Gallo homer puts Twins back on top in Central

July 15th, 2023

OAKLAND -- It’s a good thing for the Twins that hadn’t been ejected earlier in Friday’s game. It’s a good thing, too, that he didn’t give in to his All-Star break impulses and stay sprawled out on the sand of a Southern California beach resort forever. (He sure wanted to.)

Having controlled his urge to stay rooted in his sandy utopia and then having controlled his urge to argue a borderline strike-three call amid another largely frustrating game of many other missed opportunities for the Twins, Gallo came to the rescue with a two-run, go-ahead homer that proved enough for a 5-4 victory over the A’s at the Oakland Coliseum.

“There's frustration in every game,” Gallo said. “Somebody's going to be frustrated, whether it's the pitcher, coach or a hitter. Not everybody is going to have a good game. But there's also going to be happiness, too. We won today, and it's a good clubhouse right now because we won. At the end of the day, that's all it's really about.”

From the fourth to eighth innings, the Twins collected six hits and six walks and burned through a large swath of the Oakland bullpen, but they couldn’t collect the finishing hit to break a 3-3 tie as several borderline to tough calls went against them, to the point where hitting coach David Popkins was ejected for the first time in his career after Gallo took a called third strike at the bottom of the zone.

But Gallo kept his composure, and when he came to the plate in the ninth inning against hard-throwing right-hander Shintaro Fujinami, he took a called first strike at an even 100 mph before he took a measured swing at the next fastball at 99.9 mph, simply trying to make contact.

His natural power took care of the rest. It wasn’t one of those majestic, tape-measure blasts for which Gallo has developed a reputation, but it still carried a Statcast-projected 390 feet well into the right-field seats for his team-leading 16th homer -- and that’s just what the Twins needed to avoid adding to their 10 runners stranded on base.

“With a guy that's throwing hard like that, you can't have a huge swing,” Gallo said. “You've got to get your foot down and just try to get the bat to the ball and see what happens. He's throwing hard. He's going to supply most of the power if you get a bat to it. That's the hardest part, getting the bat to it and hitting it.”

As disciplined as Gallo makes it sound, there’s also definitely some urgency to the Twins’ game as they emerge from a much-needed mental break. Carlos Correa called the remainder of the season a “70-game sprint,” and he showed that gravity when he was visibly frustrated at a called third strike outside the zone with two men on in the sixth.

And as the Twins once again reached .500 and pulled ahead of the Guardians for first place in the American League Central, Byron Buxton echoed the importance of every game and every out moving forward.

“Treat every game like it's a playoff game,” Buxton said. ‘That way, once the situation comes or whatever happens, you get there, it's not a shock to who we are. You treat every game at this point forward like it's Game 7, and take it one day at a time.”

And on a night where the Twins struck out 14 more times, stranded the bases loaded twice without scoring, and got another laborious outing from bullpen ace Jhoan Duran, Gallo’s big swing was still enough to give them back the division lead.

It wasn’t the snap-your-fingers-and-flip-a-switch turnaround that might seemingly have cured what ailed the Twins’ lineup as it slumped to finish the first half, but they also found satisfaction in their ability to persevere through a tough 3 1/2 hours that nonetheless put them in the win column to begin the second half.

“When you put a lot of work into anything, and you get to the end and reach your goal -- today, it was a win -- it does feel great,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It feels like hard work, and it does feel good, and we had to put in some hard work in this game. Had a ton of guys on base and didn’t bring them home at the rate we wanted to, but Joey Gallo came up with a big swing late and gave us the lead that we needed.”