MINNEAPOLIS -- Two months from now, it’s very possible that these two teams -- the Twins and Blue Jays -- could meet again at this stadium for the first round of the playoffs. It sure felt like a postseason matchup, too, with two fanbases chanting back and forth at each other in one of the more electric environments at Target Field this season, the Twins’ newly acquired frontline starter on the mound and a tight battle of bullpen escapes until the very end.
The Twins had faltered in these types of big games leading into the Trade Deadline. But on Friday, they took some gifts from the Blue Jays and found a way to persevere.
After newcomer Michael Fulmer escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 10th inning, the Twins took advantage of a pair of defensive miscues to emerge with a scrappy victory on a misplayed fielder’s choice, with Nick Gordon sliding across home plate on a dropped throw by Toronto catcher Danny Jansen to give Minnesota a chaotic 6-5 win in 10 innings over the Blue Jays.
With Cleveland’s loss to Houston, the Twins gained a game in the American League Central for the first time since Saturday.
“It definitely just shows that atmosphere there, in those types of ballgames, that we can win them and that we’re in them,” Gordon said. “I’ve never been to the playoffs in the big leagues, but that definitely felt like an intense game there. … Playing teams like that -- good teams definitely just fight to the last out. It teaches you and it shows you.”
With Gordon standing at second as the automatic runner to begin the 10th, Jake Cave struck out, but he sprinted for first after the ball trickled away from Jansen and reached first on a throwing error from Jansen. One batter later, Tim Beckham chopped a grounder to third base, and Jansen couldn’t handle the one-hop throw at the plate as Gordon skidded across home, clipping it with his left arm.
“I actually was sliding and watching the catcher, so I was actually seeing the ball fall and I was kind of yelling at the umpire,” Gordon said. “I was like, ‘Safe, safe.’ I was hoping he heard me.”
The Twins had a chance to win without all that drama in the ninth inning, when newly acquired closer Jorge López entered with a 5-4 lead, allowed a pair of ground-ball singles and came within one strike of victory before Raimel Tapia flared a game-tying knock into shallow center field.
Though López’s second save opportunity for his new team didn’t go as smoothly as his first following his acquisition from the Orioles at Tuesday’s Trade Deadline, the Twins’ newest arrivals still paved the way for this victory, even if it didn’t go as smoothly as they had perhaps planned.
The late-inning drama overshadowed Tyler Mahle’s Twins debut following his acquisition from the Reds. The right-hander allowed four runs on a season-high three homers, but the mere act of completing six innings was something that had been rare for the Twins of late, with the 27-year-old becoming the first starter to get that deep into a game since Sonny Gray threw six innings July 24, nearly two weeks ago.
And with the newly fortified Twins bullpen, that’ll usually work. Handing the ball to some combination of Griffin Jax, Fulmer, Jhoan Duran and López to get through the final three innings should usually result in victory.
“It was a tremendous first impression,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He's a workhorse type of pitcher, and you get a chance to see what that looked like. … Six innings, I mean, that's exactly what we're looking for. We can turn it over to our bullpen from there with a lead.”
In this case, because Mahle’s outing ensured that only three of those back-end arms had been used to get through nine innings, the Twins still had Fulmer available for the 10th inning. The longtime Tigers right-hander allowed a walk and single with one out to load the bases, but struck out both Teoscar Hernández and Bo Bichette to strand the go-ahead run at third base, setting up the Twins’ victory.
“To just end an inning by just going right at guys, the stuff was pretty incredible,” Baldelli said.
The new guys have already showed how they can help. If this was, indeed, a preview of what could come in the postseason, it sure feels like the Twins are better prepared.