ARLINGTON -- As he was quick to point out after Friday’s game, Jonathan Schoop, seven seasons into his Major League career, is no stranger to game-changing hits in meaningful situations.
So it was a familiar feeling when he drilled Mike Minor’s inside changeup to deep left field, stared at the trajectory of the ball and tossed his bat gently aside after hitting what proved to be the game-winning two-run homer in the Twins’ 4-3 victory at Globe Life Park on Friday.
It had just been a while since the veteran second baseman could enjoy a moment like that.
“This year, I haven't done it a lot, but I know I can do it,” Schoop said. “It's not my first time doing it. I did it for full seasons a lot of times, so I know what it feels like. I've just got to be in the moment, and prepare myself every day, and when I get the chance, I do my best."
The veteran second baseman had entered the game 7-for-44 this season with 16 strikeouts in “late and close” situations, good for a .159/.255/.205 batting line. None of his 16 homers and only one of his 44 RBIs had come in those leverage spots.
But, at last, it was Schoop’s turn to play hero on Friday night.
His smooth glovework up the middle in the sixth inning briefly preserved a slim Twins lead before the Rangers pulled ahead against starter Jake Odorizzi, and one inning later, Schoop worked a 2-2 count and wrested the lead right back with the momentum-changing two-run homer off Minor that settled a Statcast-estimated 386 feet away in the left-field bleachers.
“He had a phenomenal day overall,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You can call him the player of the game, you can call him whatever you want, he was awesome. He did it defensively, he did it offensively, it was a very, very nice night watching him.”
It was the third homer in 19 games since the All-Star break for Schoop, who entered the game hitting .211/.246/.351 with 20 strikeouts and three walks in the second half.
“I think there’s not a second baseman in the game that we want in there more to turn in a double play and has the power potential just like that to change the game,” said Odorizzi, who allowed three runs in 5 2/3 frames. “He saved it on the defensive side and then I allowed him to save it again on the offensive side. So I really wanted Schoop to be the shining knight in this game.”
Those chances have come less often of late, as Schoop has lost most of his playing time at second base to hot-hitting rookie Luis Arraez over the last month. It’s rather tough to keep a .350 hitter with more walks than strikeouts out of a lineup, after all.
And even when Schoop had been on the field this season, his struggles in high-leverage situations hadn’t done him any favors, though Baldelli maintained a broader view of Schoop’s season.
“Sometimes, the actual production doesn’t match up with the way you get there,” Baldelli said. “You kind of meld it all together and look at it all kind of as a whole as opposed to just picking out individual. You can create any kind of narrative you want about any guy out there, but really, you look at everything and you trust your eyes as well.
“With all our guys, we definitely wouldn’t point at one specific thing to decide how they’re going to play and what’s going to happen.”
Regardless, Schoop’s defense has never been in question at second base, and that proved the case again in the sixth inning.
When Elvis Andrus chopped a grounder up the middle, Schoop ranged to his right and made a tough stop up the middle on a short hop before uncorking a strong throw to first. With the Twins leading, 3-2, Shin-Soo Choo had been on second and would likely have scored to tie the game if the ball had gotten by Schoop into the outfield.
That’s the kind of production on both sides of the ball that has the Twins confident that Schoop will still prove to be an important contributor down the stretch for this club when the opportunities arise.
“I think we know [Arraez] has played outstanding, and when Schoop’s been able to be in there, he’s made a lot of big plays for us recently,” Odorizzi said. “I played against him many years when he was in Baltimore, and that’s the type of player that he was year in and year out.
“For him to focus when he gets the opportunity not to try to do too much, it’s a big part of this and I think we’re going to lean on him a lot during the end of this stretch.”