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All-Time Twins Tournament, Puckett Round, Day 5: How to keep a small lead

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Plus, a switch hitter pulls off a longball feat... but not the switch hitter you may think.

Minnesota Twins v Tampa Bay Rays
They may be two years away from being bombas, but they’re still bombs.
Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

How to start a small business: “You start a big business, then you wait.” —The Capitol Steps

Minneapolis Sectional (played)

(13) 2003 Twins 4
(16) 2017 Twins 7
‘17 leads 3-2

Like Game 1 of this sectional, Ervin Santana shut down ‘03 bats for most of the game. Unlike Game 1, ‘17 hit the ball hard and hit it often.

Ehire Adrianza homered from both sides of the plate to help ‘17 build a 7-0 lead, holding on despite a flat eighth inning to complete a 7-4 victory.

Johan Santana again took the mound for ‘03, but did not repeat his own Game 1 performance; four batters into the home half of the first, ‘17 was up 3-0. After Brian Dozier led off by working an eight-pitch walk, Adrianza pulled Santana’s first pitch off the left field foul pole. Miguel Sano followed with an infield single and Eddie Rosario with an RBI double before Santana settled down, keeping ‘17 from adding to their lead.

Although ‘17 regularly put men on base against Santana, the ace southpaw worked out of damage outside of the first inning, but nearly saw the game broken open in the fifth. Adrianza opened the inning with an infield single and Sanó lined a double that put men on second and third with nobody out. After striking out Rosario on a full count, Santana intentionally walked Escobar to set up a double play. But there proved to be no need for the IBB, as Jason Castro struck out and Kennys Vargas grounded to third for the final out of the frame.

In order to extend their lead, ‘17 needed wait just one more inning. Santana exited the game after Max Kepler opened the sixth with a double, but Grant Balfour would provide little relief to ‘03’s bullpen, his first pitch to Byron Buxton slugged over the left field wall. Dozier followed with a double, bringing up Adrianza, now batting lefty against the right-handed Balfour. With a 2-1 count, Adrianza swung at Balfour’s offering and sent it to the opposite field, into the seats in left for his second home run of the game. Joe Mays put out the fire, but the lead had gone from easily reachable to a mountainous obstacle.

Meanwhile, Ervin Santana cruised through ‘03’s lineup, allowing just two hits over seven innings, walking none and striking out four. But as in the first game, he was unable to make it through the eighth. Michael Ryan led off with a single and moved to second on a passed ball. Corey Koskie, not in the starting lineup after a 2-11 start to the series, pinch hit and lined a single that brought home Ryan. After another passed ball and an error that allowed A.J. Pierzynski to reach base, Santana yielded the mound to Tyler Duffey. But Duffey walked Matt LeCroy to load the bases, and after Shannon Stewart struck out, Doug Mientkiewicz launced a deep fly ball to the wall in right-center, his triple clearing the bases. Duffey and Matt Belisle cleared the inning with a pair of strikeouts, but the lead was now within reach.

Such a detail would not matter. After two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth, Belisle walked Koskie and Trevor Hildenberger entered to close the game. The task took him one pitch, as Pierzynski lined out to Vargas to give Hildenberger a very easy save.

Stars of the Game
‘03 — RP LaTroy Hawkins: 2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K
‘03 — 3B Corey Koskie: 1-1, R, RBI, BB
‘03 — 1B Doug Mientkiewicz: 1-4, 3B, 3 RBI
‘17 — SS Ehire Adrianza: 3-5, 2 HR, 2 R, 4 RBI
‘17 — DH Miguel Sanó: 3-4, 2B, R, HBP
‘17 — SP Ervin Santana: 7.0+ IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K

St. Paul Sectional

(3) 1969 Twins 8
(7) 2019 Twins 9
-10 innings-
‘69 leads 3-2

Once again, ‘19 exploded in the late innings to take the lead from ‘69. This time, they had to fight harder to keep it.

After a Taylor Rogers blown save tied the game in the ninth, C.J. Cron drove in Nelson Cruz with a 10th-inning single, giving ‘19 their second 9-8 walk-off win of the Kirby Puckett Round and keeping them alive.

Until the later third of innings, the two teams scored in a very standard and casual manner. Both teams scored a run in the first, ‘19 pulled ahead in the second, ‘69 put a two-spot on the board in the third to take the lead back, and ‘19 plated a man in the sixth to tie it up again.

Then came the seventh.

The first two batters to face Tyler Duffey were Rod Carew, who singled, and Tony Oliva, who blasted the ball 455 feet. Duffey followed the home run by loading the bases on a walk, hit batsman, and single, but escaped the inning allowing only one additional run to come across, Leo Cárdenas bringing in Harmon Killebrew on a sacrifice fly.

‘19’s hopes were fading fast, as Al Worthington worked around a leadoff single in the seventh and Bob Miller got two quick groundouts to start the eighth. But backed up against the dugout wall, ‘19 came alive. Cron concluded a nine-pitch at-bat with a ringing double, and Byron Buxton doubled him home, cutting the deficit to two. Miller issued a pair of walks to load the bases before Cruz tied the game with a two-run single. Tom Hall relieved Miller but could not find the strike zone, walking three consecutive batters to bring in two more runs, before Eddie Rosario flew out to end the inning.

Rogers entered in the top of the ninth in hopes to finish an 8-6 victory. Those hopes lasted two batters, as Rogers hit César Tovar with a pitch, and Bob Allison lined a two-run home run to tie the game at eight. ‘69 nearly regained the lead as Rogers walked two men, but he struck out John Roseboro and induced a 4-6-3 double play from Carew to escape.

After ‘19’s bats went flat in the ninth, ‘69 nearly took the game back in the 10th. With Rogers still pitching, Oliva led off with a double, and after two outs, Rogers once again loaded the bases, intentionally walking Tovar and hitting Allison with an errant pitch. Ryne Harper came in to face Cárdenas, who lofted his fourth pitch harmlessly into the glove of Max Kepler, stranding the bases loaded. (‘69 left 14 men on base this game; ‘19 stranded 12.)

The bottom of the 10th nearly saw another exhausting goose-egg. After Cruz led off with a double, Jerry Crider relieved Joe Grzenda and immediately put another man on, walking Mitch Garver. Crider nearly escaped the inning, striking out Sanó and getting Kepler to ground out, but after intentionally walking Rosario, Ron Perranoski entered to preserve the tie. But Cron grounded his second pitch through the infield, bringing home Cruz and keeping ‘19 in the tournament for at least one more game.

Stars of the Game
‘69 — RF Tony Oliva: 4-5, HR, 2B, 3 R, 2 RBI, BB
‘69 — 1B Rich Reese: 3-5, RBI
‘69 — 2B Rod Carew: 3-6, 2B, R
‘69 — C John Roseboro: 3-5
‘19 — 1B C.J. Cron: 3-6, 2 2B, 2 R, RBI, walk-off RBI single
‘19 — DH Nelson Cruz: 3-6, 2 R, 2 RBI, scored GW run
‘19 — CF Byron Buxton: 2-5, 2 2B, R, 2 RBI

And thus, we have two more games tomorrow.

Introduction
Walter Johnson Round: Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3 / Day 4 / Day 5
Harmon Killebrew Round: Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3 / Day 4 / Day 5
Kirby Puckett Round: Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3 / Day 4 / Day 5 / Day 6 / Day 7
Joe Mauer Round: Preview / Game 1 / Game 2 / Game 3 / Game 4 / Game 5 / Game 6 / Game 7
Review