The White Sox led for 16 innings Tuesday, and the Twins for two. So let’s call it a draw.
Eduardo Escobar has never hit a walkoff home run, but his eighth-inning, three-run blast was close enough to earn the Twins a 4-2 victory in the makeup of a snowed-out game from April. In the second game, the White Sox welcomed Zack Littell to the major leagues with a four-run first inning, and Chicago claimed a lopsided split of the doubleheader with a 6-3 victory at Target Field.
First-inning home runs in both games meant the Twins were pedaling uphill all day, but Escobar, who collected five hits in the doubleheader (four for extra bases) and drove in five runs, salvaged the opener with a dramatic and unlikely home run. With two strikes and two runners on base, Escobar choked up on the bat and smacked a two-strike, 97-miles-per-hour fastball from White Sox reliever Nate Jones onto the grass beyond the center-field wall, completing an out-of-nowhere, two-out, four-run comeback.
“He threw a strike and I tried to hit it up the middle, but I made good contact,” Escobar said after hitting his fourth home run in five games. “I was surprised it went out to center field.”
So was his manager.
“I’m going to ask him about maybe using that philosophy all the time. Not really expecting a home run,” Paul Molitor said, especially with the infielder obviously just trying to put the ball in play. “I kind of feel like we stole one a little bit, given the fact that we didn’t have much going the entire game.”
It was the same in the second game, too, because Zack Littell’s major league debut for the Twins included six hits, four walks, and only nine outs. The rookie righthander, obtained from the Yankees for Jaime Garcia at last year’s trade deadline, struck out the first batter he faced, and he did it on a 95-mph fastball — an indication of how amped up he was for his debut, given that he normally tops out at 93.
“What got my attention was velocity … whether it’s adrenaline or trying to do too much too soon,” Molitor said. “Some of the things we had heard about he’s doing didn’t really surface [Tuesday]. It’s just part of the experience of being up here. He’ll learn, he’ll be better.”
Things went poorly for him after that strikeout. Three doubles, a single and a long home run by Jose Abreu added up to four first-inning runs. He lasted two more innings, but when he walked the first two hitters in the fourth inning — they came around to score when Matt Magill gave up a double to Yolmer Sanchez — he was finished.
Still, Littell said, “It was awesome. The results weren’t great. I didn’t pitch the way I wanted to. But the experience of it all was incredible. I had a blast.”
The Twins’ other rookie starter, Fernando Romero, looked like he would be tagged with a loss, too, because Chicago starter Reynaldo Lopez shut out the Twins on one hit over seven innings in the opener.
But the Twins’ offense suddenly came alive against Jones with two outs in the eighth. Brian Dozier hit a hot smash that third baseman Sanchez bobbled, allowing him to reach on an infield single. Eddie Rosario then drew a walk, taking a 100-mph fastball in the dirt for ball four, and Miguel Sano lined a single into the left-field corner, scoring Dozier.
“It just felt like the way we were going, the way we were swinging, it was going to be tough to muster a rally,” Molitor said. “But that little in-between hop that got Dozier on base, that turns out to open the door,” Molitor said.
Escobar fell behind 1-2, but when Jones left a fastball belt-high in the middle of the plate, the Twins’ cleanup hitter pounced. The ball cleared the wall, the crowd roared, and Escobar punched the air in triumph as he rounded first base, two runs scoring in front of him. There was no Gatorade bath at home plate — Fernando Rodney still had three outs to record, after all, which he did with ease — but Escobar was rewarded when the crowd demanded a curtain call from the dugout.
“I was so happy,” Escobar said. “I love the moment for me, but the most important thing is winning the game.”