ARLINGTON, TEXAS – Rocco Baldelli got his wish.
Wrung out often by the Twins’ habit of momentum swings and dramatic finishes, the Twins manager Wednesday pined for an uneventful, wire-to-wire blowout victory.
“There’s nothing wrong with going through those games, taking a lead and not having the drama,” Baldelli said before the game. “Just cruising along.”
It wasn’t exactly uneventful, but the Twins finally reasserted themselves Thursday at Globe Life Park, deflating the Rangers early with a five-run second inning, then adding to their lead in five of the next seven. The result was a 13-6 victory, only their third in nine games and a welcome relief for a team clinging to first place by a half-game over Cleveland.
“Our pitchers went out there and did their jobs well. Our offense did its job. We defended pretty well,” Baldelli said, naming the three areas that have been a little spotty for his team lately. “It was a good game overall.”
Especially for Michael Pineda, bouncing back from the injured list. Especially for Luis Arraez and Marwin Gonzalez, who whistled line drives and drove in runs pretty much every time at bat. Especially for Eddie Rosario, who got to savor two of his favorite baseball accomplishments: hitting home runs and throwing out baserunners. And especially for Devin Smeltzer, who earned two saves — one statistically, oddly enough, and one for his fellow relief pitchers — even though it cost him his roster spot.
“It feels good every time you score a lot of runs,” Gonzalez confirmed. “Everyone in the dugout is going to be happy. Even the pitcher is going to feel better, too. It’s always a good thing.”
And one largely missing lately for the Twins. They have won by a margin of seven or more runs 16 times this season, but a dozen of them came before the All-Star break.
So the breakout offense, which included home runs by Arraez, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario, plus a four-hit night from Gonzalez, was a nice souvenir. Pineda’s recovery from tendinitis might have bigger implications in the pennant race, however. The veteran righthander, relying mostly on a fastball whose velocity climbed much of the night, retired 11 of the first 12 hitters he faced. Perhaps because of the draining 90-degree temperatures, he wore down in the fifth inning, allowing three runs on five hits.
But his 86-pitch return was universally declared a success, easing more anxiety about the Twins’ pennant-race chances.
“He was really sharp. He commanded the ball well,” Baldelli said. “His stuff was good — might even have ticked up a little bit as the game went on.”
Smeltzer pitched the final four innings, and sacrificed himself for the good of the team. He allowed three runs and seven hits, and was helped by a bizarre inning in which Smeltzer gave up two doubles, two singles and a home run, yet allowed only two runs because the Rangers ran into three outs on the bases — two at home and one at third base.
“My defense helped big-time. It was huge. They picked me up,” Smeltzer said. “I was struggling with my fastball command, and they had my back. I had a couple of things go my way even though I didn’t have much going my way.”
Smeltzer earned a four-inning save, the first of his career, but by throwing 68 pitches, he wouldn’t be available for several days. So the rookie lefthander was optioned back to Class AAA Rochester after the game, the fourth time it’s happened to him.
“That’s what my job is. If it’s pinch running, it’s pinch running. If it’s going five, I’ll go five, whatever they need,” Smeltzer said. “The save, I would rather have pitched much better than that and not gotten a save. But I kind of wore one and helped the team out. I like that better.”