KANSAS CITY, MO. – Behold the 2019 Minnesota Twins, who tower over their sport as the greatest home run-hitting superheroes of the century-and-a-half-old annals of baseball history.
By a margin of, um, one.
It won’t count for much when they meet in New York on Friday, but the Twins have already beaten the Yankees once this week. When Jason Castro drove an 80-mph changeup three rows deep into the left-center field stands midway through a 5-4 season-ending loss to the Royals on Sunday, he delivered the title of best ever, at least until next year, upon himself and his teammates.
Castro’s fifth-inning homer, along with first-inning blasts by C.J. Cron and Jake Cave, allowed the Twins to overtake the Yankees on the season’s final day, 307 home runs to 306.
“I don’t think anybody will ever forget the Bomba Squad, and I mean that,” said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, invoking the team’s self-proclaimed nickname. “This is something that’s never happened before, and our guys out there, they just did it. … Our guys just went out there and hit more home runs than any team in the history of baseball,” Baldelli repeated, as if trying to make himself believe it.
It was about as thrilling as a statistical race can be, especially since the games were being played simultaneously, but the participants were mostly unaware of the drama.
“I actually didn’t know. I had no idea,” Castro said of his record-setting blast. “[Reliever] Trevor May told me when I was walking up the tunnel” after the game.
Castro realized his home run was historic, but for a different reason. When he connected off Royals starter Jorge Lopez, the Twins’ total of 44 home runs by catchers became the new standard, surpassing the 43 hit by catchers on the 1953 Dodgers (largely Roy Campanella), the 1997 Dodgers (mostly Mike Piazza), 1999 Mets (Piazza again) and 2003 Braves (chiefly Javy Lopez).
Pretty good company, which explains Castro’s fist pump as he jogged around the bases.
“It’s a record, and this game’s been played by a lot of great players for a very long time,” Baldelli said. “Who knows how long it will stand.”
None of the three home run hitters on Sunday had hit one in September, so their teaming up to deliver the record symbolizes the team-wide presence that the homer explosion had.
“Our lineup has done this all year long. No matter who has been out there, no matter where they’re hitting in the lineup, it really hasn’t mattered,” Baldelli said.
Nice Yost send-off
The statistical victory contrasted with the baseball one. The Twins took an early 3-0 lead, but Kansas City rallied with a run in the eighth and one in the ninth to hand retiring manager Ned Yost his 746th and final victory, most in Royals history.
A Hunter Dozier triple and Ryan O’Hearn double tied the score in the eighth, and Humberto Arteaga doubled to open the ninth against Fernando Romero. Two batters later, Brett Phillips hit a fly ball to right field, and Ian Miller’s throw home was too late to prevent Arteaga from scoring the winning run, just the second time this season the Twins have lost in walkoff fashion.
Minnesota, which had won six straight games, finishes its season with a 101-61 record, including 55-26 on the road.
Adrianza the manager
Baldelli asked infielder Ehire Adrianza to serve as manager on Sunday, while he observed from a seat on the bench. The veteran infielder made out the lineup, held a pregame and postgame media sessions, and even went to the mound to make pitching changes.
“It was a little nerve-racking going out on my first mound visit. I had sweaty palms,” the 30-year-old Venezuelan said. “As the game went along, I felt happy that I was able to help and contribute and go through the learning process today.”
He’s a future manager if he decides to pursue it, Baldelli believes.
“He’s got a great baseball mind, and he’s passionate about the game,” Baldelli said. “He would flourish in this type of environment.”