If you’ve been lucky enough to have great seats, you know the feeling: Sitting up front, close to the action, watching a tie game just as it gets really tense — it’s so easy to get completely absorbed in the drama.
So who could blame Chris Herrmann?
The Twins rookie was taking it all in from the front row of the dugout Thursday night at Target Field, soaking in a ninth-inning rally, when his manager made a suggestion that caught him off guard: Say, why don’t you grab a bat and go hit?
Actually, it was more like, Why don’t you already have a bat in your hand? “I was too caught up watching the game. I didn’t have any of my stuff,” Herrmann said. “Gardy said, ‘Hey, you’re going to hit.’ ”
Herrmann grabbed his batting gloves and helmet, hustled unprepared into the batter’s box, and proceeded to smash a hard one-out grounder into right field, scoring pinch-runner Doug Bernier with the winning run in a 4-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox. It completed a comeback from a 3-0 deficit.
“With young guys, you sometimes have to tell them, ‘You might hit here, get a bat in your hand and look like you’re ready to hit.’ As [was] the case tonight, when I told Herrmann, ‘Would you please stand up and do something because I might use you?’ ” manager Ron Gardenhire said, like an exasperated parent of a tweener. “He says, ‘I’m ready,’ but he’s not got his gloves, he’s not got anything. But that’s what you deal with.”
That sort of absent-mindedness is a lot easier to take when you deliver a game-winning hit. But Herrmann, who said he took some needling about his gaffe from teammates, said, “I won’t be doing that again.” He means the not-being-ready part; the base hit, on a 1-1 fastball from Ramon Troncoso? “Hopefully, there’s more to come.”
The Twins fell behind with Mike Pelfrey on the mound, then chipped away at the deficit while the bullpen shut down Chicago. Pelfrey broke his White Sox jinx — he had posted a 7.80 ERA in three previous starts — despite a shaky first inning, and recorded an out in the seventh inning for the first time since June 12.
“I don’t think they hit the ball terribly hard in the first inning, but balls were finding holes, and I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Here we go again,’ ” Pelfrey said of giving up three singles to the first four batters. “But I was able to limit the damage.”
So was the bullpen, particularly Josh Roenicke. The righthander was summoned in the seventh to keep the White Sox’s lead at one run, and he ended the inning by retiring Jeff Keppinger on a foul pop. Then in the eighth, with a runner on second, he made an athletic play to field a chopper to the third base side, bare-handing the ball and firing it across the diamond.
“That was a great play,” Gardenhire said. “He falls off the other way, toward first base, so for him to turn around and go make a play like that was super.”
The Twins’ rally began, after Chicago starter Andre Rienzo retired 13 of the first 14 hitters he faced, with a Trevor Plouffe home run and continued with Josh Willingham delivering a sixth-inning RBI single. Justin Morneau’s single tied it in the eighth, scoring Joe Mauer, whose foot hit home plate just a beat ahead of Josh Phegley’s sweep tag. That set up an intriguing ninth inning, with nobody more engrossed than Herrmann.
“Next time I’ll be ready, batting gloves and helmet,” holding a bat, Herrmann said shortly after his first big-league Gatorade shower. “It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”