'I had chills': Twins complete comeback in 13-inning marathon

August 28th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- and others in the Twins’ clubhouse are dealing with some slight sicknesses, and he joked that he’d hoped Sunday would be his “flu game.” And he did his best Michael Jordan impression with a sixth-inning grand slam that dragged the Twins back into it.

But the emotions of Sunday’s marathon at Target Field transcended the individual successes and moments that led to the Twins being able to walk off their longest game of the season by both time (four hours, 10 minutes) and innings (13 of them) with a bases-loaded walk by Michael A. Taylor in the bottom of the 13th.

There was no anticlimax in an ugly war of attrition ending without a big swing; instead, manager Rocco Baldelli was as proud as he’d ever been after the Twins emerged triumphant, 7-6, after all those grueling innings, with the bullpen and offense both having to dig deep to earn the series-clinching win in a four-game set against the Rangers.

“I had chills after the game,” Baldelli said. “I was so impressed with our group. The game-winning homers [are what] sometimes everyone’s talking about, and it’s great and all that. But that’s how you fight and win a ballgame. … That’s what actually fighting and winning a ballgame looks like, and I was very excited.”

The Twins remained six games ahead of the second-place Guardians in the American League Central. They begin a potentially season-defining string of games against Cleveland with the opener of a three-game home series on Monday before another three-game set in Cleveland Sept. 4-6.

There were big moments, to be sure, like Lewis’ second career grand slam that turned a 5-0 hole into a much more manageable 5-4 deficit, and Donovan Solano’s game-tying single in the bottom of the ninth off Aroldis Chapman that sent the game into the endless cascade of bonus frames in the first place.

But there were also bad miscues that could have cost the Twins in key moments.

In the bottom of the 11th, Joey Gallo made an out at second base when he was doubled off as the automatic runner on a foul popup. He took a few steps from second to potentially tag up on a play that caused Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe to smash into the barrier in front of the Twins’ dugout after the catch -- but when Gallo tried to get back to second, he stumbled and fell before getting doubled off.

One frame later, the Twins had men on second and third with none out while down, 6-5, and on the game-tying fielder’s choice off the bat of Jorge Polanco, Solano was tagged out by the third baseman while trying to advance on a contact play, preventing the Twins from winning the game on Max Kepler’s ensuing single.

“It’s called doing whatever you’ve got to do to win the game,” Baldelli said. “At our ballpark, at that time of the day, nobody can see. No hitters can see the ball. It looks like -- you don’t see it until it’s right there on you and you still have to find a way to win while not being able to do that.”

Given those far-from-ideal conditions, they tolerated such risks -- and the continued zeros on both sides in extras bore that out, with no earned runs scored on either side beyond the ninth.

“It kind of felt like ... not really playoffs, in my opinion, but you could tell both teams wanted it really bad,” Emilio Pagán said.

It was supposed to be a game in which the Twins hoped to rest much of their bullpen, with Dallas Keuchel slated to piggyback starter Bailey Ober to eat some bulk innings. But Jhoan Duran, Caleb Thielbar, Pagán and Dylan Floro combined for four hitless, high-leverage frames without allowing an earned run.

And while the Twins took advantage of the poor visibility and just kept throwing strikes -- they combined for five strikeouts and only one walk as a staff in extras -- the Rangers finally blinked. Jonathan Hernández, the eighth Texas pitcher of the afternoon, issued three walks in the 13th, including the decisive one to Taylor -- and however it looked, the Twins will take it.

“There’s a little piece of paper over here that says, ‘Keep grinding,’” Baldelli said. “That’s kind of it. Just stay at it. Just keep making the plays. Keep throwing strikes, keep putting the pressure on the other side and you put yourself in a spot where you might win that game.”

Pagán added: “I don't think I'm far off by saying we probably would have lost that game last year. To have so many different guys come in and execute pitches and get big outs when we needed them, you couldn't ask for much more.”