CLEVELAND – As Sonny Gray took the mound at Progressive Field on Monday, he felt it all.
Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson made a sudden and unexpected decision 24 hours earlier that this Cleveland series would be his last with the team, instead taking the same job with Louisiana State. Gray had only been working with Johnson for a few months since he came to the Twins in a spring training trade. But the looming departure hit him hard.
"I was mad at him a lot today. I was happy for him a lot today," Gray said after Monday's game. "I used every emotion and everything [I] was going through and kind of used it to pour it into the game."
Gray threw seven scoreless innings in the commanding 11-1 victory at Progressive Field that put the Twins (42-33) three games ahead of the Guardians (36-33). He threw 97 pitches in his three-hit outing, walking only one and striking out three to drop his ERA to 2.17.
Jharel Cotton, who pitched the final two innings, gave up Cleveland's only run on a wild pitch with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. But the Twins piled up runs early and often, from a Gary Sanchez three-run homer in the second inning to two-run homers from Nick Gordon and Carlos Correa in the sixth and seventh, respectively. Sanchez, Gio Urshela and Alex Kirilloff combined for nine hits, six runs and seven RBI.
But it was Gray who set the agenda. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli could sense something extraordinary was coming from the ace.
"He certainly had a different kind of aura about him, the way he was walking about [Monday], and you don't know what that's going to mean once the game starts," Baldelli said. "But apparently, it didn't stand in the way of him going out there and doing his job very, very well. And he didn't waver at any point. He stayed as locked in as could possibly be."
Baldelli said he thinks this outing "meant a lot" to Gray. To the team as a whole, too. Having an integral member of the coaching staff take a new job in the middle of a winning season could easily derail a team's trajectory. But such a convincing win so soon after the drama vaporized that notion.
Speaking after the game, Gray was visibly emotional talking about Johnson. Twins pitchers have praised Johnson ever since he joined the organization after the 2018 season for how he really tries to understand them and remind them of how good they are.
Gray said he's become "really close" with Johnson this season.
"If you know me at all, letting people in and getting into relationships in that respect, I put my guard up a lot," Gray said. "Wes is someone who was in."
“I was mad at him a lot today. I was happy for him a lot today. I used every emotion and everything [I] was going through, and kind of used it to pour it into the game.”
Johnson's decision to leave came down to family, which he will spend more time with in a less demanding college season. Gray is a father as well and respects his coach wanting to be there for his own kids.
When Gray came out of the game, he and Johnson shared a long hug in the dugout. They didn't say anything to each other. But they both knew what they were communicating.
"It's not all the time easy to go to a new place and feel welcome with open arms. But he had his arms open from the get-go. And never one time did I not feel that I wasn't a part of this," Gray said.
"I'm going to miss him. I'm going to miss him a lot."