Twins walk off vs. Yanks for 1st time since '14

After Donaldson's HR ties game, Cruz belts winning HR in improbable comeback

June 11th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- Nothing about that ninth inning made sense.

Well, shoot, little about this season has made sense for the Twins, anyway.

Aroldis Chapman entered with a 0.39 ERA, having allowed one homer all season. The Twins entered down by two runs, having not mounted a ninth-inning comeback all season.

So, naturally, the banged-up, last-place Twins pounced on the Yankees’ closer to turn nearly sure defeat into their most improbable victory of the season in a blindingly quick flash of five pitches. Josh Donaldson crushed a 438-foot two-run homer to tie the game, before Nelson Cruz left no doubt with a 457-foot moonshot that secured a 7-5 walk-off victory and unleashed the pent-up energy at Target Field in a thunderous outburst.

These sorts of things just don’t happen to Chapman.

These sorts of things just don’t happen to the Twins when they face the Yankees.

But for once, they did. And a Twins team seemingly in need of some sort of magical jolt to turn things around just might have conjured one.

“He's the best closer in the game, so it was remarkable to be able to score four runs against him,” Cruz said. “I cannot recall any [comeback] like that.”

You’ve got to go back to Aug. 5, 2019, to find the last time the Twins hit a walk-off homer. You’ve got to go even further back to June 18, 2016, to find the last time Chapman allowed multiple homers in a game. You’ve got to go all the way back to July 5, 2014 -- when Chris Parmelee, Kendrys Morales and Yohan Pino roamed the Twins’ dugout -- for the last time the Twins walked off against the Yankees.

And as far as Statcast is concerned, you can’t go back far enough to find the last time Chapman had allowed homers of 438 or 457 feet -- because he hadn’t ever allowed blasts that long since the system began tracking.

“He’s been so good,” said Twins starter J.A. Happ, who was teammates with Chapman in New York for three seasons. “You know his ability to strike guys out even if he’s in trouble. He’s often able to work his way through with the stuff that he has. We were just able to try to get him in the zone and we got some really nice swings off.”

How does this even happen?

It starts with leadoff man Jorge Polanco. Cruz pointed out that the scouting report for Chapman had noted that the left-hander, who entered the game with a 1,047 ERA+ (947 percent better than MLB average) had been using more breaking balls lately.

Polanco got two sliders to start his plate appearance and took them both for balls, forcing Chapman into the strike zone with fastballs -- none of which cracked his season average of 98.8 mph. And once the heaters started coming, the Twins were ready.

“If you have to point out something different, my velocity wasn’t there as it has been before," Chapman said through an interpreter. “And the hitters were ready to jump on the fastball tonight.”

Polanco took two heaters before he lined one into left field for a solid single. Donaldson went to the plate gunning for a fastball and got two -- the second of which was a cookie-cutter, 95.5 mph, belt-high pitch over the inner half that he blasted into the upper deck. It was his eighth homer of the season, and his fourth that either tied the game or gave Minnesota the lead.

Willians Astudillo got another fastball. That, too, got roped into left for a solid single before Astudillo -- of course -- lost his helmet while celebrating. And when Cruz got yet another first-pitch fastball after that, he lifted the Twins’ second-longest homer of the year, snapping a 12-game drought without a homer, his longest since coming to Minnesota in 2019.

“It was one after the other of just hard, hard contact and really going up there, too, without any fear,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Not going up there, taking pitches, seeing what he’s going to do. Our guys went up there ready to hit and hit balls hard.”

The cherry on top? Across the river in St. Paul, there were two equally big homers -- both off the bat of a rehabbing Byron Buxton, who could soon rejoin the Twins following his stint in Triple-A.

A jolt on the field could soon be followed by another in the clubhouse. And maybe that’s how things finally get rolling -- before it’s truly too late.

"We certainly hope so,” Happ said. “We don't talk about it too much amongst ourselves, because it's not a fun conversation to have, just how injured or beat up or however you want to say it we are. We're trying to just show up and try to grind every day. Again, I felt like we were in the game and we had a chance there.

“And today, we came up huge."