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'No contact!': Twins taste first 2020 walk-off

@dohyoungpark
August 4, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- When the ball left Nelson Cruz’s bat and began its long arc to the right-center-field warning track for a walk-off single, Rocco Baldelli paused and yelled at the players in his dugout who were preparing for a mob scene at home plate. “Hey! No contact! No contact!” the

MINNEAPOLIS -- When the ball left Nelson Cruz’s bat and began its long arc to the right-center-field warning track for a walk-off single, Rocco Baldelli paused and yelled at the players in his dugout who were preparing for a mob scene at home plate.

“Hey! No contact! No contact!” the skipper yelled, according to Max Kepler.

Right.

Here’s what a 5-4 walk-off win over the Pirates, as happened at Target Field on Monday, looks like in 2020: A gaggle of Twins players jumped around Cruz in a loose semicircle with their arms raised in the air, reminiscent of those inflatable tube men outside a car dealership. Eddie Rosario showered Cruz with the contents of a water bottle. Taylor Rogers, the night’s winning pitcher, extended a bottle of hand sanitizer to one of Cruz’s gloved hands. (He’s tough on lineups, and apparently, tough on germs, too.)

“It’s definitely, I mean, awkward,” Kepler said.

"Any walk-off is pretty damn good to me,” Baldelli said. “I'm pretty happy watching the guys dance around and not touch each other.”

Pinch-hitter Jorge Polanco led off the ninth with a bloop single after working a deep count against former Minnesota second-round Draft pick Nick Burdi, and Mitch Garver followed with a walk. Luis Arraez moved the runners over with a fly ball to right-center, and Cruz lifted his deep fly ball to cap the Twins’ first walk-off win of the season.

Minnesota improved to 8-2 with its fourth straight victory thanks to Cruz’s third hit and second RBI of the night, which completed a five-run comeback after the Twins’ bats again fell quiet early and the club sank into a 4-0 deficit.

Sometimes, it just takes a stroke of luck and some patience for things to start falling into place. That’s what it took for the Minnesota lineup on Monday night, anyway.

Several Twins hitters have been candid about the fact that the offense hadn’t yet lived up to expectations. Things remained underwhelming through five innings against Pittsburgh left-hander Derek Holland, but center fielder Cole Tucker and reliever Miguel Del Pozo gave the Twins the opening they needed with a misstep and some wildness in a game-tying sixth-inning rally.

“It was great at-bats through the whole inning, you know?” Cruz said. “Patient enough, a lot of walks. We took a lot of close pitches. I mean, typical Twins. We battle, we battle, and we get the last punch, so it was nice to see the bullpen and everybody contribute just to get good at-bats.”

Holland held the Twins to only a pair of singles through the first five innings, but Minnesota caught a huge break in the sixth, when Tucker got a bad read and stumbled on a Kepler line drive to center, resulting in a two-run double. Minnesota took advantage of five walks, a Cruz RBI single and a game-tying wild pitch in the frame to claw all the way back.

“[The misplay] does pick you up a little bit, because when you are a little flat or you’re not really having the at-bats that you want, or putting the runs on the board that you want, sometimes, it does take a moment like that, and the energy in the dugout really picks up,” Baldelli said. “In a long game, that was kind of just an OK game from the start, you do need those moments, and that was definitely a big moment for us.”

The Twins’ struggles against Holland continued the club's difficulties against lefty starters, after White Sox southpaw Dallas Keuchel help Minnesota to three hits in 5 1/3 innings of the season's second game. The Twins also scored only 10 runs across the club’s recent four-game set against Cleveland.

But Minnesota still owns the second best record in the American League anyway, because the club has been finding a way to win -- just as the Twins did on Monday night.

“I think the pitching has got us where we are right now,” Cruz said. “They’re doing an amazing job keeping us in the game, and like today we’re behind four runs and find a way to get it done. But definitely, we are nowhere as a team where we want to be offense-wise. That will probably come sooner than later.”

The sooner the offense figures it out, the sooner the Twins can stop playing close games and having to deal with these novel distanced walk-off celebrations, anyway.

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.