One swing probably can't turn around a slump that has lasted for nearly two years, though the Twins are willing to believe. But it can certainly turn around a game.
Miguel Sano, mired in a slide so deep he still doesn't have 10 hits all season, sliced a 95-mph fastball into the planters atop Target Field's right-field wall on Saturday, a three-run, eighth-inning blast that gave the Twins their first lead in 33 innings and ultimately delivered a 5-4 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
"That's a moment that can really energize everything right now. It was a big thing for our team and a big thing for Miguel Sano," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "It was the kind of day that you remember, you build off of. … It was a real release and the guys were just ecstatic."
The victory, which ended a five-game losing streak, materialized after the usual variety of painful missed opportunities for the Twins, and came via the least likely hero possible. Sano was batting .114 as he stepped in against reliever Jake Diekman, with Jorge Polanco and newcomer Rob Refsnyder on base, and hadn't had an eighth-inning hit all year.
That changed when Diekman, who watched Sano swing late on a fastball two pitches earlier, tried another one on the outside corner. Sano reached for it and hit a fly ball the opposite way, a high pop fly that just kept carrying. When it dropped into the limestone planter, causing the crowd of 12,212 to erupt, Sano pumped his fist in celebration and roared almost as loudly as the crowd as he ran the bases.
"That's a big moment! That's special! I feel really excited," said Sano, whose last home run came on April 15. So what was he yelling? "[I] said, 'Let's go! We're the best team in the world! Let's go!' " Sano revealed, adding a couple of unprintable adverbs.
Amid the misery of a 7-22 stretch of losing, the relief provided by a rare comeback win, their biggest of the season, was palpable for the Twins on "an emotional day," according to Baldelli. But the manager held out hope that the jolt of a victory might provide a spark that turns his team around, or at least his strikeout-prone slugger.
"I mean, it's not all luck. We can look at things as bouncing one way or the other, I get that, but we can certainly make things happen. We can force the issue," Baldelli said. "Today we did force the issue in a very subtle way — we just kept going. You need that. Come-from-behind wins are huge, and certainly the momentum can carry forward."
As for Sano, "he's feeling pretty good right now," Baldelli said. "And those are great signs for us."
The signs were significantly less hopeful until that big inning, which rescued what appeared to be another dull and listless loss for the Twins, who were only 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position until then. They opened the game with back-to-back hits, then didn't collect another until the sixth inning against Oakland starter Cole Irvin.
And they watched big-inning chances go for naught. When Polanco doubled to open the seventh inning and Refsnyder followed with a single, the Twins seemed primed to rally. But Sano hit a hard liner right at shortstop Chad Pinder, Max Kepler flew out, and after Andrelton Simmons drew a walk, pinch hitter Luis Arraez hit a foul popup that Oakland third baseman Matt Chapman somehow speared just before it hit the tarp along the third-base line.
There was no reason to figure the eighth would go better, even when Josh Donaldson led off with a walk and Nelson Cruz singled. Mitch Garver hit a hard line drive that Chapman turned into a double play. But Polanco walked and Refsnyder singled, keeping the inning alive for Sano.
Diekman "made a mistake by coming with the fastball. When I hit it, I knew," Sano said. "I felt great in the dugout. We felt great. … It's just a month and a half into the season. We need to come back tomorrow and compete like we did today. That's who we are."