MINNEAPOLIS -- Nelson Cruz isn’t always the loudest or most vocal individual in the Twins’ clubhouse, but part of what has made his leadership style so effective for this young Minnesota team has been his ability to carefully choose moments to make his presence known and his encouragement felt.
The Twins lost, 8-2, to the Yankees on Saturday in Game 2 of the American League Division Series to fall into an 0-2 hole in the best-of-five series. After the game, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli gathered the team and told them of the plan for Sunday’s optional workout at Target Field in Minneapolis, and once he finished, Cruz stood up and commanded the floor.
Baldelli preferred to keep Cruz’s message close to the vest. But several of Cruz’s teammates spoke to how impactful the 39-year-old veteran’s words proved to be for a Twins team without his wealth of postseason experience.
“[He] said, ‘Listen, guys, there's no need to get down on ourselves, no need to give up or quit or look any different at ourselves. We're still a really good team, and we still have a chance to do this,’” starting pitcher Kyle Gibson recounted. “When a guy like that speaks, everybody listens and perks their ears up and takes it in, because he's been in a lot of different situations and maybe some situations that have a lot more pressure than this one.”
“He kind of just said, ‘We're the Minnesota Twins,’” reliever Trevor May added. “‘I mean, they should respect that. We're proud of that. We're about to be in our park, and we're going to hear our fans, and it's going to be in our control. It's time to go. How do you guys respond with your backs against the wall?’”
The Twins need to win both games in Minneapolis to send the series back to New York for a decisive Game 5. But as Cruz reminded his teammates, three-game losing streaks have been a rarity for this team. They have won three or more games in a row 14 times this year. Only twice have they suffered a three-game losing streak.
"We know that it's not going to be easy, but we can win three in a row, definitely,” Cruz said.
It’s not necessarily that his teammates need the reminder, but such words from Cruz have brought forth the best from this team on several occasions this year.
Cruz addressed the team in August when the Twins briefly fell into second place for a day. (The Twins went 30-14 the rest of the way and won the division by eight games.) He talked to them once again in September before a pivotal series in Cleveland. (Minnesota essentially put the division on ice with a doubleheader sweep behind 18 innings from the bullpen.)
Why not one more time?
“When he speaks, he's not just speaking for the sake of talking,” Baldelli said. “He doesn't like to hear himself talk. He speaks when something means something to him, and when he feels strongly about something and he thinks it's going to help others. He takes the time to do it and that's why, when he does address the team, every single person in there listens, and it means an incredible amount.”
Rosario remains in right field, Cron on bench again
One of Baldelli’s more unexpected lineup decisions in New York persisted into Monday’s contest at Target Field, as everyday left fielder Eddie Rosario made a third consecutive start in right, which is a tricky position at Target Field due to the three surfaces -- padding, wood and limestone -- that present a challenge.
Rosario made 118 starts in left field this season, compared to 10 in right, and he has made 530 of his 616 career outfield starts in left. Baldelli said that there was no particular matchup consideration with the Yankees that prompted him to move Rosario to right, with Jake Cave in left field for the second straight game. Cave has made 10 starts in left field in his career, compared to 43 in right.
"It's not the Yankees in particular, but I will say, as the season went on as well, I think Rosie fit very well out there in right field for some different reasons," Baldelli said. "Once we started dealing with the injuries in the outfield and trying to figure out what we're going to do on a game-to-game basis, we knew we could move him around. So it's basically a comfort thing for everyone where it just fits better right now, I think."
It’s worth noting that Rosario started in right field in 10 of the Twins’ final 21 games due to Byron Buxton’s injury, plus Luis Arraez’s inexperience kept the rookie in left field instead of right, displacing Rosario. That continuity from the end of the regular season could be playing a factor.
The left-handed Cave was also in the starting lineup for the second straight game, with right-handed slugger C.J. Cron available off the bench. Baldelli said that there were no health considerations that led to that decision and that they felt the lineup with Cave was the best batting order to put forward in Game 3.