'The game is nuts': Twins' lineup shuffle pays off in wild rout

June 9th, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- When Twins manager Rocco Baldelli released his reshuffled lineup card for the series finale against Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon, there was one move that stood out the most.

Carlos Santana, the 38-year-old first baseman, was penciled into the leadoff spot for the first time since he played for the Phillies in 2018. The skipper was moving things around in an attempt to ignite a dormant lineup that had gone 22 consecutive innings without scoring a run. And while Baldelli’s changes may have taken a bit longer to impact the game than he had hoped, they were ultimately instrumental in Minnesota breaking its five-game losing streak and salvaging the final contest of a three-game road series against Pittsburgh at PNC Park.

After getting shut out by the Pirates’ pitching staff in consecutive games, the Twins used a seven-run 10th inning to earn an 11-5 victory on Sunday. It was a stretch of baseball that perfectly epitomized the sport. The same team that was unable to plate a single run in the two prior games, in the blink of an eye batted around the lineup and plated seven runs in one frame to steal the game.

“The game is nuts,” Baldelli said. “You can play, and things go a certain way for days and days and days at a time, and then you put it together and you put up seven runs in one inning, in extra innings. It’s goofy. And when I say it’s nuts, it’s like, we’re all kind of nuts. If you like this [sport], you like it for things like today.”

Leading off the top of the 10th inning with the automatic runner at second and the score knotted at 4, left fielder Manuel Margot got a hold of a Ben Heller cutter, driving it into the right-center-field gap for an RBI triple. Byron Buxton was drilled in the back on the following pitch, then stole second, and Ryan Jeffers worked a 10-pitch walk to load the bases for Willi Castro, who was hit by the pitch to bring home an insurance run.

Then the dominoes began to fall. Santana drove home a pair with a double, and Carlos Correa hit an RBI single before scoring on a Max Kepler base hit.

Santana, who is batting .273 with six RBIs in his past 15 games, said that while he is always confident as a hitter, he was a little bit surprised to see himself penciled into the leadoff spot. It was a position he hadn't found himself in in years but one he is ready to take on more if the team needs it.

“For me, I don't have any problems,” Santana said. “Every spot [that] the team needs me, I can do it.”

Aside from moving Santana to the top of the lineup, Baldelli also moved Trevor Larnach from leadoff to the two-spot, and Correa, who contributed a three-hit game, from the two-spot to the three-hole. He also had Royce Lewis, one of the bright sides during the team’s winless trip to New York the series prior, come off the bench in the sixth inning. Lewis lifted an RBI sacrifice fly in the sixth and drove a leadoff double in the ninth.

Facing Pirates starter Jared Jones, the Twins took a 3-0 lead in the first inning on a pair of base hits by Larnach and Correa, two walks, an RBI fielder's choice and a questionable run-scoring passed ball that appeared to hit Buxton’s bat. That, along with a run in the sixth inning, accounted for all of their offense prior to the 10th-inning outburst.

“We put some good at-bats together early, some good at-bats together late,” Baldelli said. “The truth is, it took a lot of work, and we had to really stay at the task in a way that sometimes this game kind of puts in front of you. It wasn't easy.”

It wasn't always pretty, but at the very least, the team found a way to leave Pittsburgh with a bit of momentum ahead of a 10-game homestand.

“It’s a big win,” Santana said. “Especially since we had five games in a row that we lost. We came back. It was a great start for next week. We go back home, and everything is positive. You know, it’s a long season. Season is up and down, but we have to keep our heads up and take it one day at a time.”