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If there's one considerable difference between the 2021 Twins and this year's incarnation, it has to be the level of fun the team is having.

At any given moment in the clubhouse or within a game, the Twins are seen smiling and laughing with one another. That's sometimes induced from any number of bizarre-but-hilarious traditions the players have begun to adopt through their division-leading season so far.

Some examples: The Twins have adopted a figurine screaming goat as a rally charm. The starters have agreed to pay one another $500 each for every pop-out caught. The players have run a Twitter poll to establish who has the best drip — i.e. fashion sense — on the roster. And after Monday's walk-off victory, the group celebrated musically with vuvuzelas and a gong.

"I heard the gong," manager Rocco Baldelli said ahead of Tuesday's game against Detroit. "The creativity level is high. I think when you look around, you see a lot of guys that can bring different things to the table in that regard."

It's not that the Twins haven't had fun in the past. When Nelson Cruz was on the team, he was conspicuous for using levity to raise team morale as one of its veteran leaders. He'd wear a bathrobe in the dugout and even wore one of the orange Gatorade coolers on his head as a rally hat once when the Twins were trailing the White Sox.

The past couple seasons, though, have been tough, dealing with the pandemic and unrealized playoff goals. So when the front office decided to make some big offseason moves — shipping off key players in Josh Donaldson and Mitch Garver and bringing in a ton of new faces such as Carlos Correa and Sonny Gray — they didn't just overhaul the product on the field. They revived the vibes in the clubhouse.

Many players have remarked this season how close this version of the Twins roster is. Guys genuinely like one another and are interested in knowing their teammates beyond what they can do as a baseball player. Max Kepler said after Monday's game how last year made baseball seem more like an individual sport instead of a team one.

There's no real way to measure if the enhanced atmosphere has led to winning or if the winning helped the team to bond. But Baldelli has a sense that some of the new players, who also happen to be strong leaders, have fostered an encouraging environment and also brought a new, sunnier perspective to the team. And it took hold quickly, considering the shortened spring training and how guys were trickling in late because of trades and free agency.

Regardless of how or why it happened, Baldelli just wants the good times to keep rolling.

"We play six or seven days a week, and we're here for eight months, and you have to have fun, and you have to enjoy yourself if you're going to show up to the ballpark," Baldelli said. "I encourage that kind of stuff and like get involved in that stuff as much as I can.

"That's a big part of our game, and I hope it continues to be forever because I think that's one thing that makes baseball special. It's the close-knit part of what we do."

Pagan steps up

With the Twins beating the Tigers 5-4 in walk-off fashion Monday, Emilio Pagan's contribution was a bit overshadowed. The reliever pitched more than one inning for the first time, finishing out the scoreless eighth and ninth innings with only one hit allowed.

Going a bit under the radar is sort of the M.O. for relievers, who oftentimes only draw attention when they blow a game. But Pagan has been quietly contributing and improving through his 14 games and 14⅔ innings.

Pagan — who came to the Twins with now-injured starter Chris Paddack in return for closer Taylor Rogers and Brent Rooker — has a 1.84 ERA. And while he surrendered 10 walks through his first nine games, he hasn't let a runner stroll to a base in his past five games.

"That outing, him going two innings for us — not something he normally does — was huge," Baldelli said of Pagan's Monday showing. "I mean, we were very beat up in the bullpen. We used a bunch of guys, we had some guys unavailable, and we needed guys to step up and maybe do things they're not used to doing. It was a huge outing. He threw the ball great."