Feeling 'zen,' Twins extend streak to 5 with walk-off

May 24th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- You think the Twins are having fun?

That’s one loose and fun home clubhouse in the depths of Target Field right now amid this recent five-game winning streak, extended once again by heroics from Gio Urshela, whose walk-off infield single in the ninth inning lifted the Twins to a 5-4 victory over the Tigers on Monday night.

And really, it seems like every time you walk into the Twins’ clubhouse these days, there seems to be some sort of new, fun trinket for the players, whether it’s Richie the Rally Goat, percussion instruments purchased by Sonny Gray or, on Monday, vuvuzelas and a gong that had materialized on a table in the middle of the room.

“I’d say we’re feeling very zen, you know?” said Max Kepler as the gong softly rang in the background. “Feeling very good.”

A day after capping the Twins’ improbable seven-run comeback in Kansas City with a go-ahead knock in the ninth, Urshela once again came through in the clutch, this time with a grounder off the glove of Tigers shortstop Javier Báez that plated Kepler from third for his first walk-off knock as a Twin and Minnesota’s third walk-off win this season.

At 26-16, the Twins have their second winning streak of at least five games, own the third-best record in the American League and are 4 1/2 games clear of their nearest opponent. You’d better believe they’re enjoying it -- and the new guys like Urshela, Gray, Gary Sánchez and Carlos Correa have been right in the middle of this recent stretch of success, with everyone now healthy and performing.

Urshela’s bat has been slow to pick up, now with a .648 OPS through 37 games, but his stellar defense and clubhouse presence have been a constant throughout the season -- he’s usually eating, laughing and chatting at a table with Correa, Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez after games -- and he’s been the latest in a line of Twins to come up with the big hit or pitching performance amid this stretch.

“We know in clutch situations he’s going to be able to move the ball,” said Chris Archer, who allowed a run in four innings. “And he’s played elite defense, like he has his whole career. Yeah, he’s been huge. A huge piece of this team. As well as Gary. Both those guys who came over in that trade have been huge for us this year.”

Kepler had gotten Minnesota’s offense underway in the first inning with a grand slam, and he once again kick-started the rally in the ninth with a leadoff walk off Detroit reliever Andrew Chafin. The walk was followed by a clean single to right from pinch-hitter Kyle Garlick that set up runners on the corners with none out, leading to Urshela’s walk-off heroics two batters later.

The Twins had ambushed Detroit starter Elvin Rodriguez in the first inning with a walk, two singles and Kepler’s third career grand slam before the offense fell silent throughout the middle innings while the Tigers caught up and tied it.

But now, more than ever, there’s a brimming confidence among the Twins’ dugout that they’ll find a way to get it done. That’ll happen by following a 4-8 start to the season with a 22-8 stretch.

“Look, yesterday, we proved there’s really no deficit we can’t come back from,” Archer said. “And although we were never down tonight, it was a tight game late. They used their best bullpen arms and we knew we could get it done. Kep started off huge there with a walk, lefty on lefty. And then the kind of plug-and-play style we have worked out in our advantage massively.”

Early in the season, it was Byron Buxton with the big hits. Polanco has been that guy. Sánchez’s bat has woken up of late. It’s been Urshela the past two days. They’re building on each other’s success -- and they’re having fun doing it, putting a difficult ‘21 behind them.

“I just feel like there's less pressure on each player at the plate,” Kepler said. “So someone back there in the training room was just saying, you know, this year, we have the similar situations as we did last year, but last year, we didn't execute. And we seemed to play with more pressure.

“And yeah, this year, it's just a good group of guys. So it's like we're fighting for each other. And when you're doing that, I always say this, whatever is in the box comes easier, and it doesn't feel more like an individual sport.”