It took a lot of practice to get this good at home runs, starting in spring training. Meetings, discussions, rehearsals — Tony Diaz put in a lot of time preparing for the Twins’ record-setting run.
But it’s paying off. When Nelson Cruz smashed a three-run homer in the third inning Thursday night, Diaz, the Twins’ third-base coach, was ready: As the slugger jogged by, Diaz had his right hand high in the air, fingers spread. Diaz and Cruz locked fingers and thrust their hands forcefully down, Cruz’s preferred high-five technique.
Two batters later, Miguel Sano connected on a homer high into the third deck in left field. This time, Diaz held his hand low, so Sano could slap it without breaking his trot.
That’s the personal touch that each player expects when celebrating one of the Twins’ 293 home runs. A simple handshake, and a pat on the back? Not good enough for the most prolific home-run-hitting team in major league history.
“They all have their own thing that they want to do. It took me a little time to learn last spring,” Diaz said. “But as many home runs as we hit, it’s gotten a lot easier as the season went on.”
Jorge Polanco, for instance, told Diaz he likes a high-five that ends up with each of them with their hands high in the air, “like he’s saying, ‘Thank you, God,’ ” Diaz said. Eddie Rosario likes a variation on Cruz’s congratulations, albeit a bit more emphatic and energetic.
C.J. Cron, perhaps because he’s a manager’s son, is the least demonstrative, Diaz said. “He likes a traditional handshake,” the coach said. “Very businesslike.”
Then there are the exhortations. Diaz has found that players are especially intense after connecting on a long one, and he likes to help them enjoy the moment. “With Sano, I go, ‘There we go — you’re the man!’ ” Diaz said. “Garver is good with just, ‘Here we go, Sauce!’ And [Max] Kepler, sometimes I say, ‘Nice going, German shepherd!’ ”
It’s the fun part of being a third-base coach, and Diaz learned the craft while manning first base for the Rockies. “It’s not easy hitting a home run. I never want to diminish the fact that a home run is not easy,” Diaz said. “It’s a happy moment, a happy occasion. I recognize that, and you want them to know it,” even if it’s just for a split-second as they jog past.
Which is why he practiced this spring — because you never want to … well, let him tell it.
“The one that we didn’t practice was [rookie Luis] Arraez,” Diaz said, shaking his head. “In Anaheim, he hit his first one, and when he ran by, we just completely whiffed. I went up, he went down and we missed.”
No clincher at home
When the Indians finished off Detroit again on Thursday, it guaranteed that the Twins will not clinch the AL Central at home. Even sweeping the weekend’s games with Kansas City wouldn’t reduce the Twins’ magic number to zero before they board their charter flight to Detroit on Sunday night.
That’s OK with Twins closer Taylor Rogers. “I guess you would obviously rather do it in front of your own fans, so they can enjoy it, too,” Rogers said. “But when you play an entire season, where it happens isn’t the important part. Just getting there is what matters.”
The Twins clinched their wild-card spot in Cleveland two seasons ago and won the AL Central title at Target Field — but in the clubhouse, after the White Sox were eliminated, by losing in Oakland, a couple of hours after a Twins victory. The last time the Twins won a division title in front of their fans was in 2009 by beating the Tigers in Game 163.