The fifth inning began with two routine groundouts Tuesday. No one knew then that one of the wackier innings of the season was just getting started.
Before the inning ended, the Twins were on their way to a 14-4 win over Chicago. It included two misplayed balls by the White Sox, the return of ‘The Squirrel’ and Nelson Cruz making age 39 look like 29. After taking control of the game in the middle innings, the Twins buried the White Sox with seven runs in the eighth inning behind five doubles and a home run.
The win, coupled with Cleveland’s loss to the Mets, enabled the Twins to increase their lead in the American League Central Division to three games.
“Well, it’s fun, and we stayed at it, and battled through some innings early, had some pretty good at-bats,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think we got to a point where we were able to get into their bullpen. Their starting pitcher actually I think pitched well and forced the action and threw strikes and did a good job, and it escalated quickly later in the game.”
Righthander Michael Pineda (9-5) put on a strike-throwing exhibition for seven innings. The offense rewarded him by scoring seven unanswered runs against White Sox righthander Reynaldo Lopez after falling behind 3-0.
Four of those runs were scored in the fifth, after Mitch Garver and Marwin Gonzalez grounded out with the score tied 3-3.
Jake Cave hit a line drive to left that should have been caught by Eloy Jimenez, but he lost it in the lights and it fell in for a single.
Max Kepler followed with a check-swing dribbler in front of the plate. Catcher Wellington Castillo picked the ball up and threw it to first, where Jose Abreu mishandled the throw for an error.
As Jorge Polanco batted, a squirrel appeared on the field for the second straight night. After going into the Twins dugout Monday, this one ran in from right field and went through Kepler’s legs as he took a lead off first. Then it headed for Chicago’s dugout as the announced crowd of 26,798 howled and reached for smartphones.
Play resumed as the squirrel left the dugout, briefly entered the stands, returned to the field and ran along the outfield wall before escaping through a hole.
Polanco ended up getting hit by a Lopez pitch to load the bases for Cruz, who stepped to the plate batting 16-for-33 with eight home runs against the White Sox this season.
Cruz, who homered off Lopez in the fourth, hit a 2-2 pitch to right for a two-run double and a 5-3 Twins lead. Eddie Rosario followed with a two-run single, and the Twins led 7-3.
“I don’t know if that squirrel had anything to do with it,” Kepler said. “He was out here [Monday] and he didn’t help us. We’ll see if he come back tomorrow. I think he’s hanging out here for a while.”
Cruz finished 4-for-5 with three doubles, a home run and three RBI. It was the first four extra-base hit night of his career. Two of the doubles came during the seven-run eighth inning, one that included a home run by Polanco — the Twins’ 29th homer against the White Sox this season, a franchise record.
Did the squirrel help curse the White Sox? Baldelli, a confirmed animal lover, wants it back if his team is going to score 14 runs.
“The squirrel is real,” Baldelli said. “We might end up with a little mascot or, I wouldn’t be surprised if you found some T-shirts with some players’ faces on it or someone doing something like that pretty soon. I wouldn’t mind if the squirrel showed back up.”