The Twins recaptured a little of their recent past on Saturday night but temporarily lost a little bit of their future.
They hit five home runs at Target Field, including a rare pair of back-to-back outbursts, and won their MLB-best 20th home game with an 8-4 party over Cleveland. It was the most home runs in a single game this season for a franchise that managed the feat 11 times in 2019.
“It was fun to watch,” manager Rocco Baldelli said after the Twins improved to 9-2 in September.
But the news afterward wasn’t as much fun. Rookie outfielder Brent Rooker, who has filled in admirably for the past nine days while Max Kepler has recovered from a groin injury, was hit on the right arm by a Zach Plesac pitch in the fourth inning. The changeup fractured Rooker’s forearm, ended his season and might require a surgical procedure to fix. Kepler likely will be activated Sunday.
“It was a very tough break. He’s done a fantastic job for us in his time here, contributed in a huge way in only a few games,” Baldelli said of the 35th overall pick in the 2017 draft, who doubled in the second inning to bring his batting average to .316 in seven games. “We needed his performances and he came through for us.”
A lot of people came though for the Twins on Saturday, especially the bottom of the order. The seventh-, eighth- and ninth-place hitters all homered, the first time that’s happened since 2013. Marwin Gonzalez, fighting a 2-for-24 September slump, did the honors first, crushing a Plesac changeup 417 feet onto the upper-deck tarp in right field. Two pitches later, Willians Astudillo lined one into the planters in left field, his first homer of the season.
After Rooker was injured, Byron Buxton followed with a home run into Cleveland’s bullpen, his second homer in as many games. And in the eighth inning, with the Twins clinging to a 5-4 lead, Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano hit back-to-back homers off reliever Nick Wittgren. The only other time the Twins had gone back-to-back twice? It was June 9, 1966. Rich Rollins and Zoilo Versalles connected against the Kansas City A’s, and Tony Oliva and Don Mincher repeated the feat in the same inning.
Rosario was overjoyed by reaching 10 homers on the season, and doing it while wearing No. 21 in tribute to fellow Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente.
“It’s an honor as a Puerto Rican,” Rosario said. “He’s our idol. I’m going to keep this jersey forever.”
He wasn’t surprised by all the home runs, though. It’s a sign, he said, that the Twins offense is kicking into midseason form — just as the 60-game season winds down.
“If you think about a 162-game season, right now is basically where we’d be in the first two months of the regular season, like 100-plus at-bats,” Rosario said. “That’s when everyone starts warming up.”
They would like to be hot by the time the playoffs start in just over two weeks. The victory, Minnesota’s sixth in nine meetings with Cleveland this season, keeps the Twins within one game of the White Sox for the AL Central lead.
Just as important, it solidifies the Twins’ hold on the fourth seed in the American League, which currently comes with home-field advantage in the best-of-three first round of the playoffs. At 29-18, the Twins are now 2½ games ahead of 26-20 Cleveland for the league’s fourth-best record.
Rich Hill rode the Twins’ bottom-up support to his second victory of the season, holding Cleveland to two runs on four hits over five innings. Hill struck out a season-high seven batters, and allowed only one hit through the first three innings.