Minnesota Twins: Brian Dozier had a doubly grand day to secure another win
The Minnesota Twins had to fight for a series win over the Rays to close the season’s first half and did so with a show better than the post game fireworks.
The Minnesota Twins scuffled their way to an inspirational 10-inning, 11-7 victory on Sunday capped off Brian Dozier‘s walk-off grand slam home run. The team heads into the All-Star break on the heels of a nine-win homestand, albeit with two blow-out losses. The only other nine-win homestand for the Twins this millennium was in 2006. In that season’s final homestand prior to the All-Star break, they consecutively swept the Chicago Cubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Milwaukee Brewers.
Beyond the finale’s fantastic finish, was an overall exceptional game in several ways. It featured a relief pitcher as a starter; a closer “saving” the game in the 5th inning; a run-scoring balk; a pair of bench-clearing disagreements with an ejection; and a game-tieing bases-loaded walk. There were five lead changes in a game that lasted four hours and thirty-eight minutes.
Tampa Bay has been playing with three true starting pitchers, employing a member their ten-man bullpen once or twice each week to pitch the first two or three innings. Quasi-starter Ryne Stanek who pitched an inning of relief on Friday gave up one run in his two innings of work. Matt Andriese was the ninth and final Devil Ray to take the mound.
The fireworks started in the bottom of the 7th with the Twins down 4-1, Robbie Grossman led off with a single. Grossman to second on a Jake Cave sacrifice bunt. With two outs, Joe Mauer singled Grossman to third. Another single by Eddie Rosario cut the lead to 4-2 with Mauer legging it to third. Tampa Bay then pulled lefty Adam Kolarek for right-handed Diego Castillo.
This is when the fun really started. Brian Dozier slapped a 3-2 pitch down the third base line. Daniel Robertson snagged the ball on the line about a foot shy of the outfield grass and on one knee made a weak throw toward first as Grossman crossed the plate to bring the Twins to within one run. A hustling Rosario capitalized on the mistake and headed for third. First baseman C.J. Cron ran forward grabbing the ball just before the second hop and made a wild throw back toward third that bounced off the tarp along the left field line. Rosario trotted home for the tie as Dozier advanced all the way to third on the error.
Dozier’s “Grandest” Contribution
And the Rays´ frustration didn’t end there. With Dozier on third, Tampa Bay employed an extreme right-side shift against left-handed hitting Eduardo Escobar. Third baseman Robertson was positioned at deep short. The closest Ray to Dozier, as he darted back and forth between third and home, was the pitcher Castillo. It had to be unnerving for the rookie pitcher, but he still managed to work Escobar to a 0-2 count.
Dozier then masterfully got inside the pitcher’s head. He made a feigned break toward home as Castillo set for the next pitch going just a quarter of the way down the line before stopping. The pitcher held his set position. Dozier stared Castillo a moment before taking another quick step toward the plate. Still no reaction from the mound. Dozier then caught Castillo off guard by turning and walking back to his base as if the battle had ended. That battle did end a second or two later as Castillo relaxed and moved his torso thereby causing a balk allowing Dozier to jubilantly trot on home with the go-ahead run. It was a thing of beauty. The Rays were not happy campers. Manager Kevin Cash was left scratching his neck in dismay.
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One Battle Leads to Another
Castillo´s next pitch after the balk was a 101 MPH fastball directed at Escobar’s knees. Meanwhile, Cash was at the steps of dugout pointing towards the Twins yelling at someone to shut the “f” up. Escobar had words for catcher Jesus Sucre before having a long distance disagreement with Robertson. Sucre got in front of Escobar as the benches cleared. Jorge Polanco intercepted Rays ace Chris Archer, keeping him away from Escobar. The irate Archer had to be restrained and led back to the dugout. Order was restored and play resumed.
Just a pitch later tempers flared anew. After looking at a called third strike to end the crazy fifth, Escobar tossed his bat and helmet and started toward his position at third. While en route, he got into it with verbally again with Sucre. The dugouts cleared again and the bullpens made their second trek to the playing field. No punches were thrown but Escobar was ejected for the first time in his career. Ehire Adrianza entered as his replacement.
While Trevor Hildenberger was credited with a blown save after giving up three earned runs and an inherited run in one innings work, the rest of the bullpen was outstanding. Fernando Rodney, Ryan Pressly, Taylor Rogers, and Alan Busenitz retired all fourteen of the batters they faced. Rodney kept the team in the game by stopping a fifth-inning rally, coming into the game with runners on second and third with only one out. Busenitz stranded his inherited potential go-ahead runner on second to end the ninth and pitched a scoreless tenth to get the win and bring his record to 3-0.
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Offensive props go out to Joe Mauer, Eddie Rosario, and Polanco. The three combined for five hits in twelve at-bats, three RBI’s, six runs, five walks, and a stolen base. Dozier finished 2-6, with five RBI’s and two runs, including of course his walk-off grand slam. A sometimes frustrating and tedious ballgame turned out as one that I’ll take hold good memories from.