Wes Johnson, who?
Hopefully, when it’s all said and done, we can look back on Monday — and the rest of this series in Cleveland, for that matter — as a pivotal point in the Minnesota Twins season. In the wake of the shocking news that pitching coach Wes Johnson would abruptly leave the Twins midseason, a group of veterans (plus Alex Kirilloff) stepped up and ensured that there would not be a flat start to a huge, five-game series against the Guardians.
Rocco Baldelli’s crew came to Cleveland to play.
Sonny Gray pitched seven scoreless, three-hit innings and five different Twins players drove in runs en route to a dominating performance that stretched the Twins’ lead in the A.L. Central to three games leading into Tuesday’s split doubleheader.
The Twins drew first blood. With one out in the top of the second inning, Kirilloff fell down in the count 0-2 before taking a couple of balls and ultimately getting plunked on the elbow guard by Triston McKenzie. Gio Urshela followed with a double to the right-center field gap, and it would have been a close play if third-base coach Tommy Watkins had sent Kirilloff. He wisely held him, and Gary Sanchez followed with a mammoth blast to left field to put the Twins up 3-0.
It was the No. 5 through No. 7 slots in the order again in the fourth. Kirilloff singled, Urshela doubled again, and Sanchez singled through a drawn-in infield after Urshela advanced to third on a wild pitch.
As Gray continued to motor through the Guardians lineup, stranding a pair of leadoff singles in the middle innings, the Twins added a couple more runs in the top of the sixth. Kirilloff singled to left but was cut down at second base trying to stretch it to a double. After Urshela struck out, Sanchez singled again and Nick Gordon parked his third home run of the season in right field to stretch the lead to 7-0.
In the seventh, Luis Arraez walked and Carlos Correa crushed a homer of his own into the left-field bleachers.
With an impressively low pitch count, Gray came back out for the bottom of the seventh inning. He walked Jose Ramirez after a lengthy battle but quickly erased the baserunner with a double-play grounder to Urshela. Oscar Gonzalez lined out to Correa, and Gray finished his night with a tidy 97 pitches in seven shutout innings.
The Twins added a couple more runs in the ninth inning against Ernie Clement, the Guardians infielder who had entered the game as a pinch-runner for Ramirez. Twins bench players Gilberto Celestino, Mark Contreras, and Jose Miranda all singled in their first and only at-bats. For Contreras, it was his first big-league hit.
Kirilloff capped off his night with a sacrifice fly to left, and Urshela drove in a run with a single to right. Sanchez grounded into a double play to end the inning.
The Guardians scratched across a run in the ninth after a single, a walk, a groundout, and a wild pitch off of Jharel Cotton, who did a good enough job in two innings of work.
- Somehow, the Twins scored 11 runs without Byron Buxton or Arraez notching a single hit. They combined to go 0-for-7 with two walks, with both base-on-balls coming from Arraez. Buxton struck out three times and popped out in his other at-bat. The duo has largely carried the team’s offense all season, save for a now-extended hot streak from Correa and some impressive spells from Sanchez and Kepler, but they were barely needed in this one.
- The No. 5 through 7 hitters for the Twins combined to go 9-for-13 with seven RBI and six runs scored.
- Kirilloff continues to sting the ball since his return from Triple-A. Especially with the news that Trevor Larnach will be out for at least six weeks, this is an extremely positive development.
- The Twins were fantastic defensively as well, turning three double plays in addition to overall strong infield play from Urshela, Correa, and Arraez. The 3-5-1 double-play started by Kirilloff was particularly impressive, as was a nice snare of a line drive up the middle by Arraez to end the sixth inning.
- One game down, four to go over the next three days between the Twins and the Guardians. How nice would it be to put a bit of distance between the two clubs?
- Alex Kirilloff: 3-for-3, 2 R, RBI, HBP
- Gio Urshela: 3-for-5, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R
- Gary Sanchez: 3-for-4, HR, 4 RBI, 2 R
- Byron Buxton: 0-for-4, 3 K
- Ryan Jeffers: 0-for-4, K
The first game of Tuesday’s split doubleheader is at 12:10 p.m. CT, with the second game at the standard 6:10 p.m. CT start time. Rumor has it that Devin Smeltzer will start one of the games while Josh Winder will make his return in the other, although it’s unclear which pitcher will start which game.