MILWAUKEE – The torque of a pennant race can be so severe, health could be an issue. Fans’ health.
One day after dropping into second place, the Twins built a lead, watched it disappear in about five ugly minutes, then recaptured it with one tremendous Marwin Gonzalez swing against an unlikely foe. Meanwhile, the first-place Indians were trailing, then rallying and then crashing, all seemingly choreographed on Miller Park’s left-field scoreboard with the wild swings taking place in front of it.
“Right now, it’s better to be in first place than anywhere else,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said once the Twins’ thrilling 7-5 victory, just their second in seven games, became official, restoring his team to its AL Central perch by a half-game.
But the latest in a monthlong series of crazy comebacks and wild finishes seemed to amuse, or at least inspire, the Twins’ laid-back rookie manager. “We’ve played a ton of games, probably more than we should have, just like tonight’s game. We’ve done it over and over — we’ve won some of them and we’ve lost of them,” Baldelli said. “They are draining games. They’re not normal baseball games. It’s not like someone gets a lead and they ride it out for seven innings and the game’s over. We haven’t played very many of those lately. But that’s OK. It prepares you and tests you a little bit and gets you ready for playing later on in the season.”
If they wind up playing beyond the season’s end, they may look back at Tuesday’s unlikely victory, over a team fighting for its own playoff spot, as an important one, and Gonzalez’s first-pitch homer off Milwaukee’s All-Star lefthander as a portent. Just minutes earlier, the Twins had suffered a crushing blow — Yasmani Grandal’s three-run, seventh-inning homer off Ryne Harper to put the Brewers in front and ignite the huge crowd of 44,331.
But after Eddie Rosario doubled and Miguel Sano walked, the Twins sensed an opportunity. Two quick outs seemed to douse it, especially with Josh Hader summoned to face Gonzalez. His first pitch: a 96-mph fastball, low and away. Gonzalez launched it into the bullpen.
“To go up there against Hader, and be ready, and attack the first pitch that he saw in the zone, and do what he did — that’s just a huge moment,” Baldelli said.
Even Gonzalez had to agree. “Amazing man, amazing. That’s what I always say about this team — we fight to the end, no matter who we are facing,” the utility man said. “He’s one of the best in the game, and you cannot give him an easy strike. Luckily, [the pitch] was where I wanted it.”
The Twins had other reasons to celebrate, too, such as Martin Perez’s messy but effective outing — the lefthander put runners in scoring position in all six of his innings but escaped by blanking Milwaukee, 0-for-10, in those situations. And Sam Dyson’s redemptive return — the newly acquired reliever, just activated before the game, easily retired all three hitters he faced, deflating his Twins ERA from 81.00 to 32.40. And Mitch Garver’s continued success against National League pitching — in his eighth interleague start of the season, he crushed his seventh home run.
Harper’s night was a lot more difficult. He faced four batters, had trouble spotting his curveball where he wanted it, and suffered for it: three hits and four runs. On a 2-0 count to NL MVP Christian Yelich, he resorted to a fastball that wound up on the warning track, a double. And after a catcher’s interference charged to Garver, Harper laid a curveball across the middle of the plate to Grandal, a 400-foot mistake.
But after a series of dramatic games that seemed to end in disaster for the Twins, they were ready for one that ended in euphoria.
“We needed this game,” Perez admitted.” “It’s a good feeling to win one like this.”