The usual sellout Fenway crowd hadn’t finished settling in Monday night when Brian Dozier looked at six pitches from Rubby De La Rosa, jogged to first base with a walk, then took his usual 2½-step lead. On the second pitch to Joe Mauer, Dozier timed De La Rosa’s delivery just right, got a huge jump, and when catcher A.J. Pierzynski bobbled the transfer from his glove, stole second base without a throw.
The inning soon ended on Josh Willingham’s double-play grounder, rendering Dozier’s contribution mostly meaningless on a forgettable night for the Twins. Why would it be notable? After all, Dozier does this pretty frequently.
But that’s exactly why Dozier’s 15th stolen base of the season was noteworthy. See, the third-year player from Mississippi isn’t close to being the Twins’ fastest player, but he is their runaway leader in steals, with nobody else having more than six. And Dozier, far from being the Twins’ most powerful hitter, is also their home run leader for the second year in a row, again with little competition. (His 15 homers are nine more than anyone else on the current roster.)
And the combination of the two talents — not to mention the speed with which he has reached these benchmarks — makes Dozier’s 2014 season unprecedented for his franchise, and potentially historic.
“We just wind him up and let him go,” manager Ron Gardenhire said of Dozier, who with Monday’s theft of second became the first Twins player since Torii Hunter in 2007 to register 15 homers and 15 steals in the same season. “He’s finding a lot of different ways to help us.”
Yes, the combination of homer-steal numbers is mostly a media creation; nobody complained that Mark McGwire only stole one base as he hit 70 homers in 1998. Dozier himself was entirely unimpressed with his arrival at the arbitrary 15-15 mark. “I don’t come to the ballpark for individual accolades,” he said. “I could hit 40 homers, I could hit five — as long as we’re winning, either one is fine with me.”
It does reflect, however, Dozier’s rapid all-around improvement, and puts him in some heady company. For one thing, only 12 Twins have ever reached 15-15 status, and just five have cleared 20-20, the last Hunter in 2004. Corey Koskie, with 26 homers and 27 steals in 2001, is the lone Twins player to post a 25-25 season. While there have been 60 seasons of 30-30 in major league history, none of them belong to a Twin.
Could Dozier be the first? By reaching this modest milestone just 68 games into the Twins season, easily the first big-leaguer to reach 15-15 this year, he is obviously on pace to do so, and history suggests he has a good chance to get there, or even threaten to become baseball’s fifth-ever 40-40 man. (Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano are the four who have done it.)
Only 18 players in the past 50 years have reached that landmark as quickly as Dozier, none since Matt Kemp in 2011, and that esteemed group went on to finish, on average, with 35 homers and 36 stolen bases.
There’s a long way to go, and a 30-30 season would shatter Dozier’s career-high marks of 18 homers and 14 steals, both set last year. Dozier has never reached 25 in either category at any level of pro ball, so it’s all new territory to him. He’s not particularly streaky — Dozier has never hit more than one homer in a game, and only six times in his career has he stolen two bases — but he’s not especially slump-prone either.
Mostly, he’s just thrilled to be making such progress, particularly on the bases. It was a point of emphasis this year, he said, for him and coach Paul Molitor. “I’m not a burner by any means. But working with Molly, he’s been good for me because he wasn’t a speedster either, but he was a very strong base stealer,” Dozier said. “He kind of started working with me, dissecting pitchers, knowing what’s coming, knowing the time of every pitch. That’s helped me.”
Said Gardenhire: “It’s a natural progression for a baserunner. You get more comfortable, you quit worrying about screwing up, and you worry about trying to win.”
On the bright side, it had been a while
When Boston’s Mike Napoli clobbered Casey Fien’s pitch over the center field wall Wednesday at Fenway Park, he did something that had not happened in almost three years: hit a walk-off home run against the Twins. It has happened 105 times in Twins history, but Napoli was the first to do it since Sept. 23, 2011, when Cleveland’s Carlos Santana did it off Matt Capps.
One batter has hit three walk-off homers against the Twins — Johnny Damon, once apiece with the Royals, Yankees and Rays.
Here are the Twins pitchers who have surrendered the most walk-off home runs in franchise history:
8 Ron Davis
7 Eddie Guardado