It took 62 games to work up this mountain of dread that had settled upon Target Field, 10 weeks of bad luck, bad health and bad baseball to bury the Twins in negativity. It took nine pitches to forget all that, at least for one night.
Aroldis Chapman threw nine pitches as he tried to nail down another ho-hum victory. But Jorge Polanco lined the fifth pitch for a single, and Josh Donaldson took a ball outside. Then the Yankees closer's final three pitches, all of them 96 miles per hour or faster, blazed straight into Twins history. It's a wonder there wasn't lightning for effect:
Fastball to Donaldson, who launched it into the upper deck in left-center, tying the score.
Fastball to pinch hitter Willians Astudillo, who laced it to left and knocked his own helmet off from excitement as he headed to first with a single.
And finally: Fastball to Nelson Cruz, who rocketed it into the juniper bushes in center as the ballpark exploded in glee with a 7-5 victory over the Yankees.
The Twins, for 8½ innings so obviously headed to their eighth consecutive loss, including postseason, to the Yankees, suddenly had stolen one of their most memorable victories in a couple of seasons, at least.
"Griffin [Jax, Twins rookie] said, 'That was the coolest thing I've ever seen on a baseball field,'" beamed Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, seemingly a bit dazed himself at the bolt of good fortune that hit Target Field like a tornado. "Pretty amazing night. Not a lot came easy, but to hang in there at every turn, and then get those types of swings off of Chapman, [it's] not something you're going to see every day. Pretty amazing."
Chapman, the highest-paid closer in baseball and a six-time All-Star, had given up one run all season, and had struck out 43 batters, or more than half of the 85 he had faced. As the Twins, who were fortunate to be trailing only 5-3 as they faced the likelihood of being swept at home by the Yankees for the first time since 2013, prepared to hit, it was hard to say they saw a miracle coming.
"We know the kind of fastball he has. We all have to be ready for that pitch," said Cruz, who ended his longest home run drought as a Twin — 12 games — with one of the most dramatic shots he's ever hit. "He's the best closer in the game, so it was remarkable to be able to score four runs against him. Four pitches and we got four hits and [runs]. Pretty nice."
"Someone has to get it going when you're facing a pitcher like that. That someone was [Polanco]," Baldelli said of the effort against Chapman, whose ERA ballooned from 0.39 to 1.96 with those nine pitches. "It takes a guy to go up there when Chapman is flying high and feeling good about himself, and actually square one up."
The finish allowed the Twins to forget an otherwise interesting game that seemed likely to end in another dreary defeat. After all, J.A. Happ also gave up four consecutive hits and a bunch of quick runs, but they came in the first inning. Giancarlo Stanton hit his third home run of the series, Gio Urshela tripled (and later homered), and New York took a 3-0 lead before the announced crowd of 17,728 had settled in.
It could have been worse, but Happ prevented another run with a smart fielding play. With Urshela on third, Happ threw a pitch to the backstop, but as catcher Ben Rortvedt raced to retrieve it, Happ slid across the plate, effectively blocking it from Urshela long enough to tag him.
Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt initially ruled the Yankees third baseman safe, but a replay overturned the call. Still, the rest of the game had that erupt-at-any-moment feel to it for the Yankees.
Until the Twins did the erupting.
"It was very fast. It was an action-packed inning, it was a loud inning. Those balls were hit hard," Baldelli said. "It was one after the other of just hard, hard contact and really going up there too without any fear. "