Sonny Gray gets his moment, delivers for Twins

September 7th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Do-Hyoung Park’s Twins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

This is all has asked for, all along: the opportunity -- and the trust -- to prove that he can pitch out of a jam late in a ballgame.

He got that chance. He made a statement escape, and his offense backed him up with a late rally to power a series-clinching win that all but put the division race away. Down the stretch and into the playoffs, that burst of confidence seems to have empowered Gray.

“[Manager Rocco Baldelli] showed a lot of faith and a lot of trust,” Gray said. “The manager comes out to the mound and leaves you in the game, it gives you a little bit of a boost. It really does.”

Gray’s pitch count had soared as he ran into a jam in the sixth inning of a tie game. The Twins had just tied the score, 3-3, in the top of the inning, but Gray allowed a leadoff single to José Ramírez and a one-out knock to Kole Calhoun, bringing Baldelli out for a visit to the mound.

Typically, that signals curtains for the starting pitcher -- and especially for Gray, who had been pulled at 90 or fewer pitches in seven of his eight previous appearances, due in no small part to his tendency to falter late in outings, especially the third time through the order.

This time was different.

“What do you want? How do you feel about this?” Baldelli asked.

Gray wanted it.

“OK, your game,” the skipper replied. “Go get it.”

“As soon as he said that, the decision was made,” Baldelli later said. “That one, they’re all a little different when you walk out there to the mound. That one really just came down to, if Sonny wanted it, felt he could do it, it was his.”

Gray fell behind 3-1 in the count to Andrés Giménez before battling back for a strikeout. And on his 101st pitch of the game, he got Gabriel Arias to fly to right. There was no yell, no big outburst from Gray -- just a wipe of sweat off his brow as he strode back to the dugout, having backed his words with a clutch escape.

Down the stretch and into the playoffs, the hooks might well be quicker than ever due to workload control -- and, in October, because every out matters. But this was still meaningful for Gray.

“It was kind of just one of those days that you feel a little off, but you're just trying to do everything you can to stay in the moment, stay in the pitch that you're making and do everything you can to focus and stay there, stay with it,” Gray said.