Eddie Rosario started with bucket of bubble gum. Max Kepler piled on with cold water. Miguel Sano was drenched at home plate. Happy, smiling and sopping wet.
About 10 minutes earlier, he had been an afterthought in the Twins' game against the Atlanta Braves, spending a chunk of the game in batting cage with assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez, preparing for a moment that might not come.
"And I felt when the game got tied, I told Rudy, if nobody does anything, I'm going to take care of it," Sano said.
When Luis Arraez singled with two outs in the ninth Monday night, it was Sano's moment. And on a 0-1 pitch from Chris Martin, he socked the baseball into the night for a two-run walk-off home run to propel the Twins to a 5-3 win over the Braves and sending an announced crowd of 26,722 into delirium at Target Field.
After the Twins' first pinch-hit, walk-off homer since 2006, Sano turned to the dugout after he made contact, then threw his arms into the air as he began to circle the bases. Braves center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. barely moved as the ball and its vapor trail traveled over him. He started sprinting back to the dugout before the 443-foot blast landed. It was the third walk-off win for the Twins this season, and the first via a home run.
"When you've got something in your heart and you feel it, that's one of the biggest things," said Sano, who was mobbed by Rosario, Kepler and the rest of his teammates at home plate. " When I went out and hit, I was just thinking, one swing and come back to the dugout. It's unbelievable."
And the series between AL and NL division leaders begins with the first game going down to the final at-bat. Coupled with Cleveland's loss to Texas, the Twins lead the American League Central by four games. The Twins have won four consecutive games for the first time since May 20-26.
The Twins entered the game last in baseball with a .190 batting average with the bases loaded but took a 2-0 lead in the fourth on four consecutive singles, the last a two-run single by Arraez.
Atlanta's Freddie Freeman took Twins righthander Jake Odorizzi deep in the fifth inning to cut the lead in half, but Kepler homered to center in the bottom of the inning to restore the Twins' two-run lead. It was just the seventh homer allowed by Braves rookie righthander Mike Soroka all season.
Odorizzi threw 65 pitches over the first three innings and was pushing 100 pitches in the fifth. Both Taylor Rogers and Sergio Romo had pitched in four of the past six games and needed a break. Getting the final outs of the game were going to be a challenge, so Odorizzi went out for the sixth and retired the side in order. His final pitch count was 109.
But Atlanta got to relievers Ryne Harper and Tyler Duffey in the seventh, scoring twice to tie the score at 3-3. The score stayed tied until Sano untied it. Trevor May, who uncorked a fastball at 99.8 miles per hour in the eighth, got the victory in relief.
"Obviously, Miggy's swing is an easy one to point to," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Any time you win a game like that, it's fun. But for him to go up there cold and go up there and put a swing on the ball like that, it was very nice. But we have a lot of other guys we could point to too that got us this win tonight."