The eighth inning of the Twins’ 2-1 victory over Boston was tense. “It got a little dicey there,” is how manager Paul Molitor put it. But somehow the Twins emerged with their one-run lead intact. Here are three notable things about that critical inning:
— Blaine Boyer retired the first two Red Sox hitters easily on ground outs, but Dustin Pedroia’s ground ball up the middle got through the infield for a hit. Then Boyer threw a wild pitch to move the tying run to second, and he ended up walking Mookie Betts. That brought Pablo Sandoval to the plate, Molitor to the mound, and closer Glen Perkins into the game to try to earn his third four-out save of the season.
One weird problem: The Twins didn’t know whether Sandoval, a switch-hitting third baseman, would hit right- or left-handed. He was hit by a pitch on his left knee a week ago, and it’s still sore. Sandoval batted left-handed against lefty Angels reliever Cesar Ramos over the weekend, and sure enough, he got in the left-handed batters box against Perkins.
“Pablo hitting left-on-left — we don’t have any charts” to help him align the defense, Molitor said. “Where do you play? We went with straight up.”
— Sandoval took a strike, then swung at a slider, hitting it up the middle. That’s when Brian Dozier made a play that may have saved the game. Dozier hustled perhaps eight steps to his left and slid on the grass, knocking the ball down before it could reach the outfield. It was too late to retire a runner, but it saved a run, because Pedroia would surely have scored had the ball gotten through.
“Luckily he didn’t hit as crisply as he would have liked,” Molitor said. “It gave Dozier an opportunity to slide over there and keep it in the infield. Instinctively, [Dozier] checked Pedroia going around third, and wisely didn’t throw because he didn’t round far enough.”
— With the bases loaded, Perkins had to face cleanup hitter Hanley Ramirez, a dangerous right-handed hitter — he’s a career .306 hitter against left-handed pitching — without his slider, for fear of bouncing a pitch past catcher Kurt Suzuki. Perkins stuck to fastballs, but threw one in the dirt anyway. Suzuki somehow smothered it, another play that may have saved the Twins’ victory.
“He’s as good as you could ask for as far as keeping the ball in front,” Molitor said of his All-Star catcher. “When you’ve got the tying run 90 feet away there, that’s a huge situation. And he’s prepared, he knows what’s coming. It’s just [a matter of] staying with the game. It gets tough after you’ve caught 150 pitches. He got the job done in that situation which was very big for us.”
It was, because Ramirez finally swung at a 2-1 fastball, and sailed it to deep right field, where Eddie Rosario caught it in front of the warning track.
Inning over. Lead preserved. It was tense, but the Twins got through it.