CLEVELAND -- It was career homer No. 150 for Twins second baseman James Dozier, but he couldn't recall a bigger one in his six-year career.With the Twins trailing by two runs with one out in the eighth, Dozier lifted a fly ball from Indians reliever Bryan Shaw that carried just
CLEVELAND -- It was career homer No. 150 for Twins second baseman James Dozier, but he couldn't recall a bigger one in his six-year career.
With the Twins trailing by two runs with one out in the eighth, Dozier lifted a fly ball from Indians reliever Bryan Shaw that carried just over the right-field fence to help give the Twins a critical 8-6 win on Tuesday night at Progressive Field. The victory lowered Minnesota's magic number to one for the second American League Wild Card spot with five games remaining.
Dozier couldn't contain himself as he rounded first base, raising his right hand high in the air, a gesture that was reminiscent of Kirby Puckett's famous celebration during his walk-off homer in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series.
"I think that was as explosive as our dugout has been all year when that ball went over the right-field wall," manager Paul Molitor said. "That was quite a moment."
Dozier, who was 3-for-23 off Shaw entering the at-bat, said Shaw likes to try to beat him away with his cutter "99 percent of the time." So after Shaw threw a cutter for strike one, he came back with the same pitch and Dozier went with it, getting just enough of it for his 33rd blast of the season. The ball left the bat at 99.2 mph and went a projected 376 feet, per Statcast™.
"It's pretty much all he throws," Dozier said. "He threw a good first pitch, but I think it was the exact same pitch. Early in my career, I used to try to pull Shaw, but as I've gotten older, I've tried to let the ball travel and try to get it in the air. He left one over the middle."
Dozier has matured as a hitter this season, showing increased power to right field after being pull-happy early in his career, including his 42-homer season in 2016. Only one of his 42 homers was hit to right field in 2016, but this year he's hit five, improving his average on balls hit to the right side from .246 to .348.
"He's had a handful of those over there, more than he ever has," Molitor said. "I think it shows the continuation of him becoming a better hitter."
It was simply a clutch moment from one of the club's leaders, a moment that left his teammates impressed and jubilant in the dugout, as they knew they were in great position with the way relievers Trevor Hildenberger and Matt Belisle have thrown.
"It was incredible," center fielder Byron Buxton said. "Once he did that, you could see the momentum shift to our side. We told ourselves to keep the foot on the pedal and keep going."
Dozier, though, doesn't want to look too far ahead, considering the Twins haven't clinched just yet, but he knows they're in prime position to make the postseason for the first time in his career.
"We can control our own destiny and win tomorrow and have a party," he said. "And then you guys won't see me for probably a day and a half."
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter **@RhettBollinger** and **Facebook**.