Three times Sunday, hordes of fired-up ballplayers rushed to join huge scrums on the Target Field turf, pushing and shoving and letting their emotions run rampant. Twice it was because of on-field confrontations, Twins and Rays loudly disputing each other’s disrespect and ill intent.
The last time was all Twins, piling on Brian Dozier in jubilation over his walkoff grand slam in the 10th inning — and the team’s 11-7 victory over Tampa Bay. The Twins ended the season’s first half as one of baseball’s hottest teams, winning nine of 11 on a prove-it’s-not-over homestand.
“There’s a lot of hope here, out of the fact that we responded” this way, manager Paul Molitor said as the Twins departed for the four-day All-Star break. “It’s only an 11-game stretch, but it was a good stretch, and it beats the alternative.”
With the Rays utilizing five infielders in hopes of cutting off a run, Dozier slugged a 1-1 changeup from Matt Andriese over their heads and into the left-field seats, scoring three runs in front of him. It was the fifth walkoff grand slam in Twins history, and the first since Joe Crede managed the feat in 2009.
It was a fitting ending to a unique game: The Twins rallied to assume leads in the seventh, eighth and 10th innings. The game included 15 pitchers throwing 366 pitches, an unusually early appearance by closer Fernando Rodney, four blown saves, a runner thrown out at the plate, and the most loudly celebrated balk in stadium history.
But most memorably, it included two seventh-inning confrontations that were briefly as heated as the 90-degree weather, the second of which got Eduardo Escobar ejected without throwing a punch.
“I was not upset with their team, the dugout, the manager, the umpires or the pitcher,” Escobar protested after his first career ejection. “I’m surprised and frustrated. I didn’t do anything to get thrown out of the game.”
The Twins trailed 4-1 as the seventh inning opened, but they put together three consecutive singles to tie the score, the last a bouncer over third base by Dozier that drove in one run on its own, then a second when Tampa Bay first baseman C.J. Cron threw wildly trying to prevent Eddie Rosario from taking an extra base.
Then, with Dozier on third and the Rays infielders shifted far toward right field, reliever Diego Castillo flinched when Dozier faked a steal of home plate. When umpire Quinn Wolcott ruled it a balk, Dozier yelled and lifted his hands in triumph as he bounced home with the go-ahead run.
The two bench-clearing incidents soon followed, but they served as mere appetizers for the rallies still to come. The Rays responded by retaking the lead in the eighth, with Jesus Sucre driving in two runs with a two-out double.
The Twins took advantage of Rays wildness in their half, claiming the lead again when Joe Mauer drew a bases-loaded, four-pitch walk, and Rosario followed with a clutch go-ahead single. Jake Cave, though called out at the plate, appeared to score a second run, but a replay review failed to overturn the call.
With Rodney having been used in the fifth inning so he could catch a flight to Miami, Molitor relied on Trevor Hildenberger to finish out the game. But the sidearmer surrendered two hits, including Joey Wendle’s two-out RBI single that sent the game to extra innings.
All of which set up, when the Twins came up once more, Dozier’s big blast. Cave smacked a leadoff double off Andriese, the Rays’ ninth pitcher of the day. After a sacrifice bunt, the Rays intentionally walked Mauer and Rosario to load the bases.
And Dozier knew what to do next.
“Andriese throws about 65 percent changeups, so I knew he was coming with it. Every pitch, I sat on it,” Dozier said, and he finally got one he could crush. “To be honest, I didn’t think it was going to be a homer. But it was out there far enough for one to score. That’s all that matters.”