ARLINGTON -- Jorge Polanco is mired in a rough defensive stretch at shortstop, but that has done nothing to slow the All-Star’s production at the plate.
He launched another throw wide of first baseman C.J. Cron in the bottom of the eighth Sunday afternoon, but that miscue didn’t loom so large because, only a matter of minutes earlier, Polanco had clubbed the biggest hit of the game. His two-out, bases-clearing triple in the top of the inning snapped a tie and carried the Twins to a 6-3 win over the Rangers and a sweep of the four-game series at Globe Life Park.
“It was a game-changing at-bat,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He kind of left no doubt. It wasn’t a funny play or a funny hop or something going on. He just had a good at-bat, put a great swing on the ball, drove it into the gap and let everyone kind of do their thing marching around the bases. It was a very nice way to take the lead and definitely swung the energy, I think, in our favor.”
Thanks to Polanco’s offensive heroics, the Twins completed their first-ever four-game sweep of the Rangers on the road and finished a 5-1 trip through Milwaukee and Texas that extended their lead in the American League Central back to 2 1/2 games over the Indians.
A single from Ehire Adrianza and double by Jason Castro to begin that eighth inning nearly became a missed opportunity when Jake Cave struck out and Adrianza was thrown out at home plate on Cron's fielder’s choice ground ball to shortstop Elvis Andrus. But Miguel Sanó drew a two-out walk to load the bases for Polanco, who roped a liner to right-center for a three-run triple.
Those hits were all the more impressive because they came off hard-throwing right-hander Emmanuel Clase, who hovered around triple-digit velocity with a sharp cutter that averaged 99.6 mph on Sunday. Polanco’s game-winning hit came off a cutter measured at 99.0 mph.
“Usually, left-handers have a very difficult time against him and not many barrels against him,” Baldelli said. “So for us to have multiple good at-bats, guys square the ball up, drive it around the field a little bit and then Polo come up with two outs and get it done like that was tremendous. Those are not easy at-bats, none of them.”
It marked Polanco’s team-leading sixth triple of the season and the Twins’ first extra-base hit with the bases loaded since June 26.
Polanco reached base three times on Sunday and collected multiple hits in three of the four games against the Rangers. That recent offensive production has certainly helped him endure his recent rough stretch on defense. He has committed five errors in his last five defensive starts.
“Sometimes, you're going to make mistakes,” Polanco said. “But if you can do the other things on the other side of the field and you can help your team win, that's a good thing. These things are going to happen. I feel like I've been playing defensively very well, except for lately, but those things are going to happen. Just keep doing my job and try to do a good thing every day."
Twins starter Martin Pérez was unable to notch one final win at Globe Life Park, the ballpark he called home for seven years, but Polanco’s clutch hit treated him to a memorable game nonetheless. The left-hander threw five strong innings and departed with the lead before the offense took care of business in the late innings.
The Rangers denied Perez the win following his exit when Shin-Soo Choo hit a game-tying homer off of former teammate Sam Dyson to lead off the seventh inning, but the Twins immediately fired back in the next frame.
Two innings earlier, Perez had turned to watch the fly ball hit by his friend, Rougned Odor, settle into the waiting glove of Max Kepler in left-center field to complete the fifth inning -- and his outing. Perez was effective for the second consecutive start, working around four walks and five hits to allow only two runs in five frames.
“I'm in a rough spot right now, but I think everything is good with me,” Perez said. “I just want to continue to throw zeroes and throw quality starts for my team and win. That's what it's about. You have to win, and you have no time to lose. I think everybody here's doing their jobs well, and our focus is just to win a series and play a good game."
As Perez walked off Globe Life Park’s mound for the last time -- seven years after making his Major League debut there -- he triumphantly slammed his left hand into his bright red glove before he walked down the steps into the third-base dugout, where pitching coach Wes Johnson slapped him on the back.
“Facing my old team in the game and having fun out there with Elvis, Odor, [Nomar] Mazara, Choo, it was pretty fun,” Perez said. “Like I said, I said to these guys, 'We can enjoy it and we can play around, but I'm going to do my job and I'm not going to leave anything for you guys.' It was fun. I enjoyed it."
Kepler fine after leaving with heat illness
Kepler was removed from the game in the seventh inning with what the Twins later announced was heat illness after experiencing the intense heat and sunlight of a 99-degree day game in Arlington. Baldelli said after the game that the center fielder should be fine.
“Max was dealing with the heat, like everybody else,” Baldelli said, “and I think it kind of hit him there in the middle of the game. … I think he’s coming out of it well. I think he’s feeling pretty good. I think he’s going to be fine going forward.”