CHICAGO — The Twins' offense, sputtering all week at Guaranteed Rate Park, was all but absent on Thursday, practically nothing but popups and strikeouts. So manager Rocco Baldelli turned to an unexpected weapon to buy his bats some time: the intentional walk.
"When we win, I'm in," Baldelli said after ordering a franchise-record five gimme walks during Minnesota's 7-3 victory in 12 innings over the White Sox. "We'll intentionally walk as many guys as we have to to win a ballgame."
The walks, two apiece to Andrew Benintendi and Luis Robert and one to Eloy Jiménez, worked because each one was followed by an out, three of them inning-ending. For five consecutive innings starting in the eighth, Chicago put its leadoff hitter in scoring position, three of them by rule in extra innings. And not until the Twins had finally managed to put the game away with a five-run 12th did any of their relievers surrender a run.
"It's definitely a tense situation, but going into it, I just told myself, OK, you've got a sick opportunity in front of you. Just hold the game right here," said Brock Stewart, who pitched out of a bases-loaded situation in the 10th, when Baldelli ordered two walks, by striking out all three hitters he pitched to. The victory, Stewart said, is "just a testament to our pitching staff and how gross we are."
He means that in a good way, the same quality that Baldelli described as "a determined, courageous effort" from the bullpen. And it was necessary because for a third straight game, Minnesota couldn't hit. Twins hitters, facing Chicago's Lucas Giolito, mostly slumbered through the spring afternoon; only twice in the first 11 innings did a Twin reach third base, on the home run trots of Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton.
Even when a Twin started the 10th and 11th innings on second base, his teammates couldn't advance him.
"We didn't have [good] collective at-bats, to say the least, but to still go out there and pitch well, stay in the game and win a game where we're not at our best offensively, it's great," Baldelli said. "That's what we needed to do to win. We found a way."
Actually, they found a gift, first of all. Courtesy runner Trevor Larnach scored the go-ahead run in the 12th when shortstop Tim Anderson allowed Jose Miranda's ground ball to get by him for an error. After a walk and a force out, Nick Gordon doubled home two more runs. And when Sammy Peralta, making his major league debut, issued walks to Max Kepler and Correa, Jorge Polanco took advantage with another two-run single.
Pablo López limited Chicago to only two runs over seven innings. One of them was Jiménez's home run into the seats in left-center, however, his second homer of the series. But López, who also allowed Chicago just two runs in his April 11 start at Target Field, struck out eight and kept pitching out of trouble.
The Twins relievers took "pitching out of trouble" to the extreme once López was finished and Baldelli began skipping Chicago hitters. The White Sox went 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position, and stranded 14 runners on base, nine of them in scoring position. And from the eighth inning through the 11th, the Twins never allowed Benintendi, Jiménez nor Robert, Chicago's best hitters, to swing the bat.
"You've got to manage the lineup and they've definitely got some guys you don't want to let beat you," said Emilio Pagán, who earned his second win of 2023. "It's cool that [Baldelli] showed the confidence in us to be able to get in the zone when we have to."
Jhoan Duran walked leadoff hitter Andrew Vaughn in the eighth, and pinch runner Billy Hamilton moved to third on a stolen base and wild pitch. But Duran kept him there with three harmless groundouts.
Jorge López, too, walked leadoff hitter Elvis Andrus in the ninth, but escaped when Hamilton popped up a two-out squeeze bunt. Stewart, after wild-pitching Hamilton, the 10th-inning courtesy runner, to third, intentionally loaded the bases but struck out Anderson, Hanser Alberto and Andrus. And Pagán issued an intentional walk to Benintendi, then struck out Hamilton to end the 11th.
"Intentional walks, they're not a thing we like to do. We're not looking to just put people on base, and it does make it more difficult on relievers," Baldelli said. "They really stepped up and got the outs they needed to."