Just when you think you've seen everything...
I think it's safe to say the Twins have found the smoke and mirrors they seemed to misplace at the end of May. It was just four days ago the Yankees had all but ended the Twins' postseason chances. Now, four wins in Baltimore later, the Twins have vaulted past the O's and the Rays and are now tied with the suddenly reeling Angels just 1 1/2 games behind the Rangers for the second wildcard spot. Plus, the Twins are heading to Tampa to face the Rays, who are a game back of the Twins, for 3 games. The Twins have a chance at their first winning road trip since May 19-24 and have won 3 of their last 4 series, the only series wins they've had since the All-Star break.
The Twins basically did to the Orioles what the Yankees did to the Twins, although the Twins did it in completely different ways. Besides the blowout in the first game, the Twins were the better team in the later innings despite the Orioles generally having a better bullpen. The Orioles only have three losses when leading after 7 innings, and two of those losses came in this series, including Sunday's game.
However, it wasn't like the Twins hit the O's bullpen hard. The Twins tied the game in the ninth on an infield single when the pitcher failed to get over in time on a ground ball to the first baseman. Then came an infield out to advance the runner to second and a two-out ground ball in the hole between shortstop and third base to score the tying run.
The winning rally was the result of two Oriole errors and great hustle by Eduardo Escobar, who went to second base after his slow chopper went under the glove of the shortstop. He then scored when a ground ball went off the third baseman's glove and trickled into the outfield.
In Saturday's game, the Twins used a hit-and-run single, a squeeze bunt to tie the game and a two-out line-drive single to take the lead in the 7th inning. Their only other run of the game was on a roller that snuck through a drawn-in infield.
In Friday's game, the Twins used a sac fly and a pop fly that fell behind a drawn-in infield to score three runs in the eighth inning and win 4-3. The only other run of the game came on a bases loaded walk.
So it wasn't that the Twins were exactly killing the ball in the final three games after scoring 15 runs in the opener. They executed well and took advantage of Orioles mistakes to get just enough runs to win three days in a row.
The real key to the series was the Twins' bullpen. After being just awful against the Yankees, the reliever suddenly could do no wrong. On Sunday, the bullpen pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings with just four hits and two walks allowed and 7 strikeouts. For the series, the bullpen didn't allow a run in 15 2/3 innings. They had 16 Ks with just 5 hits and 4 walks allowed (0.57 WHIP). And this only included one inning from All-Star closer Glen Perkins, who had a couple cortisone shots in his neck after the end of the Yankees series.
What many Twins fans I'm sure were pleased to see was manager Paul Molitor again using his closer in a tied game on the road. This almost never happened under previous manager Ron Gardenhire over 13 seasons. He would inevitably save his closer for a save opportunity that often didn't come because a lesser reliever would lose the game. Of course, Molitor had previously tried using Perkins against the Yankees while Perkins' neck was still bothering him, so he ended up losing the game that was tied. On Sunday, Molitor not only used Kevin Jepsen, who was filling in at closer while Perkins was out, but Perkins himself, who Molitor had previously said he wanted to wait until Tuesday to get Perkins back on the mound. Perkins gave up a couple hits but kept the game tied and ended up the winning pitcher. With just about their entire bullpen used up and not wanting to overuse Casey Fien, Molitor called on starting pitcher Tommy Milone and his sub-90 mph fastball to close out the win. Milone got an assist from Byron Buxton, who made a nice leaping catch at the wall to prevent a leadoff double before Milone buckled down and struck out the next two batters with offspeed pitches, once again proving that having a "proven closer" is overrated.
What is not overrated is how much fun it is to watch Miguel Sano hit. He gave the Twins the early lead on Sunday with a two-run home run in the first inning. It was a rocket of a line drive to right-center field and may have been his most impressive home run to date, considering it was his first home run to the opposite field and the pitcher he hit it off of was nearly untouchable by the Twins after Sano's homer. He also had a double to left in the 11th inning. The Twins only had seven hits and Sano had two of them and they were the only two hit with any authority. If Sano will remember the approach that got him his home run, that could really help him cut down on his strikeouts and help him go from being a Chris Davis-type hitter to a Miguel Cabrera-type hitter.