TORONTO – Mitch Garver smacked four hits and drove in five runs. Joe Mauer doubled twice, each time collecting an RBI. But when the Twins really needed a clutch plate appearance, Max Kepler followed his teammates’ advice and let an errant pitch hit him.
C’mon, he’s done it before.
“No, I really was trying to get out of the way,” Kepler said.
Oh. Well, it worked again. With the bases loaded and two outs in the 11th inning, Kepler took a Jake Petricka slider off his left shin, forcing in the go-ahead run and sparking a sudden landslide of offense. The result was an 12-6 victory over the Blue Jays, completing the Twins’ first sweep in Rogers Centre in 15 years.
The victory kept the Twins 7½ games behind Cleveland in the AL Central, with a four-game series against baseball’s best team, the Red Sox, next up on this strange road trip. The Twins were swept by last-place Kansas City but won three in a row in Ontario for the first time since 2003, thanks in part to the second game-deciding plunking of Kepler’s career. “I walked one off that way at home last year,” against the White Sox on Aug. 31.
This time, Kepler’s brief pain sparked a lot of Twins joy. Once Petricka was removed, Toronto manager John Gibbons was ejected and Luis Santos took the mound, the Twins rattled off four more hits to turn the game into a rout. Garver doubled to deep left-center; Robbie Grossman sliced a double down the left-field line; and Mauer and Eddie Rosario singled to make it a decisive six-run inning.
The win tied the Twins’ fourth-most lopsided extra-inning victory ever and was their biggest since an 11-5 win at Kansas City on Aug. 28, 2014.
“You come in here, a place historically that’s been challenging and they’ve been playing well at home, so you just kind of take them any way you can get them,” manager Paul Molitor said. “Now we’re going into that hotbed of Fenway [Park]. But it feels good. The flight will be better.”
This game was supposed to be a celebration of Ervin Santana’s return from February finger surgery, but his catcher stole the show with a career day. That after a three-hit night Monday.
“I like Toronto. It’s a great city,” Garver said with a smile. “The last time I was here, it was a unique experience — my first start behind the plate. From then to now, a lot has changed.”
Garver’s second-inning single off Sam Gaviglio brought home Jorge Polanco, part of a three-run rally keyed by Mauer’s double. Garver broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth by smashing an Aaron Loup sinker for his fifth homer. And in the eighth, Garver brought another run in with a single through a drawn-in infield.
The Twins held a 6-3 lead in the eighth, but Trevor Hildenberger surrendered three runs and the lead, at least partly due to some bad luck. With a runner on second and one out, Randal Grichuk hit a hard line drive that glanced off third baseman Eduardo Escobar’s backhanded stab and into left field for a double. After a walk loaded the bases, Luke Maile lined a two-run single, and Aledmys Diaz hit a ground ball to short too softly for the Twins to turn a double play, tying the score.
Matt Belisle put runners on in the ninth and 10th innings but kept the score tied, thanks in part to Kendrys Morales’ second baserunning blunder of the day. With one out and the winning run at third base in the ninth, the Toronto slugger was doubled off first on a line drive to short.
That set up Kepler’s take-one-for-the-team heroics.
“I didn’t know if it hit him,” said Brian Dozier, who started the rally with a two-out double and stood on third when Kepler was hit. “But we’ll take it.”