BY J.A. SCHWARTZ
The A’s may have started the season at 0-6, but they have played .700 baseball since then, and for most of Saturday afternoon, it appeared they’d take another game from the struggling Twins. But Miguel Sano, he of the .119 batting average entering the day, flicked an opposite field three-run homer off Jake Diekman in the bottom of the eighth to send the Twins faithful into hysterics as the Twins defeated the A’s 5-4 in front of 12,212 at Target Field, a victory that may well have granted the beleaguered Sano some grace as he seeks to break out of a season-long funk.
Alex Colome (2-3,4.91) threw a scoreless inning of relief to earn the win for the Twins after Jose Berrios went seven, allowing four runs including a pair of homers while striking out six. Diekman (2-1,2.60) took the loss, his first since the 2019 season. Hansel Robles pitched around a one-out double by Chad Pinder in the ninth to notch his first save of the season, striking out two to preserve the victory.
The game appeared to be well in hand for Oakland lefty Cole Irvin through six innings. Irvin’s fastball barely tops 92 miles per hour, but the Twins could not square him up, only scratching across a single run on a Nelson Cruz RBI groundout in the opening frame. He featured a steady diet of offspeed offerings to keep the Twins lineup off balance, and limited baserunners until the fateful 7th inning, when he left the bases loaded for reliever Yusmeiro Petit with two out.
Contact hitter Luis Arraez came in to pinch-hit for Kyle Garlick, and on the second pitch, Arraez popped up in foul ground near the stands down the third base line. Matt Chapman made the play of the day, leaning over the tarp to backhand a ball he didn’t see as he thrust his glove in the foot long space between the stands and the back of the rolled tarp. The catch squelched the Twins biggest threat, and the score remained 4-1. Irvin’s day was done, allowing only a single run over six plus innings to lower his ERA to 3.02.
The bottom of the eighth also saw Chapman make another rally busting play, snaring a line drive whistled off the bat of Mitch Garver and firing to second to double off Josh Donaldson, who had walked to start the inning. A walk and a single later, the lead was cut to 4-2, and Diekman was summoned to relieve Petit, facing the slumping Sano.
Diekman had five saves in as many opportunities this season, and had yet to allow a home run in 2021. Sano hit what appeared to be a routine fly to right field, but the ball found the lip of the concrete overhang that juts out over the wall 349 feet away. With an exit velocity of 100 MPH, Sano gave the Twins the late lead, and perhaps saved his roster spot in the bargain. He entered the game with a 471 OPS, the ninth worst hitter in the American League with at least 80 plate appearances. He left it as a hero, the Twins partisans standing and screaming his name. In a season with very few late inning rallies that led to victories for his team, Sano had struck a critical blow. It was his first homer since April 15th, and the first time the Twins had overcome a three run deficit to win a game all season.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of Sano’s blow, “It’s a big thing for our team, and a big thing for Miguel Sano too. It’s the kind of day that you remember, and you build off of. It’s been something we’ve been waiting for, and we got it. It was huge.”
Of the victory, Baldelli noted, “It was an emotional day for everybody…it was an intense day in a lot of ways, and we got a moment there… that can really energize everything happening right now. It was a hard fought, well-earned win, with an exclamation point from Miggy (Sano).”
Given the painfully slow start to the season Sano had suffered, Baldelli was asked if he considered pinch-hitting for the hulking slugger in that pivotal eighth inning situation. “We were going to let Miggy go out there and face the lefty, and go to town. He hit a ball good earlier in the game…I think he’s feeling pretty good right now, and those are great signs for us.”
Sano himself claimed to have envisioned his heroics the day before the game. “I told Berrios yesterday…Berry, if I’m in the lineup tomorrow, 100 percent, I’m going to do something special to win the game.”
Ballplayers apparently do not lack for confidence, despite the seemingly stark realities that surround their efforts. Entering Saturday’s action, Miguel Sano, in 82 plate appearances, had hit .119/.280/.209, with 2 HR and 5 RBI. He had struck out 32 times in those plate appearances, an astounding 39% of the time.
The season series between the two teams concludes Sunday afternoon, with Chris Bassitt (3-2,3.54) taking on Kenta Maeda (2-2,5.08) at 11:10AM.
The Twins entered the contest with the worst overall record in all of baseball, at 12-24, a .333 winning percentage, behind even the rebuilding Tigers. They were also suffering through a league high five-game losing skid
The A’s are 35-17 against the Twins dating back to 2013, and lead the current season series 4-1.
The A’s have a -9 run differential, yet are 24-17, in first place in the AL West. The Twins have a -19 run differential and are 13-24, in last place in the AL Central.
The A’s are now at the quarter pole of the season, and their likelihood of making the playoffs has risen from 33.4% on Opening Day to 51.1% following Saturday’s loss.
The Twins, through 38 games, have seen their projected odds to make the postseason in any form drop from 63.3% on Opening Day to 10.2% before action on Saturday, the largest change in possible outcomes of any team in baseball.