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Kepler joins Ted Williams with this rare feat

Outfielder's big night at plate backs six strong innings from Berrios
@dohyoungpark
June 6, 2019

CLEVELAND -- Max Kepler had been slumping on the Twins’ recent road trip through Tampa Bay and Cleveland, but he snapped out of that funk on Thursday night and powered his way into the history books. Kepler hit three homers off Indians starter Trevor Bauer en route to a 5-4

CLEVELAND -- Max Kepler had been slumping on the Twins’ recent road trip through Tampa Bay and Cleveland, but he snapped out of that funk on Thursday night and powered his way into the history books.

Kepler hit three homers off Indians starter Trevor Bauer en route to a 5-4 Twins victory on Thursday, joining Ted Williams as the only players in MLB history with multiple three-homer games against the Indians. The only other three-homer game of Kepler’s career had been on Aug. 1, 2016 -- also at Progressive Field.

Box score

The 26-year-old outfielder got a chance for a fourth homer when he batted with two outs in the ninth inning,, but instead hit an infield single as he reached base for the fifth time and completed his third career four-hit game.

“I love singles,” Kepler insisted. “I love singles, especially when I haven’t been getting any singles for the last, I don’t know, four or five games.”

Led by Kepler’s shots and six fantastic innings from starter José Berríos, the Twins pulled out the victory in the series finale against the Indians to avoid losing three straight games for the first time in 2019.

“[Kepler] was on the ball all night long,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That's how guys sometimes come out of things. He's probably going up there with a similar approach to what he's been doing. You don't always get the results you want, but tonight, Max did, and really pushed us on.”

Leading off the game, Kepler immediately launched an 0-1 changeup an estimated 369 feet into the right-field stands to spot the Twins an early lead. In the third inning, he followed a Willians Astudillo single with another bomb, his 14th of the season, which traveled an estimated 375 feet just inside the right-field foul pole.

Following a walk in the fifth, Kepler launched his longest shot of the night an estimated 402 feet to center field in the seventh to give the Twins an insurance run before a Cleveland rally in the bottom of the frame.

“He’s allowed to smile,” Baldelli said of the stoic Kepler following his third blast. “We probably should remind him of that some time. I think he was very pleased with himself, as he should be.”

It’s not as though Kepler was sitting on any one of Bauer’s pitches, either: he hit out the changeup, slider and fastball once apiece.

“I wasn’t really being too picky,” Kepler said. “I was just trying to see the ball and hit it.”

“Not every guy has that in their repertoire,” Baldelli said. “That's not the kind of hitter some guys are. Every guy has strengths and weaknesses. But Max stays on the ball and sees the ball so well that it kind of gives him the ability to hit different pitches, even if it's not something he's looking for. He has that knack for being on time, putting good swings on it.”

Kepler’s three-homer game was only the 10th in Twins history, and he joined teammate Eddie Rosario as the only two Twins players to accomplish the feat twice. Bob Allison, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Justin Morneau, Brian Dozier and Byron Buxton had also gone yard three times in a game.

He had been named the American League Player of the Week for May 20-26 but followed that torrid stretch with an equally cold 0-for-21 slump on entering Thursday before breaking out with the trio of shots.

“When guys like that, good players, when they’ve been scuffling and they get a hit, even if it’s a [crappy] little hit, I get nervous,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I mean, you’ve heard me say it all the time: good players, as cold as they got, they get just as hot. I’m not smart enough to know the formula, but it happens. And that’s an example of, all of a sudden, man, he was locked in.”

Berrios goes six strong innings
Berrios expected that the Indians would be looking for his fastball up and in or his big breaking ball for strikeouts. And that’s why he’s continued to work on his changeup, starting in Spring Training -- in part, to subvert expectations and adapt.

That work paid off on Thursday, when he allowed only one run on two hits in six-plus innings and recorded four of his six strikeouts with the changeup.

"I felt last outing in Tampa that I threw a lot of good changeups,” Berrios said. “Tonight, I was just trying to do the same thing. Trying to be closed with my front shoulder and trying to be on top of the ball. That's why I threw a lot of changeups tonight."

Beyond a Carlos Santana double in the first inning, Berrios yielded only a walk and a Roberto Perez solo homer. He capped a 10-pitch battle with a flourish to finish the sixth inning, when he took around 10 mph off of his changeup and got Jake Bauers to flail and miss at a 72 mph offering that had even his own manager confused.

“I had to almost double-check myself and ask some people in the dugout what the pitch was that he struck out Bauers on,” Baldelli said. “It almost from the side had so much action up and down, to the eye, that you weren’t even sure what it was exactly.”

"He hit a lot of fastballs in that at-bat,” Berrios said. “Fastball away, fastball up and in. Breaking balls. Changeups. Fastball away. So it's like, 'OK. Let me throw this pitch.' … I was thinking before I threw it that I wanted to just take a lot of miles off of it and throw it down and away."

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.