my abilities," Castro said. "Rocco, he gave me the opportunity to show the talent I have."
Even in such an encouraging game, however, the Twins came away with reasons to worry. The biggest one: Jorge López.
After the Twins extended their lead to 9-4, Jovani Moran and Jhoan Duran kept the Blue Jays from closing the gap. But handed the ninth, López, owner of three blown saves and two losses in May, was roughed up again, giving up three runs without retiring a batter.
Varsho took out some frustration by crushing a 3-2 fastball into the right-field seats, scoring Whit Merrifield ahead of him to close the gap to three runs. López then hit Biggio with a pitch and gave up a single to Alejandro Kirk to bring the tying run to the plate with no outs, forcing Baldelli to call upon Brock Stewart to record the final three outs.
He did, though a Bichette single drove home Biggio and made the crowd of 29,111 nervous — well, except for the hundreds of Blue Jays fans in the stands. But Stewart snuck a 100-mile-per-hour fastball past Brandon Belt for a called third strike to end the game and earn his second career save, joining one from June 20, 2017, while with the Dodgers.
"Obviously, the end result was not what he's looking for. But he made some good pitches. They're basically exactly what we want to see," Baldelli said. "The point is just being able to look past that, being able to regroup."