The Summer of Sano continued on Sunday. Miguel Sano, the Twins’ answer to McMansions, SUVs and supersized meals, smashed another home run that threatened metacarpals in the bleachers, then stood in the clubhouse wearing a leg brace on his head and singing Prince.
Some players take years to mature. Sano does it in 40 feet.
In the dugout he makes up and sings silly songs, usually about himself.
Once he reaches the batter’s box, he takes the most mature and productive at-bats on a team he has helped make a contender.
Sunday, Sano went 1-for-2 with a home run and two walks in the Twins’ 7-5 victory over the impressive Astros at Target Field.
Sano has played in just 49 games. He has hit 13 homers and driven in 40 runs. If he keeps producing at this rate, he is likely to lead all American League rookies in both categories despite his late start. He already has lapped the field in on-base percentage (.398) and slugging percentage (.591.)
Houston’s Carlos Correa is a wonderful all-around shortstop who might have run away with the award, but he has been held out recently because of a sore hamstring while Sano has continued to act like the MVP of a playoff contender.
So Sano is a surprise candidate for the award. But then everything about Sano is surprising.
He’s surprisingly large for a baseball player. He moves surprisingly well for his size. He throws surprisingly hard for a player known primarily as a hitter. He has adapted surprisingly well to the big leagues. And he is surprisingly open and friendly for a player who has drawn immense attention since he was a preteen.
Asked whether Sano wants to be the rookie of the year, Torii Hunter, Eduardo Nunez and manager Paul Molitor all said no, that they believed Sano cared only about winning.
“I think maybe on a confidence level, he expects to win awards at some point,” Molitor said. “I don’t think it’s an overly large motivational tool for him.”
Sano spoke of winning but also of national pride. He wants to be the eighth player from the Dominican Republic to win the rookie of the year award.
“I want to win it,” he said. “If I win it, I will be really happy. Not too many people can win rookie of the year from my country. I want to be in the playoffs, and I want to win rookie of the year.”
The latest addition to his résumé mimicked what golfers would call a duck hook. It left the bat as if being chased by demons, seemingly headed for the left-field wall, then rose and swerved into the seats, a laser that makes left turns.
Once Major League Baseball sees the replay, it may add protective netting not only by the dugouts but over the bleachers wherever Sano plays. Six years after construction ended, Target Field is once again a hard-hat area.
“I never try to hit home runs,” he said. “Sometimes when I try to hit a ball too hard I strike out. My last at-bat, I tried to put the ball in play to right field, and, look! I hit a line-drive home run to left.”
“It doesn’t surprise me that he hits home runs,” Nunez said. “He’s big. He should hit home runs. What surprises me is that he takes great at-bats as a rookie.”
As the Twins prepare to play their first meaningful September game at Target Field since 2010, they have two interconnected candidates for major awards.
Molitor may not win the American League manager of the year award because of the excellent work of the Astros’ A.J. Hinch. Molitor helped develop Sano as a minor league instructor and may benefit from that groundwork in the next month or two.
“I’m having fun with Torii, with Joe Mauer, with my other friends,” Sano said. “I have the discipline to play. But sometimes I sing, too.”
Standing a short walk from First Avenue, the place that launched Prince’s career, a kid from the Dominican Republic stood in a baseball clubhouse singing “Little Red Corvette.” In the Summer of Sano, it didn’t sound odd at all.