SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – A cowboy boot-wearing Brian Dozier leaned back in a chair in the home clubhouse of Hiram Bithorn Stadium early Thursday morning, one leg kicked up on a ledge of his stall.
It was shortly before 1 a.m., and the Twins were about to head to the airport to fly to Tampa. Heads weren’t expected to hit pillows until 6 a.m. at the earliest. The mere thought of that can make one weary, but Dozier wore his trademark grin.
“This feels a lot better coming out ahead,” Dozier said. “Coming out on top.”
Dozier was reacting to a question about those nights when it takes darn near the entire roster to win a ballgame. Because on Wednesday, the Twins needed 10 hitters and eight pitchers to outlast Cleveland and win 2-1 in 16 innings, their longest game, inning-wise, since 2016.
It was a good sign for a team that worked to improve the roster during the offseason — and thus improve its chances at another postseason appearance.
“In order for our players to embody the ‘next man up’ mentality our club has, we have to be doing our job to deepen options on the roster to call up,” Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said.
It fueled a victory over the Indians, the two-time defending AL Central champion. And it came in a game started by righthander Carlos Carrasco, who now has a 0.67 ERA in his past four starts against the Twins.
After splitting the two-game Puerto Rico Series, the Twins enjoyed an off day Thursday before opening a three-game series at Tampa Bay on Friday. They will do so following an energizing victory — as energizing as a 16-inning game can be.
“This is just my fourth start of the season,” said Twins righthander Jose Berrios, who pitched seven shutout innings Wednesday. “I’m not satisfied. But it was a big win for us as a team. Obviously we have more work to do. This is just one game.”
But it was one game that reflected positively on a team that was able to hold down a solid Cleveland lineup, shake off their own bungled scoring opportunities and scratch out a victory.
Berrios, a year older but seemingly three years wiser, pitched on his home island with aplomb, giving up three hits and no walks over his seven shutout innings in front of his fellow Puerto Ricans.
“I know he’s never going to forget about this day,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
The bullpen, a focus of Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine during the offseason, gave up one run over nine innings when Trevor Hildenberger couldn’t keep Edwin Encarnacion in the ballpark.
Addison Reed, Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke — all offseason free agent signings — pitched scoreless innings. So did Ryan Pressly and Taylor Rogers, holdovers from last season. And the most significant contribution might have been the two shutout innings by Alan Busenitz, who stranded two men on base in each of the final two innings.
“There wasn’t much fault to find,” Molitor said. “We had to pitch out of a couple jams. Reed was crisp, Rodney had a couple baserunners. But you go down the line. Pressly had a couple big innings. I’m glad they were fresh, because we needed them.”
The team was already down center fielder Byron Buxton. His replacement, Max Kepler, left after the ninth inning when he tweaked his right knee chasing after a fly ball.
In came Ryan LaMarre, who was sent down last week to make room for an extra pitcher (Busenitz), and was summoned as a 26th man for the series but ended up on the 25-man roster when Buxton was placed on the DL on Wednesday.
All LaMarre did was go 3-for-4 over the next seven innings, including a line single to center to drive in Eddie Rosario with the winning run.
“I’m really happy for guys like LaMarre and Busenitz, who have continued to stay positive even when they haven’t been part of the 25-man roster,” Falvey said.
One of a few on a team that will try to turn the victory into some momentum as they play the Rays this weekend before heading to the Bronx to face the Yankees early next week. But the fight they showed Wednesday could bode well the rest of the season.
“You just stick with it,” Molitor said. “Guys did a nice job of maintaining the energy, and we found a way to win.”