As the Twins gathered themselves emotionally from the shock waves the Nelson Cruz trade sent through their clubhouse, manager Rocco Baldelli said his message to his younger players was to focus on playing "good, fundamental baseball."
Enter Nick Gordon, one of those young players who made a mistake in the sixth inning Friday night when he got picked off first base. Gordon got the chance to use his wheels to amend that mistake and scored the go-ahead run on a dramatic sequence in the eighth inning to give the Twins a 5-4 comeback victory over an Angels team that sat All-Star Shohei Ohtani.
"They're not the easiest games to win, but I think everyone in our clubhouse deserves a pat on the butt right now because it was a good day," Baldelli said.
With the Twins trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth, Miguel Sano worked an eight-pitch walk to lead off against Raisel Iglesias before Gordon singled with one out.
Ryan Jeffers then singled to left and the throw from left fielder Juan Lagares was up the line, allowing Sano to score easily. Because of the wide throw, Gordon tried for third and catcher Kurt Suzuki's throw sailed back into left field, where Lagares then tried to gun Gordon out at home. Gordon slid around the tag to give the Twins the lead.
"Just being aggressive," Gordon said. "Once I seen the throw go into the field, I knew they had to make a play. I pretty much trust my legs, so I felt like they would've had to be perfect. Just kind of bang-bang. Trusted my instincts and took a shot there and it worked out."
The night looked like it was going to be a rough one for starter J.A. Happ, who allowed home runs to Suzuki and Jack Mayfield in the first two innings for a 4-0 Angels lead. The Twins chipped away, scoring one each in the third, fifth and sixth, and Happ didn't allow another run in six innings before the theatrics of the eighth.
Taylor Rogers came on for the save as the Angels opted not to use Ohtani in the ninth.
Rogers said it will take time for the Twins to replace Cruz.
"Once you try to insert yourself into a leadership situation, I don't think guys respond to that," Rogers said. "He led by example first and that's what people gravitate towards and I think over a little bit of time here the next clubhouse leader or leaders will start to show. I don't think that's something you raise your hand say I'm going to be the guy now, especially with the way Nelson was. It's impossible to replace."
Now, the season is about trying to build the winning habits that eluded the Twins for much of the season, and to do it without one of the players who could help the most in that department.
"They know this is an important time for them and us as a team and we're not going to let it just go on by," Baldelli said. "The next two months are very important to us and our young players."