Kennys Vargas hits better than he dances. The Twins are OK with that.
Vargas smashed a Kelvin Herrera changeup into the upper deck in right-center field Friday, a tying, pinch-hit, ninth-inning home run that changed a dreary night into a delirious one, and an eventual 4-3, 10-inning Twins victory over Kansas City. Then he performed an impromptu hugging, spinning dance with Eddie Rosario in the dugout.
“It’s good when you hit a home run,” Vargas said with his trademark grin. “Exciting moment, so we hugged and started circling around.”
There was plenty of celebration about 15 minutes later, when Jorge Polanco, after relievers Al Alburquerque and Travis Wood walked the bases loaded with nobody out in the 10th, lined a pitch deep enough into left field to score Joe Mauer on a game-winning sacrifice fly, keeping the Twins a perfect 6-0 against Kansas City.
The victory also put the Twins an entire month ahead of their pace a year ago: In 2016, they won their 21st game on June 19 to stand 21-48. This year, they reached 21 victories on May 19, to go 21-17 and hold on to first place in the AL Central.
“A big hit, a great win. A great all-around team win,” said Hector Santiago, who was his usual playing-with-matches self, putting runners on base in all five innings he pitched, but also never letting the Royals cash in on a big inning. Cheslor Cuthbert drove a two-strike, two-out single to drive in a run in the second inning, and Jorge Bonifacio smoked a two-out line drive into the left field stands to score two more in the third, but Santiago gave up no other runs.
Neither did the Twins bullpen, contributing five scoreless innings that gave the Twins their chance, including Brandon Kintzler wiggling out of a 10th-inning jam with a line-drive double play before the Twins capitalized on their walks in the bottom of the inning. It didn’t always look so promising, not with the Twins going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, not with the Royals defense shutting down one scoring chance after another.
Still, manager Paul Molitor said: “The game was staying tight. I felt we had a chance. I kept thinking, we’re one inning away from getting back in it.”
Or just one good at-bat. After Jason Castro singled with one out in the ninth, Molitor sent up Vargas to face Royals closer Kelvin Herrera, the 100-mile-per-hour specialist.
“I know if I was facing that guy, I wouldn’t look for a fastball because I can’t hit it anyway,” Molitor said. “So you might as well look for something slower.”
Vargas said he was thinking fastball, but made the adjustment when Herrera tried to sneak an 88-mph pitch past him. “We’re down by two runs, you have to take a hard swing and try to elevate the ball,” he said, and the blast was obviously leaving the park from the moment it was hit.
“I don’t know if he was looking for a changeup, but he was all over it,” Molitor said. “You welcome those comebacks when they happen, because in today’s game, with bullpens the way they are, it seems like they’re less and less frequent.”
No kidding. The last time the Twins got a tying/winning, pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning? It came in 2008, when Craig Monroe cracked a three-run shot against the Royals.