FORT MYERS, Fla. — If there’s such a thing as Paul Molitor baseball, the Twins played it tonight. And it earned the Hall of Famer his first victory as a manager.
Set aside the extra-base hits by guys like Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks, Danny Santana and Eduardo Escobar, big hits that produced the Twins’ 9-8 victory. Molitor was encouraged by all the examples of aggressive play, the concepts he’s been preaching since camp opened.
The Twins moved up 90 feet more than once on fly balls, calculated risks that paid off. Aaron Thompson, having heard the manager emphasize holding runners on, ended the game by picking Red Sox pinch runner Matty Johnson off first. And Molitor singled out a heads-up play that, in a 9-8 game, barely registered at the time.
“Kind of ironic that at the end of the day, advancing on a ball in the dirt was the difference in the game,” Molitor said of Dan Rohlfing’s sixth-inning advance on a passed ball by Boston catcher Blake Swihart. “Rohlfing, after a walk, advanced to second and turned out to be the go-ahead run.” That’s after a ground out that Rohlfing used to move to third, and a throwing error by pitcher Brian Johnson that allowed him to break an 8-8 tie.
Smallball. Smart, aggressive play. It was evident how much Molitor enjoyed it.
“There’s a lot of energy out there,” he said with a smile.
Same thing with a sequence in the fifth inning, when Suzuki singled Trevor Plouffe to second. Plouffe moved to third on Escobar’s fly out, then scored when Aaron Hicks did the same, lifting a sacrifice fly to right. But Suzuki took a calculated risk on the play and tagged up himself, reaching second base easily when right fielder Bryce Brentz threw to the plate.
“Suzuki did the right thing,” Molitor said. “You don’t tag up on that ball unless you have a runner on third, less than two outs. You hope you get a bad throw and you take the 90 feet where you can. Those are the kind of things we’re trying to take advantage of — not only do we score the run by being aggressive at third, we were a hit away from putting another one on the board.”