As Brian Dozier warmed up to start the ninth inning, Eduardo Escobar jogged over to second base to take his place. The gesture was a public thank you from manager Paul Molitor and an opportunity for the Target Field crowd to stand and thank the new All-Star for a brilliant first half.
But while his team’s first half — which closed Sunday with an almost celebratory 7-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers at Target Field — has been a revelation as well, Molitor didn’t want anyone else taking curtain calls just yet.
“Mollie came up in the dugout when we were giving high fives and let everybody know, ‘Hey, the work’s just begun,’ ” Kyle Gibson said after limiting Detroit to a single unearned run. “We’ve got a lot of work left.”
It can wait a few days, though. The Twins enter the All-Star break on the momentum of a 6-1 homestand and a rather convincing pummeling of their chief 2015 nemesis, once David Price and Justin Verlander departed. Beginning with the Twins’ amazing comeback Friday, they outscored Detroit 24-6 over the final 20 innings of this series, and now they enter the break 49-40, the second-best record in the American League.
Anyone see that coming? Forget it, Torii Hunter doesn’t believe you. “I’ll tell you what, a lot of [our] critics can eat their words,” he crowed afterward. “We went out and proved people wrong.”
Gibson is one of the major reasons. The righthander reduced his ERA to 2.85, winning his fourth consecutive game and posting his team-high 11th quality start. In seven innings, he gave up four singles and two walks, and he prevented any of them from doing much damage by forcing three double plays, as if at will.
The first one came in the first inning, and it told Molitor all he needed to know. With Ian Kinsler on first base, Yoenis Cespedes fouled off six pitches. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, he bounced harmlessly to third, where Trevor Plouffe started an easy double play. “[He just kept pumping sinkers in there and [Cespedes] couldn’t square one up,” Molitor marveled. “The best he could do was hit a ground ball. That’s just a nice weapon.”
The Twins had plenty more weapons. While Detroit collected zero extra-base hits off Gibson, Tigers starter Shane Greene surrendered five of them while recording only 14 outs. It was a satisfying turnaround for the Twins from the season’s third game, back on April 9, when Greene was the one allowing only an unearned run in beating Gibson by the exact same score, 7-1.
A lot of things have turned around for the Twins since that first week, as Sunday proved. Miguel Sano is here now, and he launched a two-run homer on an 0-2 count, without swinging hard, in the first inning to put the Twins ahead early. “It was a defensive swing, and he still hit it out of the park,” Hunter said. “That’s weird. That’s strong.”
And Eddie Rosario is here now — he collected two hits, including a triple. Aaron Hicks is here now, and he got on base three times, drove in a run and made a nice running catch. Danny Santana is far more comfortable at the plate than he was at the start of the season, too, and he collected a double, a triple and two RBI.
“It’s nice to have the young blood. We’ve seen guys come up and impact this team,” Molitor said.
Now, he admitted, he has “gotten greedy. You always want more. We welcome the break. We can use it. … But there are still some things we’d like to accomplish collectively over the long season.”
Like what? Well, perhaps it’s coincidence, but the last time the Twins went into an All-Star break with a 49-40 record was back in 1987. Most Twins fans probably can tell you how that season finished.
There was a parade, after all.