In 2019, the Twins bowed to power. They sacrificed fielding and on-base percentage to fill their lineup with sluggers who set the record for home runs in a season.
Three seasons later, the Bomba Squad has become the Web Gem Gang, a team adapting to the new dead-ball era with fielding range and skill.
The 2022 Twins are in first place because of pitching depth and slightly-better-than-average run production, but their superpower is turning line drives into outs. They specialize in cowhide-on-cowhide crime.
Monday night, they extended their winning streak to five with a 5-4 victory over Detroit at Target Field, in a game again featuring routine excellence in the field.
"I'll get real elegant here, but you have to appreciate the beauty of it,'' Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "There's just a lot of very talented defenders out there and that's exciting to watch, no matter who you are.''
Fielding is the most beautiful aspect of baseball. Buy a ticket to a big-league game in any city, and you can't count on even a good team winning, and you can't count on a good hitter producing, but a good-fielding team is almost guaranteed to make a play every night that takes your breath away.
Byron Buxton is the best center fielder in the game. Carlos Correa combines skill with knowledge and an ability to lead the infield. Jorge Polanco, who played shortstop in 2019, is a natural second baseman. Gio Urshela has been spectacular at third.
The Twins have mixed and matched at left field and first base because of injuries, generally getting quality fielding at both positions. Right fielder Max Kepler and catcher Ryan Jeffers have been quite good, and catcher Gary Sanchez has been better behind the plate than his reputation would have suggested.
"The last time we were here, the left side of the infield was very, very impressive,'' said Tigers manager A.J. Hinch, who managed Correa in Houston. "Urshela and Correa both came in with high praise and they didn't disappoint …
"They are a dynamic team and I have a bias in this, because I have a history with him, but it all starts with the guy who's playing short.''
I've been lucky to watch great fielders up close all of my life. Baltimore's Paul Blair, Frank Robinson, Mark Belanger, Brooks Robinson, and Davey Johnson and Bobby Grich. St. Louis' Willie McGee, Ozzie Smith, Tommy Herr and Keith Hernandez. Minnesota's Kirby Puckett, Greg Gagne, Chuck Knoblauch and Kent Hrbek, with the underrated Dan Gladden in left field. The Contraction Kids of Torii Hunter, Cristian Guzman, Luis Rivas and Doug Mientkiewicz.
If there is such a thing as "glue'' players, then there is such a thing as a "glue'' element to winning, and the Twins' gloves have proved sticky.
"If the ball is hit at somebody, it's an out,'' Twins reliever Tyler Duffey said. "That's a huge security blanket for a pitcher. I remember watching Gio when he was with Cleveland, we were all like, man, he's legit. Then you get to see him every day, and he's even better than you thought."
What's encouraging for the organization is that even role players have thrived in the field. Nick Gordon seems able to play adeptly just about anywhere. Gilberto Celestino has played well in center and left. Luis Arraez has played well in left and at first.
In the first inning on Monday night, Gordon, playing in left, saved two runs with a diving catch in the gap. In the fifth inning, Arraez, playing first, slid and spun to his right to field a hard grounder and flipped to Griffin Jax for the out.
In the sixth, Urshela, playing in, spun to stop a hard grounder and threw accurately to first. To end the sixth, Polanco made a nice play rushing in on a soft grounder. To end the top of the ninth, Correa went hard to his right before throwing out Javy Baez.
"When the ball is put in play, we expect every play to be made right now,'' Baldelli said. "It's easy to say that, but we believe it and we expect it of ourselves. I think we've solidified some different parts of the field in some very nice ways.
"We talk about shrinking innings. When the ball is put in play and the inning ends, because you got three outs, nothing else can happen. When those innings get extended, you never know what's going to happen. You don't want to be in that spot, and we haven't been in that spot too many times, because of our players.''