ST. PETERSBURG -- While it may not have been one of the bombas that have made Eddie Rosario famous lately, his ninth-inning knock on Friday was still high on the list of things to celebrate following the Twins’ 5-3 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
“Rosie waits for these situations,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think he goes to bed at night thinking about them and wanting them. He’s a guy who we would definitely look to in those spots, and a guy who certainly wants to be up there.”
The teams were deadlocked at three-all -- and had been for a while -- when Tampa Bay reliever Diego Castillo pegged Jonathan Schoop with a pitch in the upper left arm to lead off the ninth inning. After securing two outs, Castillo intentionally walked Jorge Polanco, then plunked Willians Astudillo with a pitch in nearly the same spot to load the bases.
Adam Kolarek replaced Castillo and got just two pitches into his night before Rosario chopped a ball up the left side that scored the eventual game-winning runs. Upon reaching first, he immediately pointed to the crowd where 25 friends and family were sitting after making the trip from nearby Orlando. The cheer grew as the runs were added on the scoreboard: “Ed-die! Ed-die!”
“I love these moments,” Rosario confessed with a smile. “I want to try to make good contact with the ball. I wasn’t thinking too much. I know [Kolarek’s] a lefty who throws sinkers. We saw a lot of good lefties today, but the most important [thing] is the last at-bat.”
The two-out, two-run single was the eighth go-ahead hit in the ninth inning or later in Rosario’s career and his second of the season. He’s batting .317 with a double, seven homers and 38 RBIs this year with runners in scoring position.
The Twins’ left fielder is also a career .376 hitter against the Rays, a tidbit that probably didn’t escape the losing clubhouse.
Most immediately of course, Rosario’s hit helped Minnesota to its 13th win in 16 games. In the grand scheme of things, though, it showed once again how well the Twins are able to shake off the previous day and keep fighting.
“It’s something we have seen so far this year. The games that we’ve not played our best, or lost, anything like that, we’ve come back either the day after or the day after that and really pulled it together and played good baseball,” Baldelli said. “It’s what we’ve come to expect, and I think we have the guys with the kind of character that, regardless of what happens today, they’ll be ready to play tomorrow.”
May was certainly the Twins’ month. They won 21 games, smashed a team-record 56 home runs and set new club benchmarks in extra-base hits, runs scored, slugging percentage and OPS en route to the best record in the American League.
As Minnesota steadily increased its hold on the Central throughout the month, Tampa Bay has made quite a ruckus in the East. The Twins’ potent offense and the Rays’ stingy pitching are hot topics in baseball circles, which made this series all the more enticing.
Tampa Bay called the shots on Thursday with an electric offense. On Friday, Minnesota issued a gentle reminder about who currently controls the AL.
So far, the four-game tilt has been as good as advertised. The teams traded early barbs Friday night before settling into a staredown after the fifth inning, tied at three. The early standoff was thanks in large part to starter Jose Berrios, who powered his way to a ninth quality start.
Berrios allowed three runs, struck out eight and walked three in 6 2/3 innings, his lone gaffe coming by way of a two-run homer in the second. Just as he’s done all season, Berrios got sharper as he worked, permitting just three hits along the way. His relief, Taylor Rogers, earned the win by holding the Rays to one hit over the final 2 1/3 innings.
“Our pitchers did a heck of a job,” Baldelli said. “Jose battled through the game, made really good pitches. You have to pitch well to get through that lineup.
“They forced him to make good pitches, he continued to make good pitches, and then Rogers coming in and doing what he did was spectacular.”
It took until the ninth, but the Rays blinked first, cracking just enough for Rosario and the Twins to take the opportunity and run with it.