Nelson Cruz's RBI double in ninth inning sends Twins to 5-4 walkoff victory over Pittsburgh

Phil Miller, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Baseball

MINNEAPOLIS -- Like lighting a bonfire with a match, a straw and a hairpin, the Twins used all sorts of humble ingredients to ignite their offense Monday.

A wayward throw from the outfield. A fastball that landed two feet in front of the plate. The new three-batter rule, and some savvy plate discipline by a hitter in an 0-for-8 slump.

That's how the Twins turned a four-run deficit, a runner on first base and two outs in the sixth inning into a thanks-for-the-help four-run rally at Target Field.

The Twins then earned their first walkoff victory of the season, winning 5-4 in the ninth inning when they scored off former Twins minor leaguer Nick Burdi. Jorge Polanco led off with a pinch-hit opposite-field single and Mitch Garver walked before both runners advanced on Luis Arraez's fly ball caught in right-center.

The Pirates elected to have Burdi to go after Nelson Cruz instead of walking him to load the bases for Miguel Sano, and Cruz delivered by driving a 1-1 pitch to deep center field, landing on the grass for an RBI single.

Oh, that Swiss-army-knife approach served the Twins well on the run-prevention side, too: Did anyone forecast a Lewis Thorpe/Jorge Alcala/Matt Wisler combo holding the Pirates in check?

When Twins manager Rocco Baldelli announced that Thorpe, who has worked out of the bullpen this season, would be making his first start since giving up five runs in four innings at Cleveland last September, it could have been interpreted as the license to coast for a day on the Twins' 7-2 start to the season. Especially once Thorpe threw his first pitch -- a down-the-middle fastball that Pirates outfielder Cole Tucker smashed into the left-center bleachers, a half-dozen rows up.

The lefthander gave up another run in the second inning on three singles, then a two-out RBI double to shortstop Erik Gonzalez in the fourth. When Alcala surrendered an unearned run in the fifth, the Twins were in a 4-0 hole and seemingly coasting through an off night, with no runners reaching second base through the first five innings.


Then things got wild. Or at least, Pirates pitching did. Mitch Garver drew a one-out walk in the sixth off Pirates starter Derek Holland, moved up to second on a ground out, and scored when Holland's former Rangers teammate, Nelson Cruz, drilled an RBI single to right, his 13th RBI of the season, and when Heredia's throw arched into the air as if filled with helium, Cruz moved up to second base.

Suddenly, the Twins dugout was alive. So was the Pirates -- mostly with the sound of manager Derek Shelton, the former Twins bench coach -- eviscerating plate umpire John Tumpane for the his strike zone.

Miguel Sano took a 3-2 curve for his first walk of the season. Max Kepler doubled to the wall in right-center, scoring Cruz and Sano. Shelton removed Holland for lefthander Miguel Del Pozo, who immediately walked Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Cave to load the bases.

Stuck under the new three-batter rule with the too-wild lefthander for another batter, a righthander -- Byron Buxton, batting .071 and stuck in an 0-for-8 slump -- Shelton watched as Buxton took three straight balls, the third of which bounced in the dirt and past catcher Jacob Stallings, scoring Kepler with the tying run. Del Pozo eventually walked Buxton and righthander Chris Stratton was called upon to retire Ehire Adrianza, which he did to end the inning, as Bryan Reynolds dived to catch a sinking liner to left with the bases loaded.

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