'Really scary team:' Twins erupt for 12 runs after tensions rise

Two ejections, benches-clearing scuffle don't stop Gray or Minnesota's power

August 26th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- For much of the season, the Twins waited to finally synchronize their hitting, pitching and defense -- each of which shone at various points, but rarely together.

Friday night showed a glimpse of what can happen when everything clicks.

There was explosiveness all over -- in two Twins ejections, a benches-clearing scuffle and in Minnesota’s bats -- and at the end of the mayhem, six different Twins had reached base three or more times, with the brunt of the damage coming in a four-run first inning and six-run seventh that pushed the Twins to a 12-2 rout of the Rangers at Target Field.

“I think as the season has gone on, we’ve started to pull it together as a unit, as a full group,” said. “We’re a really scary team when we are playing all three facets of the game really well.”

Jeffers was in the midst of some controversy when he was hit by a pitch in the third inning and reacted with visible frustration a day after he hit a game-winning homer and unleashed a monster bat flip. In the fourth, Twins starter hit Mitch Garver with a pitch, prompting both benches and bullpens to clear.

Garver and Texas starter Dane Dunning adamantly indicated after the game that the plunking was unintentional, and the Twins did not claim after the game that they felt there was any intent.

“You’re never going to know one way or the other,” Jeffers said. “It got me in a meaty spot. I’m a big guy, it didn’t really hurt very much. At the end of the day, I’ll go take my base and we’ll move on from there.”

Still, tempers flared, simmering since both Joey Gallo and manager Rocco Baldelli were ejected after arguing over an inconsistent strike zone in the third -- and the Twins’ bats seized all that energy.

All the talk before Friday’s game revolved around how the Twins’ offense had found its power stroke again with its five-homer game in Thursday’s series opener -- and a few hours later, the lineup showed it can do plenty more than that, with patience, discerning swings and hard line drives.

It’s a continuation of a long-awaited turnaround for a Minnesota offense that ranked 22nd in the Majors in OPS before the All-Star break and second in the Majors since then, trailing only the powerhouse Braves. Their 200 runs scored in the second half are seventh in MLB, and third in the American League.

“If we play to our full potential, we can beat anybody on any given day,” Royce Lewis said.

Not only did the Twins beat the reeling but still AL West-leading Rangers, but they routed them behind three-RBI games from Edouard Julien and Matt Wallner, whose bases-clearing triple in the first inning took advantage of four walks from Dunning to immediately put the Twins up big.

They got homers from Julien and Carlos Correa to fuel a six-run rally in the seventh, but they didn’t need it, considering the form Gray had on the mound.

Gray allowed one run on six hits in seven frames, taking advantage of an aggressive Rangers lineup to keep his pitch count down and complete at least six innings for a seventh consecutive start, his longest such streak with the Twins.

And though he’s often faltered in the late innings of games, Gray held firm through the seventh, striking out Austin Hedges with a man on second in what was then a tight game before the Twins removed any doubt of the outcome by batting around.

“I was economical because our defense made plays,” Gray said. “I continued to try to attack and fill up the zone. … Our defense just made play after play after play, and that was the game for me.”

That defensive effort included a diving stop by Correa in the fourth and leaping grabs in the outfield by both Jordan Luplow and Wallner, bringing forth the type of complete effort in every facet this team sought for much of the first half -- and is finally starting to see with more consistency.

“I think it just took time, you know?” Jeffers said. “I think all of us stayed true to the fact of, this season is a really long season. I think we’re a really good team. When we were struggling, I think we stayed confident in that notion that we’re really good at baseball. We’ve got the pieces here to really do something special this year.”