LOS ANGELES – Zack Granite saw a way out of the mess the Twins were in. He saw his opportunity to capitalize on a Dodger mistake, to end a dangerous inning, to preserve the Twins’ precarious lead.
He was wrong.
The Twins’ rookie center fielder, as he made a running catch to corral Logan Forsythe’s shallow fly ball during an L.A. eighth-inning rally on Wednesday, spotted Dodgers baserunner Enrique Hernandez, who had broken for second on the pitch, scrambling to get back to first base. Granite fired the ball ahead of Hernandez — to a vacant base.
Joe Mauer was lined up near the pitcher’s mound to cut off a possible throw to the plate, and Granite’s instinctive throw to first rolled untouched into a camera well next to the Twins’ dugout, scoring Justin Turner from third base with the tying run of an eventual 6-5 Dodgers victory in the most shocking, painful way possible.
“It’s tough. Tough to lose a game like that,” Granite said after the Twins blew a 5-0 lead and were swept out of Dodger Stadium by the league’s hottest team. “Being one of the young guys, I want to do everything I can to help the team win, and I feel like I let the team down.”
Granite’s mistake only tied the game, but the Dodgers wasted no time finishing off the Twins for the third straight night just an inning later. Austin Barnes hit a one-out single off Kintzler to right field, and Chris Taylor followed with a hit that glanced off Jorge Polanco’s glove as he dove. With two outs, Justin Turner smacked a 3-2 pitch into left field, setting off a euphoric celebration by the Dodgers and their packed house of 50,941, the biggest crowd to watch the Twins since the Metrodome’s final game in the 2009 ALDS.
“They have the best record in the game. They’ve got a really good thing going on,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said of the Dodgers, who own the best record in baseball thanks to their streak of 18 wins in the last 21 games, and 20 of their last 23 at home. “They’re playing hungry, they’re playing loose. It kind of frees you up to let it fly.”
But it was when Granite let it fly that stood out. The Dodgers had rallied to within 5-4 and had Turner on third base and Hernandez at first with one out as Forsythe faced Twins closer Brandon Kintzler, in for a potential five-out save. Forsythe fought off a 96-mph fastball on 3-2 and lofted a pop fly that Granite came speeding in to catch. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hernandez realize tardily that the ball would be caught.
Granite made the calculation that Turner would likely bluff toward the plate on such a shallow fly, but stop and return to third. But Hernandez, he saw, was too far toward second to get back in time.
“Instincts took over, and I went for it at first. Clearly wasn’t the right choice. That’s my fault, 100 percent,” Granite said.
When did he realize that Mauer was in cutoff position, as the situation called for, and not on first base?
“As I was letting it go,” Granite said. “I saw Joe over where he was supposed to be, but I just couldn’t hold on to it.”
Said Molitor: "The throw beat [Hernandez] back to the base, which means the judgement wasn’t poor. It was a potential double play. But the fact that it was vacated … “
It was a sour ending — Kintzler’s fourth blown save in 31 opportunities, breaking a streak of 12 in a row — to a night that seemed to be going the Twins way. Ervin Santana allowed a pair of long and loud home runs to Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig, but was otherwise unscathed until his final pitch of the night — a pinch-hit, two-out, two-run double by veteran Chase Utley.
Dodger errors contributed to the Twins’ three-run third, highlighted by Granite’s RBI double, giving him a seven-game hit streak, and Mauer’s two-run single. And another error in the fourth allowed Brian Dozier to double home two more, giving the Twins their biggest lead ever at Dodger Stadium.
It also made Santana the first Twins pitcher to score twice in a game in 45 years, dating back to Bert Blyleven on May 25, 1972. But the Dodgers don’t have 71 wins already by accident, and they finished with a flourish, scoring twice in the seventh, once in the eighth, and the knockout punch in the ninth.