ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. – Every television in the visitors clubhouse at Tropicana Field was turned to the Angels-Athletics game Wednesday afternoon. Twins players yelled as Oakland scored twice in the fifth to build its lead to 3-0.
As the Twins prepared to leave for Kansas City — and their next important series — they kept an eye on the Angels, who are pushing them in the battle for the second American League wild-card spot. The Twins already had done their part, holding off not just one, not just two but three comebacks from Tampa Bay to win 10-6. The victory allowed them to avoid being swept in the three-game series and provided a little boost before taking on the Royals, who won two of three games against them at Target Field last week.
The Angels lost 3-1 to Oakland on Wednesday, allowing the Twins to leapfrog them into the second wild-card spot by a half-game.
After losing to the Rays 2-1 on Tuesday night, Brian Dozier stopped short of saying the series finale would be a must-win situation. A day later, he reversed himself.
“I don’t want to say that it was a must win,” Dozier said Wednesday. “But it was a must win.”
The Twins will have to continue winning vital games to pull off an unprecedented turnaround.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no team has ever lost 100 games in a season, then made the playoffs the following year (the second wild card was added in 2012). Turnarounds take time, usually involving a revamped and stabilized pitching staff. The Twins are attempting to do so with a rotation not always capable of tossing six good innings and a bullpen lacking a true closer and a few newbies to this playoff-push thing.
But most of the wild-card wannabes have their shortcomings. Whoever can pounce on opportunities and play through missteps can slide into that one-game showdown in October.
Wednesday’s victory definitely was the latter, as manager Paul Molitor’s hair looked grayer after the game.
Dozier hit his team-record-and-counting 26th home run to lead off a game and 29th of the season, putting him one shy of joining Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Gary Gaetti and Justin Morneau as Twins with consecutive seasons of 30 or more homers. But Evan Longoria tied it with a homer in the bottom of the first.
Ehire Adrianza, playing on a day Molitor held lefthanded hitters Joe Mauer, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler out of the starting lineup, belted a three-run homer in the second. But Twins rookie righthander Aaron Slegers issued two two-out walks in the third, then served up a first-pitch homer to Lucas Duda, tying the score again.
Eduardo Escobar hit a two-run single in the fifth to put the Twins ahead 6-4. Back came the Rays with two runs on Kevin Kiermaier’s homer off Buddy Boshers in the bottom half to make it 6-6. When would the corresponding scoring by the Rays stop?
Then came the opportunity. Tampa Bay reliever Steve Cishek’s throwing error sparked a three-run seventh inning, and Robbie Grossman added a sacrifice fly in the ninth. Taylor Rogers, Trevor Hildenberger and Matt Belisle were the surge protectors over the final 3⅓ innings.
Mauer and Kepler came off the bench in the late innings, but the Twins snapped a three-game losing streak with much of the work done by reserves and five innings of one-run ball by the bullpen.
“It’s frustrating,” Molitor said of losing three leads, “and it is a little bit of a test to see how you can persevere through a game like that after you lost a few in a row. We stayed after it, and some guys stepped up big late in the game.”
Holding off the home team is a good trait to have, especially when you’re in the playoff percolator. Now the Twins intend to carry it into the series against the Royals.
“We’re going to go there and show them that we are the better team,” Escobar said. “It’s a rivalry. They are going to fight, and we are going to fight. It’s going to be a good [series].”