The Twins got back into the American League pennant race Sunday, complete with back-and-forth thrills and heroic curtain calls. They can thank Josmil Pinto for all that.
The rookie catcher blasted a three-run home run off veteran righthander Joel Peralta in the bottom of the eighth Sunday, the decisive blow in Minnesota’s come-from-behind 6-4 victory over the Rays. And while it merely kept the long-since-eliminated Twins 21½ games out of first place, it eased Gardenhire’s concern that his team is a willing pushover, that only one team on the field approaches these critical September games with any must-win intensity.
“After that long [rain delay] last night, we talked about, ‘Are we really getting after it?’ ” Gardenhire said of his team, which had been outscored 36-5 in its past five games. “And today, I thought we really got after it.”
About time. The Twins endured 25 consecutive innings without scoring a run, advancing only one batter even to third base in that span. They started Sunday 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, and appeared incapable of pushing a run across against Cy Young lefthander David Price and a deep Rays bullpen.
But it wasn’t the scoring drought that bothered Gardenhire, not really, and it wasn’t even all the losses: four consecutive on this homestand, and 11 in a row to the Rays, who are fighting to hold on to a wild-card spot. It was that even players without guaranteed jobs in 2014 seemed reluctant to muster the energy to fight for one. They didn’t look nearly as “hungry,” Gardenhire kept saying before the game, as the Rays — though he singled out Pinto as an exception to that indictment.
“You would think it would be a no-brainer,” Gardenhire said. “To get an opportunity to go out and play in the big leagues, you would take full advantage of it. And the ones who are trying to take full advantage, we definitely see. The ones that are going about it, looking forward to the end of the season, we see [that], too. We don’t like those sights.”
That’s why Sunday’s turnaround was the most beautiful sight for the Twins in a while, especially since it appeared to be a rerun, the Twins’ third consecutive shutout. But trailing 3-0 in the seventh, they loaded the bases to knock Price out of the game, then finally got that long-sought clutch hit. Chris Parmelee, batting against hard-throwing lefthanded reliever Jake McGee, lined a fastball over the shortstop’s head, driving home the Twins’ first two runs since Thursday.
“The other night I pinch-hit for him with [Chris] Colabello against the same lefty coming in, and that didn’t work out too well,” Gardenhire said of a Friday strikeout. “So I let [Parmelee] hit this time. And he stayed in there and got a good piece of the ball and a couple of big RBI. We hadn’t scored a run in quite a while, so that was kind of nice to see.”
It got even better, though the Rays tacked on what appeared to be an insurance run in the eighth. But after Peralta quickly retired the first two hitters in the Twins’ half, Ryan Doumit matched that run with a home run into the first row in right. Then a single by Trevor Plouffe and a walk by Josh Willingham brought Pinto to the plate.
“He saw the guys ahead of him have good at-bats, so when it got to him, he just tried to get the guy in from second,” said Colabello, acting as Pinto’s interpreter. Instead, Pinto walloped a high changeup into the Rays’ bullpen, the second home run of his career. “When he saw it go out, was really happy for the team.”
And they were happy for him — and themselves.
“For him to hang in there and click on that ball was pretty special,” Gardenhire said. “We needed that. That’s a boost.”