It should have been a 1-2-3 double play. That’s what a 27-foot dribbler in front of home plate with the bases loaded is supposed to turn into.
In the 11th inning Saturday, it was the defining moment of the Twins’ wacky 2-1 walk-off victory over the Yankees.
Trevor Plouffe took a mighty swing at Matt Thornton’s fastball but connected only enough to send it meekly toward the mound. Thornton gathered the ball and flipped to Francisco Cervelli at home to force Chris Colabello. Cervelli then turned to throw to first to get Plouffe. That should have ended the inning.
Instead, Cervelli fired the ball high and well wide of first base and down the foul line. Josh Willingham came around to score the winning run as the Twins spilled out of the dugout to celebrate their fifth walk-off victory of the season. It was also their second walk-off victory on an opposing pitcher’s error; they beat Texas 4-3 on May 27 when Joakim Soria couldn’t cleanly field Danny Santana’s two-out, bases-loaded dribbler.
“I’ve seen crazy plays to end games,” Colabello said. “Not exactly that one. That’s why you play the game hard, run balls out. You never know what happens.”
Colabello batted for Chris Parmelee to start the 11th. He is not one of those players who goes into the cages during games and takes swings to try to stay sharp. He likes to stay loose and relaxed because, “If you’re needed to pinch hit late it’s usually in a big situation,” he said.
Colabello looked comfortable as he stroked an opposite-field double that might have been 6 inches from clearing the right field wall. He advanced to third on Kendrys Morales’ grounder, forcing the Yankees to intentionally walk Willingham, who hit a tying homer in the seventh. That set up a lefty-vs.-lefty matchup of Thornton and Oswaldo Arcia, but the first pitch nailed Arcia in the back, loading the bases.
Then came Plouffe’s hack against Thornton’s 94-miles-per-hour fastball.
For a team that had lost 10 of its previous 12 games, the Twins were willing to take anything. It was their fourth extra-inning victory of the season, and it came in a game that appeared destined to be another tough loss.
“We had a lot of opportunities,” Twins second baseman Brian Dozier said.
The Twins shot themselves in the foot so much Saturday they were running out of toes. The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the fifth when they shouldn’t have.
Ichiro Suzuki reached in a fielder’s choice and stole second. Replays showed that he was out, but the Twins didn’t challenge the decision.
“There was no reaction by Dozier,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who was ejected in the third inning for arguing that Yankees starter David Phelps balked on a pickoff attempt when no balk was called. “The boys in the dugout all said the same thing — they had no clue.”
Suzuki advanced to third on a wild pitch, then scored on Cervelli’s single to left.
There was more. Dozier led off the eighth with a bloop single to left. The ball rolled away from Alfonso Soriano, but Dozier dithered when he could have raced an extra base. That ended up being a big decision, too: Kurt Suzuki followed with a single to center that might have scored Dozier from second. Instead, the threat ended there, as Parmelee popped out to center and Morales and Willingham struck out.
Then Sam Fuld led off the 10th with a single but tried to steal second as Thornton’s pickoff move had him fooled. Fuld was thrown out.
This one was low on style points, but Yohan Pino held the Yankees to one run over six innings and the bullpen threw five scoreless innings, running its streak to 14⅔. Enough for the Twins to take advantage of a blunder at the end.
“We needed that,” Gardenhire said. “It was big for us. We’ve lost some tough ones, and that was a good one to win.”