Aaron Judge met all expectations in his Target Field debut on Monday, blasting one pitch into the third deck in left-center field, and smacking another far over the wall in right-center.
So much for batting practice.
During the game, however, a player nine inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter had a far greater impact than the league’s superstar rookie. Pinch hitter Eduardo Escobar, engaged in his fourth annual tug-of-war for playing time, turned on a changeup, lined it into left field, and delivered the go-ahead run in the Twins’ 4-2 victory over the Yankees.
“His production’s been good, given the time he gets to play,” said Twins manager Paul Molitor, who lately has juggled three different shortstops as he searches for consistency. “But when he doesn’t play, he’s a good guy to have as an option late in the game. As he proved tonight.”
Eddie Rosario, who contributed a pair of run-scoring doubles, followed Escobar’s hit with one of his own to add to the cushion that Brandon Kintzler used to convert his 11th consecutive save, and 26th on the season, despite a sudden rain that turned into a downpour by the game’s final pitch.
“It was kind of annoying, but I did the best I could. I know it’s just as annoying for the hitter,” said Kintzler, who recorded only his eighth 1-2-3 save of the season. “I have an advantage if I keep my hand dry. Obviously it’s in my favor there.”
Adalberto Mejía had no such advantage — in fact, the 88-degree, heavily humid weather wore him down in a hurry, he said. Yet the Dominican pitcher turned in his sixth straight satisfactory start, having allowed only 10 runs over 34 ⅓ innings, a 2.62 ERA. He didn’t walk a batter for the first time all season, and only once, on back-to-back doubles by the bottom of the New York lineup, fill-in first baseman Garrett Cooper and catcher Austin Romine, did the weather, and the Yankees, get to him.
“I was happy about it. I was throwing hard overall,” Mejia said. “I think the temperature got to me a little bit. Other than that it was a good outing.”
Better for Mejia than Judge, the rookie slugger whose Home Run Derby exploits had raised anticipation over his Minneapolis debut. But Mejia got Judge to chase a slider in the first inning for a strikeout, hit into a force out in the fourth, and fly out — deep but playable — in the sixth.
The Twins scored twice against Yankees starter Bryan Mitchell but left runners on third base in three straight innings, leaving them vulnerable to a Yankees comeback that finally arrived in the seventh, when Cooper doubled home Chase Headley to tie it. But when Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano singled to lead off the eighth, Molitor had an eager pinch hitter, waiting for his chance.
Actually Escobar, as he does every year, is waiting for any chance at all.
“I’m trying to get him into the lineup when I can. It’s tough,” Molitor said. “I talked to him today about hit opportunities. He hasn’t had a chance to play a lot of shortstop, and that’s been tough for him.”
But he was ready when called upon to face another Yankees rookie, lefthander Caleb Smith.
“It was an offspeed pitch, and he can go down and get that low pitch, especially righthanded. He poked it out there,” Molitor said of his spare shortstop. “Pinch hitting’s not an easy duty. These guys don’t have a ton of experience with it. Obviously he did a nice job of giving us the lead.”