MINNEAPOLIS -- The powerful Twins offense had been starved for a clutch hit in the last three games -- and they got three big ones from Max Kepler late in Tuesday night's game.
By late, we mean really, really late.
Hours after he initially tied the game with an eighth-inning single and again with a 13th-inning homer, Kepler, at long last, pushed Minnesota to a 4-3 win over the Red Sox with a walk-off single in a five-hour, 45-minute, 17-inning marathon at Target Field -- the longest game by innings since the ballpark opened in 2010.
In doing so, the Twins avoided losing three straight games for the first time this season.
"That was one of the best games I've been a part of, ever, in baseball," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "That was a pretty unique game, unique experience, being out there and pushing yourself to the limit. We needed just about everyone to do something for us to keep us in that game and to win that game. It was fantastic."
The Twins loaded the bases in the 17th on a single by Luis Arraez, a double by Eddie Rosario and an intentional walk to C.J. Cron. Kepler punched a single down the first-base line through a five-man infield to finally set off the fireworks at Target Field at 12:55 a.m. CT -- long after the West Coast games had ended.
"[It was] amazing, very relieving," Kepler said. "Relief is I think the word that we're all feeling. But just ecstatic about a W."
Kepler's 13th-inning shot, his 18th of the season, had tied things up following Mookie Betts' go-ahead homer off the left-field foul pole in the top of the frame. According to STATS, Inc., Kepler became the first player to have both a game-tying RBI and walk-off RBI beyond the 13th inning of a game since Willie Randolph on May 1, 1991.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, four players have had three game-tying or go-ahead hits in a game that they didn't start since the Expansion Era in 1961. Nobody has had more than three hits during that span.
Max Kepler, 06/18/2019 MIN vs BOS
Adam LaRoche, 09/03/2014 WAS at LAD
Torey Lovullo, 5/09/1993 CAL vs OAK
Art Shamsky, 08/12/1966 CIN vs PIT
Earlier in the game, the Twins had finally broken through in the eighth, when walks to Mitch Garver and Cron by Red Sox reliever Brandon Workman set the stage for Kepler to drive a first-pitch fastball into right to tie the game.
"I'm glad I could just help support the team win, bring some energy to a longer-than-expected game," Kepler said. "I can't imagine how the guys who started feel, but I'm pretty worn out, and I didn't even play the whole game."
It was a game that featured dueling solo homers in extra innings. It saw Red Sox second baseman Brock Holt knock three hits -- beyond the ninth inning alone. It saw the Twins' bullpen pull escape act after escape act, Minnesota's most promising rally smashed by a line-drive double play, and the Red Sox failing to plate a runner from third with none out -- twice -- beyond the 13th inning.
It was an exercise in absurdity that just didn't want to end.
"Do you know how many pitches I called tonight?" asked Garver, who caught all 17 innings.
It was 228.
"How many times the same dude steps up to the plate, and I'm like, 'Uh, I think we threw him this first pitch. I think he did this,'" said Garver. "You just start blacking out. It's crazy."
"Once you get past four, five hours and you're playing out there, you get a little delirious and guys start saying things and doing things that they don't normally do and say," Baldelli said. "Although it's weird and a little odd, it's very normal."
Makes total sense.
Win or lose, it was also a titanic effort from the Twins' bullpen as the two relief corps traded zeros, inning after inning, rally after rally.
Baldelli completely emptied his bullpen, and though they weren't the cleanest innings at times, reliever after reliever posted zeros throughout the night, with only Ryne Harper (seventh inning) and Mike Morin (13th) coughing up one run apiece.
"It was incredible," said Zack Littell. "You kind of have that, 'Oh, eventually, it's going to happen. Somebody's going to have to [score].' But it just didn't happen. Guys were going out there and just keeping on them against a very good lineup. … Just to watch them go out there and keep putting up zeros and keep dominating was incredible."
Tyler Duffey escaped runners on the corners with one out. Blake Parker closed the door on first-and-second, two out. Matt Magill held strong when faced with runners on second and third with no outs. Littell escaped a runner on third with none out in the 17th inning and earned his first Major League win for his troubles.
"You really don't have a choice," Littell said. "It's go right at them. There's no point in walking them, that's for sure. If they're going to beat you, just make them beat you."
"I don't know if I've ever seen anything like it," Baldelli said. "Guys are coming out there throwing an inning, two innings, like it's nothing. Guys are flashing stuff that we maybe haven't even seen before. It feels like there was a lot of adrenaline. Everyone was up for it. These were big moments, and we had so many guys step up and come through in order to get us to where we're at with this win."
It was disorienting, draining, weird baseball at its finest. (Magill, after the game, asked reporters, "Guys, what is the day? Like, before the game, what was today?")
At the end of the day -- the long, long day -- all that mattered was that the Twins got the win. They didn't want to think about the alternative.
"To lose a game like that would take way more out of you than winning a game propels you," Garver said. "That would be so hard, to go that far and use all the pitchers that you did, grind out at bats and then lose. It feels great to be on top."