Like lighting a bonfire with a match, a straw and a hairpin, the Twins used all sorts of humble ingredients to ignite their offense Monday. So maybe it was fitting that when they rallied from a four-run deficit and won a game that maybe they shouldn’t have, a 5-4 victory over the Pirates, they celebrated in a manner so humble, the hero called it “boring.”
Nelson Cruz smacked a 400-foot single to the center field warning track, scoring Jorge Polanco from third base with the winning run and setting off a joyous but ridiculous hullabaloo of pantomime high-fives and make-believe hugs and socially distant Gatorade throwing.
“Boring. It’s no fun,” Cruz said after the pandemic-adjusted festivities. “Hopefully next year, we celebrate the good way.”
They are certainly winning in unusual ways. This was their fourth consecutive victory, and even though they fell behind from the game’s first pitch, the Twins somehow improved to 8-2 one-sixth of the way into this bizarre season. And check out the factors that had to go right:
A wayward throw from the outfield. A fastball that landed 2 feet in front of the plate. The new three-batter rule for relievers, and some savvy plate discipline by a hitter in an 0-for-8 slump. And ultimately, Pirates manager Derek Shelton’s decision not to intentionally walk Cruz, a fearsome hitter Shelton watched lead the Twins to 101 victories last year.
Oh, that Swiss-army-knife approach served the Twins well on the run-prevention side, too: Did anyone forecast a Lewis Thorpe/Jorge Alcala/Matt Wisler combo holding the Pirates in check until closer Taylor Rogers finished it up?
“We’re not going to shy away from any of our guys, and our guys have not shied away once we’ve put them in the game,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “They take the ball and they’ve made great pitch after great pitch.”
Well, not Thorpe’s first one — a down-the-middle fastball Cole Tucker smashed into the bleachers. After four innings, the Twins trailed 4-0.
Then things got wild. Or at least, Pittsburgh did. Mitch Garver drew a one-out walk in the sixth off Derek Holland, moved up to second on a groundout and scored when Cruz drilled a single to right, his 13th RBI of the season, and when Heredia’s throw arched into the air as if filled with helium, Cruz moved up to second base.
Suddenly, the Twins’ dugout was alive. Miguel Sano took a 3-2 curve for his first walk of the season. Max Kepler doubled to right-center, scoring Cruz and Sano. Shelton removed Holland for lefthander Miguel Del Pozo, who immediately walked Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Cave to load the bases.
Stuck under baseball’s new three-batter rule with the too-wild lefthander for another batter, a righthander — Byron Buxton, batting .071 — Shelton watched as Buxton took three straight balls, the third of which bounced in the dirt and past catcher Jacob Stallings, scoring Kepler with the tying run.
That set up the ninth-inning heroics off former Twins prospect Nick Burdi. Polanco led off as a pinch hitter, and fouled off three close pitches before lining another one to left. He moved to second on a passed ball, and Garver walked. Luis Arraez advanced both runners on a fly ball, bringing up Cruz with first base open. Shelton had Burdi pitch to him. Big mistake.
“I thought maybe they were going to pitch around me, but I was pretty confident with my approach,” Cruz said. “And it paid off.”
It did on a 1-1 fastball that Cruz crushed over Tucker’s head. Polanco scored, the fake cheers roared, and the no-touch party began.
“Rocco yelled at us, ‘Hey, no contact. No contact,’ ” Kepler said. “So a couple of us got the liquids to throw, but it’s definitely awkward. It’s probably my first and I wish it was my last, but it’s a game of adjustments.”