Yermin Mercedes' home run off a backup catcher one day earlier was on everybody's mind Tuesday night. At least, until Miguel Sano started hitting home runs off actual pitchers.
The slumping slugger lined a shot into the left-field bleachers, blasted a screamer into the juniper bushes in center field, and, after Tyler Duffey and Rocco Baldelli were ejected for an apparent retaliation against Mercedes for Monday night's "disrespect," launched a long fly ball into the seats in right-center in the eighth, the first three-homer game of his career.
An inning later, Jorge Polanco drove home Andrelton Simmons with a 340-foot single into the right-field corner, and the Twins beat the White Sox for the first time in five meetings, 5-4 in a walk-off victory at Target Field.
"It's good to see Miggy hitting those homers. We love when he does that. We know he can do it," a celebratory Polanco said after the Twins rallied from a 4-0 deficit to stun their AL Central rivals. "We feel really good about him right now."
Four days ago, Sano was hitting .119 and hearing boos from Twins fans. But he's had a hit in every game since, including the game-winner against the A's on Saturday and now his first three-homer game, and the 13th in Twins history.
"I feel happy. I feel the same. Everything has been changing," Sano said. "It's different weather, and then that's our time."
Sure didn't look like it early on, not with ex-Twin Lance Lynn dominating his former teammates. Lynn pitched six innings and didn't allow any Twin but Sano to reach third base. Meanwhile, the White Sox hit a couple of home runs against Twins rookie righthander Bailey Ober, who learned Monday night that he would be making his big-league debut, in place of Michael Pineda, after just six games above Class A in his career.
"He went out there and threw the ball well. He competed," Baldelli said. "He's facing a tough lineup, a lineup he went out there and attacked them pretty well."
He appeared destined to take a loss, however, as the game slogged on through a light rain, even as four relief pitchers shut down Chicago's offense. But the energy of the game changed when Duffey threw to — or at, the umpires ruled — Mercedes, who apparently offended the Twins, erstwhile pitcher Willians Astudillo, and his own manager one night earlier.
Duffey entered the game in the seventh inning and retired Yoan Moncada on a groundout, then threw a 93-mph fastball at Mercedes' rear end. The batter jumped out of the way, but home plate umpire Jim Reynolds quickly huddled with his fellow umpires and agreed that Duffey's pitch was intentional. He was ejected, and when Baldelli protested too long and too vehemently, the manager was thrown out, too.
Was the pitch intentional?
"No, we were going out there to pitch him in. That's going to be part of what we do with him," Baldelli said. "We have to live with the umpires' decision. There was no issue after that pitch. It's not like we were going out there and trying to hit him or trying to do that again."
Mercedes' sin: He swung at a 47-mph meatball on a 3-0 count from Astudillo, a position player doing mop-up duty, in the ninth inning of Monday's game with the White Sox leading 15-4. That was judged to be disrespectful, considering the game was so out of hand, and not just by the Twins. Chicago manager Tony La Russa said before the game that Mercedes' swing ignored his "take" sign and showed poor sportsmanship. "There will be a consequence that he has to endure here within our family," La Russa said.
Baldelli hinted before the game that the Twins were upset over the play, and perhaps Duffey's pitch confirmed it. Perhaps sensing an opportunity to ignite some emotion in his own team as it endures a listless May — the Twins are now 5-11 this month and buried in last place — the manager showed rare anger on the field as he argued over Duffey's ejection.
"If there was any sense of that, if that helped our group in any way, that's fantastic. If not, that's fine, too," Baldelli said. "I was really happy with the game we played today. That's what I'm thinking about right now, how the guys went out there and continued to fight and did a nice job."