Sanó confident he'd 'win the game' for Twins

First baseman's 3-run homer sparks Minnesota rally in 8th to even set with A's

May 16th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- In a season where it’s felt like so much bad luck has befallen the Twins’ offense at every turn, it was about time they had something go their way.

The ball only left Miguel Sanó’s bat at 99.8 mph when the deeply slumping slugger skied a high fly to right field in the eighth inning -- but it just kept carrying and carrying. Maybe, if it hadn’t finally been such a nice day at Target Field, it wouldn’t have carried enough.

At last, Minnesota got the right bounce. The ball had just enough to clip the limestone overhang in right field and carom into the stands for a go-ahead, three-run homer that finally gave a payoff to Twins fans -- and for the team seeking answers. Sanó’s blast was the difference in a 5-4 win over the A’s, snapping a five-game skid with their first win of the year in which they erased a multiple-run deficit.

“When it landed in the seats, it was a real release and the guys were just ecstatic,” said manager Rocco Baldelli, whose team will go for a series win in Sunday's rubber match. “It was something they were waiting for and we got it, and it was huge.”

Minnesota had lost eight of its previous nine games entering Saturday, in danger of falling even deeper into the rut of the worst record in Major League Baseball.

For a while, it looked like the Twins would keep digging. Right-hander José Berríos yielded a pair of homers, extending Minnesota’s MLB-leading total to 57 allowed this season. In the seventh, down, 4-1, the Twins loaded the bases before Matt Chapman flaunted his Platinum Glove-caliber defense with an inning-ending grab with his body outstretched over the tarp down the third-base line.

In the eighth, Minnesota had two on and none out before Mitch Garver lined a ball right at Chapman, who doubled the runner off second.

“There was some disappointment in the game,” Baldelli said. “We went out there and, again, had some opportunities, hit some balls hard. Nothing was rolling.”

But as they’ve done throughout the season, the Twins never stopped trying to chip away. The offense has, in aggregate, had among the best batted-ball numbers in the league throughout the year. It’s just that they’d been inexplicably bad with runners in scoring position, with tough strikeouts and hard-hit balls caught by fielders.

But the Twins didn’t fade after another seeming stroke of bad luck on that double play, continuing with a walk by Jorge Polanco and an RBI single by Rob Refsnyder, who was added to the roster before the game.

“We can force the issue,” Baldelli said. “Today, we did force the issue in a very subtle way. We just kept going.”

That left the door ajar for Sanó, who entered the game sporting a .119/.280/.209 slash line and a tenuous-at-best grip on his first-base job. But still, he had a feeling he had something big in store.

“I told [Berríos yesterday], 'Berry, if I'm in the lineup tomorrow, 100 percent, I'm going to do something special to win the game,’” Sanó said.

Since he was activated from the injured list on May 5, the Twins have maintained that the key for Sanó is for him to crush fastballs -- which he has struggled to do. On Friday, he was sent up as a pinch-hitter in a big spot and struck out on four fastballs.

Sanó only saw two pitches that weren’t fastballs on Saturday. With runners on the corners in the eighth inning, A’s reliever Jake Diekman gave him three more heaters.

“So those are pitches I've been looking for,” Sanó said.

He swung -- and he claimed he knew it was gone off the bat, even though he lofted it high into the air. The ball only had an exit velocity of 99.8 mph and an expected batting average of .120.

But it was enough.

As Sanó rounded first, he unleashed a huge fist pump and yelled into the air.

“Let's [expletive] go! We're the [expletive] best team in the world! Let's go!”

Clearly, Sanó’s confidence was never the problem.

Sure, the Twins are still 13-24 and have plenty of climbing to go. But that kind of confidence is what they want and what they need on the long road back to .500.

“I think with confidence will come winning innings,” general manager Thad Levine said. “With winning innings comes winning games. With winning games will come winning streaks. And then who knows what may transpire from that moment forward.”