Not one to show emotion, Kirilloff gets loud after go-ahead HR

May 26th, 2024

MINNEAPOLIS -- found his power swing again this past week. And now, he’s found his power alley again.

And through that, the Twins have discovered the rarest Kirilloff phenomenon of all: Apparently, he knows how to show emotion. Who knew?

“That's something you never see,” Byron Buxton said. “So, like, I'm happy for him. Just for him to show me that little bit, I know he's got it in the tank. I've got to get it out of him a little bit more.”

It’s one thing when Kirilloff is pulling homers, as he did twice in the last eight days to spark some needed life into a hugely challenging May -- but it’s quite another when he’s staying back on a breaking pitch and crushing it with authority to left-center field, as he does when he’s seeing the ball at his best.

And that flash of the old Kirilloff arrived at Target Field in a huge spot on Saturday, with a go-ahead, three-run blast to the bullpens in left-center off Rangers reliever David Robertson’s slider in the eighth inning. That secured the Twins’ fourth consecutive victory, a 5-3, come-from-behind effort that ensured a series win over the reigning World Series champions.

Then, the flash of the new: Kirilloff yelling as he crossed home plate and launching into a flurry of high-fives and screams with his ecstatic teammates in the dugout, who were, frankly, stunned and amused to see this version of their extremely stoic teammate not even known to crack an occasional smile.

“That's a lot of emotion out of AK today,” Max Kepler said. “It was a good [day].”

“It’s unusual when he cracks a smile, so I think everyone embraces it and rolls with it,” bench coach Jayce Tingler said. “Truly, everybody is just thrilled for him.”

That made it game-winning homers on two consecutive days for the struggling Kirilloff, and three home runs in the past week and a half, which has worked to turn around a deeply disappointing -- and perplexing -- start to the season during which Kirilloff had struggled in a manner the Twins had never seen from him when he’d been healthy.

Kirilloff has put in extra work in the last two weeks to, as he put it, just try to figure out what he’s doing wrong and “just [try] to hit better.”

With the results finally following from his extra sessions, the outburst of relief didn’t just stop at the smile. After Carlos Correa whacked Kirilloff on the helmet, Kirilloff bounced around the dugout with a huge grin on his face, then yanked on Christian Vázquez’s jersey as the catcher showered him in sunflower seeds.

And at this point in his life, Kirilloff is plenty used to those around him being taken so aback when he lets some of the emotions out of his shell.

“I mean, it's just been the way I've been my whole life,” Kirilloff said. “I've gotten it a long time, so I've come to kind of expect it at this point.”

Something he and the Twins don’t expect, though, is the way he’s struggled to start this season -- a .206 average and .668 OPS entering Saturday.

But when he’s at his best, Kirilloff is powering breaking pitches to left field -- and he got into one when Robertson’s slider crossed the plate well below the strike zone as Kirilloff delivered one of his best swings of the season.

“You see lefties pull that ball to right, but for him to go left-center on that, it’s pretty unique,” Tingler said.

To see this kind of emotion from Kirilloff, one would think he’d really been down in the dumps while slashing .146/.212/.396 in May, without a multihit game since April 3 until Saturday -- but he said he’d been trusting the process in his work and just waiting for the chance to let it show.

“I think it's just having peace at the end of the day,” Kirilloff said. “Kind of just going with the flow of things. And not getting too high or low, but just letting it go, every now and then, I think is good.”

And when he lets go, his teammates really let go.

“I just happened to look back to see where AK was, and then I saw AK, and he's like, ‘Yeah!’ And I was like, ‘YEEEAAAHHH!’” Buxton said. “He got me going.”