KANSAS CITY, MO. – What are the odds that the Twins, shut out for seven innings and trailing by six runs, could mount a rally — a couple of them, actually — and put out their fourth consecutive victory?
About the same as Kyle Garlick's chances of hitting a home run off a righthander.
OK, that's not fair. But even Garlick admitted after the Twins' implausible eighth- and ninth-inning comeback victory, 7-6 over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday, that he's not really used to facing righthanders in big moments. Or any moments.
"I'm not going to lie, facing a righty does feel a little different because I've been facing so many lefties," said the reserve outfielder, whose eighth-inning, two-run homer transformed a long-shot comeback into an undeniable force, capping a 5-1 road trip. "But after [my] first couple of at-bats, I kind of calmed down a little bit."
Armed with that calm, Garlick turned on a 2-1 fastball from Scott Barlow and launched it 398 feet into the Twins bullpen — only the second of his 12 career home runs to come against a righthander. It also capped a five-run inning and pulled the Twins within one run, setting up their ninth-inning rally: a Jorge Polanco walk, a Max Kepler double, a Gary Sanchez sacrifice fly and Gio Urshela's two-out, line-drive single into center field to give the Twins their first lead of the day.
"It's an enormous hit," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of Urshela's winner, particularly remarkable because Urshela was a defensive replacement facing a 100-mile-per-hour sinkerball pitcher, Josh Staumont, in his first at-bat of the game. "We had a lot of [good at-bats], but someone has to get up there in that moment and actually get it done, and it's not that easy to do."
Nothing was easy for the Twins on Sunday, yet they pulled off their fourth sweep of the season — they had only three three-game sweeps in 2021 — and their first at Kansas City since 2011.
"That's one that's not going to escape my mind for a long time," Baldelli said.
The Twins passed the one-quarter point of the season in first place and on a four-game winning streak built on the strength of 36 runs during that span. Though the pitching of Bailey Ober had something to do with it, too. The righthander, restored to the rotation after missing three weeks with a groin strain, had few problems with the Kansas City lineup, holding them hitless in four of his five innings, striking out four.
Only in the third inning — when the Royals strung together a bloop single to short left, a perfectly placed ground ball single to right and Andrew Benintendi's liner to left — did Ober allow a run.
"Felt really good to be back out there competing with the guys," Ober said. "Felt healthy the whole game. Arm feels good."
But when rookie Yennier Cano took over, things looked grim. Six of the seven hitters he faced reached base, and five of them scored. That 6-0 lead seemed all but insurmountable, considering the Twins couldn't score a run off Brady Singer, who had lost five consecutive games to them.
When Singer left, however, the Royals bullpen let him down, too. Taylor Clarke faced four hitters, and each singled. Barlow took over and surrendered Sanchez's first of two sacrifice flies in the game. Then he faced Garlick, who specializes in devouring lefthanders but had had only nine at-bats against righties this year.
"I think I was just in there today to give Carlos [Correa] and [Byron] Buxton a day off," Garlick said.
That doesn't mean he wasn't confident, though.
"I've always had confidence in myself that I can hit righthanders, but hitting lefthanders is what got me to the big leagues," Garlick said. "Having found me a little niche position hitting them, it's nice to get a start against [a] righty and have some production."