All hands are on deck in the late innings of a tie game, and Twins manager Paul Molitor had Mitch Garver available to pinch hit for Willians Astudillo in the ninth on Sunday. He decided to stick with Astudillo.
At least he didn’t have to wait long to find out if he made the right choice.
Astudillo, the man who lets few pitches pass him by, the man who has, in some minor league seasons, been hit with more pitches than drawn walks, belted a 1-0 pitch from Jason Hammel into the seats in left for a two-out, two-run walkoff home run to propel the Twins to a 3-1 win over the Kansas City Royals. The Twins won two of three games over the weekend at Target Field for their first series win since Aug. 17-19 against Detroit.
How dare Astudillo even let the first pitch go by.
“I was looking for a specific pitch,” Astudillo said. “The first one wasn’t even close, so I waited for the second one.”
Astudillo also worked well behind the plate, helping Chase De Jong, Zack Littell, Taylor Rogers and Trevor Hildenberger hold the Royals to one run on three hits. He has started three games at catcher — the reason the Twins signed him as a minor league free agent last November — and also played second, third and made emergency appearances in left and center. But he is built to be behind a plate.
“Astudillo did a tremendous job with the fingers back there,” De Jong said. “Think maybe I shook off once, ’cause I wanted to get a first-pitch breaking ball in there. But other than that, he was phenomenal back there. Behind the plate and, obviously, at the plate too was wonderful.”
The Twins had a 1-0 lead in the second after an RBI single by Ehire Adrianza. But one of the Royals’ hits happened to be a game-tying home run by Aldalberto Mondesi in the sixth.
“He was kicking himself for the homer,” Molitor said of Astudillo. “Not that it was the wrong call, we just didn’t execute the pitch.”
The Twins got two quick outs in the ninth, and the game looked to be speeding toward extra innings. But Max Kepler punched a double into the right field corner, firing up the announced crowd of 20,903.
Hammel then hung a slider down the middle of the plate, and Astudillo jumped on it for his third home run and first career walkoff homer. Adrianza, Logan Forsythe and Jose Berrios took turns trying to rip his jersey off in the celebration, but Astudillo survived.
The Twins had some steam to blow off. In addition to long drought between series wins, they also had lost six of their previous seven games.
“And the legend continues for Mr. Astudillo,” Molitor said.
In 638 minor league games, Astudillo, 26, has walked 85 times and struck out 81 times. When he sees a pitch he likes, he goes after it.
“He’s a unique guy in terms of lack of walks and strikeouts over quite a few at-bats before he even got here,” Molitor said. “I thought about hitting Garver there in the ninth inning. I’m glad I paused. It worked out pretty good.”