This had all the makings of another failed Dallas Keuchel experiment start.
The Ranger lineup is no joke, and the Twins turned in a marvelous performance in holding them to just one run last night. Tonight, they turned on the charm early, scoring four runs in the first two innings against Keuchel. Adolis Garcia and Sam Huff each launched two-run shots against mid-80s cutters, exposing Keuchel’s dwindling mix in a way they weren’t able to do when he made a relief appearance last weekend.
Spotted a 4-0 lead, deadline acquisition Jordan Montgomery made the fascinating decision to give it all away.
For the former Cardinal, it was by far the worst performance since the mid-season move. Coming off eight shutout innings in Arizona (in a game I was at!), Montgomery gave up three earned in under six innings last time out vs. the Twins, then couldn’t even make it through four this evening.
It started with Donovan Solano’s first of four hits, a solo homer in the third to get the Twins on the board. Then, a Texas-sized explosion; Minnesota compiled a five-run fourth inning, generating a pair of two-out walks, a trio of two-out singles, and a Michael A. Taylor double, all of which (in no particular order) chased Montgomery before his 12th out was recorded.
From there, with a 6-4 lead, this game turned into peak September baseball.
Managers Rocco Baldelli and Bruce Bochy seemed to have a mutual agreement that every player was necessary to finish this one out — the Rangers, knowing their grasp on the third Wild Card could slip to Toronto at a moment’s notice, and the Twins, watching the waiver-bolstered Guardians rack up walk-off wins against the Rays.
Together, a whopping 42 players found their way into game action, including 16 pitchers. A.J. Pierzynski was correct on the broadcast in that this felt like old-school expanded-roster ball, where as many as 80 eligible players could be rostered and in the dugout.
The lead was 6-4 when Keuchel was pulled in the middle of the fourth inning; the runner aboard when he left was ultimately charged to his line when Dylan Floro allowed him to score and tighten the lead to one.
From there, a combination of Funderburk, Winder, Jax, and Thielbar got the game into the home eighth. Minnesota’s lineup had failed to extend the lead against Texas’ counterparts of Stratton, old friend Martin Perez, LeClerc, and Smith.
But in the eighth, things unraveled. Emilio Pagan, he of the “I can’t believe Pagan is good this summer” variety, momentarily lost his sense of direction and could no longer find the strike zone. Immediately after entering in a 6-5 game, Pagan walked the bases loaded and surrendered the tying run via Robbie Grossman sacrifice fly.
Credit where credit is due; now in a crucial spot, Pagan induced weak contact for the second out and struck out J.P. Martinez to end the inning. But the damage had been done; things were knotted now at six apiece.
Now, big guns time. Texas brought in Aroldis Chapman. Minnesota brought in — Brent Headrick?
Listen, it’s not called Rocco’s MAGICAL Arm Barn for nothing. After Chapman spelled Smith and got the final two outs in the top of the ninth, Rocco countered with the lefty Headrick with the 9-1-2 hitters due up; Headrick pitched a perfect inning, complete with a strikeout of leadoff man Marcus Semien, to send things into extras.
In the tenth, the Twin bats finally woke up again.
Chapman started wild, sending a pitch through the wickets to advance the ghost runner, then walking Royce Lewis to set up an RBI single from Carlos Correa, one of two hits on the night for the star shortstop. Then, the engine started — Max Kepler (who collected three at-bats after pinch-hitting for Jordan Luplow) made it 8-6 Twins with another single, and Ryan Jeffers added a ninth run with a one-out sac fly against the Rangers’ last reliever of the night.
Could Jhoan Duran deliver a clean tenth with a three-run lead?
Duran would get the first two outs without issue — then, the facade began to crack. Chucking a wild pitch to match Chapman’s, the fireballer would then allow back-to-back singles to Jonah Heim and Grossman, the former bringing the tying run to the plate, and the latter putting the tying run at first.
Facing pinch-hitter Josh H. Smith — the last novel in a remarkable series of substitutions this Saturday — Duran pinpointed a 1-2 curveball for a strikeout looking, locking down a victory in the weekend set, and more importantly, keeping the Central lead at five games over a victorious Cleveland.
With the win in hand, the Twins sport a 71-65 record as the Central leaders, and now set their sights on a sweet would-be road sweep of the Texas Rangers if they can just secure the victory tomorrow afternoon.
It’s a peculiar 1:35 start time for the series finale on Sunday afternoon — then, it’s on to Cleveland for the biggest series of the season.
Hope to see you there — and thanks for watching with us tonight!
1B/2B Donovan Solano (4-for-5, R, 3 RBI, HR)
SS Carlos Correa (2-for-5, R, RBI)
PH/RF Max Kepler (2-for-3, RBI)
Non-Pagan/Duran bullpen (4.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K)
NO DUDS! TWINS WIN! TWINS WIN!
ROBOT ROLL CALL:
141 impassioned comments at the time of publication. Thanks for spending part of your Saturday night with us!