The Twins, it seems, can’t stop winning the series. And Jorge Polanco, it seems, can’t stop leading his team to a walk-off victory.
Even after losing his starting pitcher to injury in the second innings. Even after trailing by three runs on two separate occasions on Wednesday. Even after this, Alexander Kolom missed the chance to save at the top of the ninth inning.
The Twins beat Cleveland 8-7 on Wednesday afternoon in a series finale at Target Field on the strength of a five-run fifth inning and a George Polanco walk-off hit (yes, one more) in the 11th. With this, the Twins have now won four consecutive series – three against division-leading teams.
“He’s a clutch guy, man. He’s a clutch guy,” third baseman Luis Erez said of Polanco. “I’m happy for him because he works hard and he’s killing it right now.”
For Polanco, The Twins Mr. Clutch, this is his second walk-off of the series and the third on Homestand. The Twins’ last three victories have been Polanco walk-offs, so when the Twins (54-67) saw Polanco move up the plate in that position, they knew they were in good hands.
Manager Rocco Baldelli said, “We have polo coming up. I mean, what else?”
The late heroism was needed after Colom dropped his first two runs since July 26 as Cleveland leveled the game 7-7. A game-tying run came to score in the ninth when Colom opened up a wild pitch.
The Twins nearly won the game — twice — in the 10th inning, but the stingy Cleveland (58–61) defense forced the 11th inning as third baseman Ernie Clement robbed Ryan Jeffers in third and center fielder Miles Straw. Game winning hits. Nick Gordon, on top of 11th, returned the favor, robbing Oscar Mercado and keeping the score even.
“They made some good plays. It’s going to happen. I think at no point is to give up, to keep up the energy, these are the people playing, these are the people who are pitching, these are the people on the bench, That’s the staff, that’s everyone, but you just stay away,” Baldelli said. “If you do that and you keep trying to play some good baseball, good things can happen. You yourself give more opportunities, and that’s what we did.”
The twins’ ability to do so set the stage for Polanco’s third walk-off in four days.
“He’s a special hitter,” said first baseman Miguel Sano. “In those moments, he needs to take care of the team and he has it on his back and he knows what to do.”
Sano also played a big part, providing a major hit in the Twins’ five-run fifth inning; His double clear straw came in the middle, taking home two runs to level the game at 7-7.
It was the second hit of the game for Sano, who had also demolished a Zach Plesack pitch an innings earlier, moving it 475 feet out onto the top deck in center field. It was one of the far-rightest hit Twins home runs in the statecast-tracking era.
The Twins collected six straight two-out hits to build up those five lengths in the fifth inning, their final run up to the 11th.
The start of the day was not so pleasant for the twins.
Starter Lewis Thorpe, who was called on Wednesday to start in place of injured Michael Pineda, appeared to be off the start, his four-seamer’s average speed of just 87.8 mph. Thorpe left the game in the second innings with head trainer Michael Salazar after three at-bats. Baldelli said Thorpe had a shoulder strain and would be placed on the injured list.
Thorpe spent more than two months on the injured list with a single injury, throwing in four minor league games before being recalled by the Twins on Wednesday.
The injury put the Twins in a difficult position, as they used seven different relievers through Wednesday’s game and were planning to go with a bullpen game started by John Gantt on Thursday. It’s a puzzle that was at least made more delicious by the fact that Wednesday’s game ended with another walk-off hit from Polanco.
“I don’t think I’ve seen such a late innings, walk-off type of victory in this time period,” Baldelli said. “It’s awesome. Those are usually some of the most memorable moments of your season. You have a handful of them every year. But what we’ve been doing lately is something very special and a lot of fun.”