ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. – It was Father’s Day at Tropicana Field for Eddie Rosario. Or was it Groundhog Day?
With Eddie Rosario Sr. looking on from Section 105, his 24-year-old son waited on a first-pitch breaking ball from Erasmo Ramirez, then pounced when he got a changeup, rocketing it a dozen rows deep in right field for a pinch-hit home run Friday that put the Twins in front for good in a 6-2 victory over the Rays, their seventh victory in nine games.
This baseball stuff must look so simple to the elder Rosario, because he’s only seen his son play one other major league game: His debut, May 6, 2015. When Rosario also homered. On the first pitch.
Hey, can Eddie Sr. come to Saturday’s game, too? “Definitely,” Rosario said, laughing.
It was a dramatic moment that turned around a tight game — the Twins trailed 2-1 when Rosario batted — and it came with some strategy on both sides. The Rays anticipated they might need a lefthander to relieve Ramirez, but manager Kevin Cash thought it would be to face Joe Mauer, who’s now batting .402 in his career in this ballpark, later in the inning, not a pinch hitter. But when Eduardo Escobar led off the seventh with a walk, and Jorge Polanco bunted him to second, Molitor summoned Rosario, who wasn’t in the starting lineup against lefty rookie Blake Snell, to bat for Byron Buxton, who’s 6-for-46 (. 130) since the All-Star break.
Pitching coach Jim Hickey walked to the mound, but lefthander Xavier Cedeno wasn’t warmed up, so Molitor had the matchup he wanted. “When I called him to hit, he was still in the cage, so I figured he was ready,” Molitor said. “I wasn’t sure how many more times I was going to get to have a lefthanded batter face a righthanded pitcher.”
As Rosario waited, he had an insight, too. “When the pitching coach was talking to [Ramirez], I was thinking, ‘He won’t throw me a fastball on the first pitch,’ ” Rosario deduced. “He threw me a changeup in the middle.”
In an instant, Rosario became the first Twin to smash two pinch-hit home runs in the same season since Jason Kubel in 2010, and he made his father proud. His manager, too.
“He was doing a nice job in Cleveland on off-speed pitches, fighting off fastballs,” Paul Molitor said. “The calmness is giving him a little more time for [pitch] recognition.”
Rosario wasn’t the only hitter to punish Ramirez. An inning later, Miguel Sano added to his case for remaining in the big leagues by hitting his first home run in two weeks, a no-doubt blast that landed a few rows short of the concourse in left field.
Considering the looming roster crunch when Trevor Plouffe returns, Sano’s two-hit night was well-timed, as was his choice to show up at Tropicana Field early for an extra workout. “I’m just playing baseball, focused, doing my job, working hard. That’s what it all comes to,” Sano said. “Two weeks ago, I was struggling. In Cleveland I started feeling comfortable. I want to keep doing my thing.”
Same for Ervin Santana, whose thing is keeping the Twins in games as long as he can. The righthander allowed only six hits and two runs over 6⅓ innings, striking out eight. Three of those whiffs came after he created a second-and-third, no-out jam in the fifth inning by whiffing Luke Maile, Logan Forsythe and Kevin Kiermaier in order. “I was trying to make them hit the ball on the ground, not fly balls,” Santana said.
“He buckled up and was able to get out of it unscathed,” Molitor said. “That was huge. ”