CLEVELAND - Robbie Grossman heard him. How could he not?
During a quiet moment just before Grossman stepped in for his sixth-inning at-bat, a loud Indians fan bellowed, “Robbie Grossman, you’re not a good baseball player!” Thusly motivated, Grossman promptly doubled.
“It made me smile, but that’s about it,” Grossman said. “I was just glad I got on base there.”
But the Twins outfielder was able to have a hearty laugh at his heckler’s expense — and the Indians’ — an inning later. Batting with the bases loaded and two outs, Grossman belted a two-strike fastball from Cody Allen into right field, driving home the tying and go-ahead runs, and the Twins’ bullpen made it stand up for a 4-3 victory in Progressive Field.
The win broke Minnesota’s four-game losing streak and tied the season series with Cleveland at nine victories apiece, with the rubber match coming in Thursday afternoon’s finale.
“He who laughs last …” Twins manager Paul Molitor said with a smile.
That the Twins were in such good moods was mildly remarkable, given how the night started for Kohl Stewart. The rookie needed 36 pitches to escape a rough, two-run first inning, finally getting Yan Gomes, the Indians’ eighth hitter, to smash a one-hopper at Miguel Sano with the bases loaded. Stewart’s night would have ended right there, Molitor said, had Gomes collected Cleveland’s fourth hit or third walk of the inning.
Instead, the rookie righthander returned and recorded 11 more outs, eight of them consecutively, before finally being removed after allowing Jose Ramirez’s two-out single and Edwin Encarnacion’s RBI double in the fifth.
“I just didn’t come out and attack,” said Stewart, who has allowed exactly three runs in all four of his major league starts. “As the game went on, though, I felt a lot better. I felt like I was attacking hitters and getting ahead and better things were happening. But yeah, that first inning wasn’t good.”
Didn’t matter once the offense got cranked up. Willians Astudillo smacked his first career home run in the third inning, crushing a belt-high fastball more than 400 feet over the high wall in left-center field. Two innings later, Joe Mauer briefly tied the score, coming in from second base on Eddie Rosario’s double to deep center field.
The run was the 1,000th of Mauer’s career, making him the third Twin ever to reach that milestone; only Kirby Puckett (1,071) and Harmon Killebrew (1,047) ever had more for Minnesota.
“I always say there’s an art to scoring runs. You don’t just rely on people behind you, you do your part,” said Molitor, who scored 1,782 times in his Hall of Fame career. “One thousand runs says a lot about that. He’s climbing up a lot of ladders in Twins history.”
But it was Grossman, playing in order to give Max Kepler a day off, who had the biggest hit. Indians manager Terry Francona chose to use Allen, his struggling closer, in the seventh inning in hopes of breaking a streak of poor pitching; Allen had allowed runs in three of his previous four appearances. But the move backfired when, after retiring Astudillo and Mauer to open the inning, Allen lost control of the strike zone. He walked Logan Forsythe on five pitches, gave up a single to Rosario and walked Sano on four pitches, bring up Grossman with the bases loaded.
The outfielder got behind 1-2, then turned on a high, inside fastball and drove it between first and second base, scoring two runs despite Sano being thrown out trying to advance to third base.
It also humbled a heckler. “I heard him. We’re in Cleveland,” Grossman said with a shrug. “They pay good money to come to the games, they can do whatever they want.”