This is more like the team Brian Dozier envisioned before the first pitch of the regular season was thrown.
“You look in here, the vibe that we have, and you wouldn’t even think that we started off 0-9,” the Twins second baseman said. “The confidence is back where it needs to be.”
The Twins pulled out a 3-2, 12-inning victory over the Angels on Sunday, scrambling to tie the score in the eighth inning before winning it when Oswaldo Arcia singled down the left field line to score Byron Buxton four innings later. It completed a three-game sweep at Target Field, the perfect salve for a team that set a club record for consecutive losses to start the season.
So the Twins spent the weekend having victory dance parties, with reliever Trevor May, the team DJ, spinning music hooked up to a new sound system purchased by Dozier.
It took nine losses, forcing different degrees of frustration, for the Twins to resemble the team many thought they would be. Over the weekend, they cut down on strikeouts, came up with clutch hits and showed their power potential while leaning on a pitching staff that has been fairly reliable over the season’s first two weeks.
A few of those traits showed up again Sunday, culminating with Arcia’s winning hit.
Miguel Sano led off the eighth with a single and was replaced by pinch runner Byron Buxton. Buxton moved to third on Trevor Plouffe’s single, then scored as Arcia hit into a double play. Hey, the Twins will take runs any way they can get them, and that run tied the score at 2-2.
While the measly offense was the primary story during the Twins’ losing streak, the pitching staff’s effectiveness was somewhat overlooked. Nine of the Twins’ 12 games have been decided by two or fewer runs as pitchers have kept games close. Sunday’s was no different.
Kyle Gibson held Los Angeles to two runs over seven innings — both runs coming on Albert Pujols’ first-inning home run — and the bullpen took over from there. Michael Tonkin, who might have made the team out of camp only because he was out of minor league options, retired all six batters he faced and earned his first career victory.
Tonkin struck out both Mike Trout and Pujols in the 11th, hitting 96 miles per hour with his fastball in the process, and seemed to take off from there. Before Tonkin was done, he threw a pitch that hit 97 on the stadium radar gun.
“The second-to-last pitch, that was as hard as I’ve tried to throw a ball, maybe, in my career,” he said. “Honestly, it is kind of how I threw in save situations in Triple-A. If I get ahead of guys, I’m just going to reach back and throw as hard as I possibly can.”
When Tonkin was done, Twins pitchers had faced 28 Angels hitters without giving up a hit, going back to the fourth inning.
Tonkin got the Twins to the 12th, where Buxton reached on a fielder’s choice after his sacrifice attempt failed to advance Joe Mauer, who walked. Closer Huston Street came in for Cory Rasmus, and after an Eduardo Escobar flyout to center that Buxton barely managed to avoid getting doubled up on, Buxton swiped second with Arcia batting.
“With him being on first, I was trying to hit it harder so I could get him from first to home,” Arcia said. “Once he got to second base, I was looking to get something through the infield so he could score.”
That meant going with the pitch, and Arcia swatted an outside pitch toward the left field corner. Angels left fielder Rafael Ortega ran toward the line and tried a diving catch, but he came up short, giving the Twins a walkoff victory.
It made Arcia the hero for the second game in a row, after his eighth-inning homer Saturday gave the Twins the lead in a 6-4 victory. Before Friday, the outfielder had barely played all season.
“We have a lot of guys who can get it done,” Gibson said. “Hopefully all year maybe were going to have some unusual guys and some unusual suspects coming through for us that are going to be able to get big hits when we need them.”
The Twins finally stopped the bleeding — and they think they have their mojo back — but they still have an unsightly win-loss record to deal with.
“To endure the first stretch and respond this way, it’s a good sign,” manager Paul Molitor said. “0-9 is a fairly good-sized hole, so you don’t get too giddy. But you will take a little bit of bunching wins together here in response to the 0-9.
“Guys should enjoy themselves here.”