As if baseball in 2020 wasn’t weird enough, the Twins learned a whole new vocabulary Friday in Target Field: The eighth inning is an “extra.” The Twins are the “visitors.” And singles are “enough.”
Randy Dobnak pitched five scoreless innings to lead the Twins to a 2-0 shutout of the Tigers in Game 1 of a doubleheader of seven-inning games, and Jorge Polanco went 4-for-4, including a clutch two-strike line drive to tie the second game in the seventh. The Twins, who batted first in their home park for only the second time in franchise history, went on to complete a decidedly bizarre sweep with a 3-2, eight-inning victory.
“Circumstances, they are a little crazy, a little odd,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said in an understatement. “You’re reminding yourself what inning it is. You’re reminding yourself that if you score and go ahead, the game’s not over. You do have to remind yourself of a few things.”
Including the standings: The pair of victories — the second one a makeup of an Aug. 28 rainout in Detroit that meant the Twins batted first in Minnesota for the first time since 1975 — keeps the AL Central race tight.
The Twins offense was completely different in both games, too. In Game 1, they managed only four hits, but the first two were home runs by their first two hitters. Polanco blitzed a Matthew Boyd changeup into the planters in left field, Josh Donaldson tattooed a fastball about 440 feet to straightaway center, and that was enough. Neither team came particularly close to scoring after that in a game that lasted only 1 hour, 45 minutes.
In the second game, the “visiting” Twins collected 11 hits, at least one in every inning, but all 11 were singles. One will be remembered by Brent Rooker as his first MLB hit and RBI, one will be remembered by Polanco as the last-chance single that tied the score in the seventh, and one will be remembered by Marwin Gonzalez as the game-winner, a sharp grounder to center that drove in hair-flying Willians Astudillo — standing on second to start the inning in his first game of 2020.
“Of course he scores a run and his helmet’s flying all over the field,” Baldelli said with a laugh. “That’s exactly what we’ve come to expect, the fun and the energy and the enthusiasm.”
But if their hitting was stop-and-go, their pitching was almost uniformly effective. Detroit scored in only one of the day’s 15 innings, managing two runs off rookie Sean Poppen in Game 2.
“Our pitchers, too, from beginning to end, really got the job done,” Baldelli said. “We needed excellent outings from a number of guys, and that’s exactly what we got.”
Dobnak (6-2), who gave up 12 hits while recording 13 outs at Detroit on Saturday, this time had the Tigers hitting the ball at his infielders. The rookie induced six ground balls (including two double plays), struck out four and cruised through five shutout innings on only 61 pitches. Tyler Duffey retired all three hitters he faced in the sixth inning, and Taylor Rogers completed the shutout, earning his eighth save.
“We had a bullpen that was rested,” and the lead was only two runs, Baldelli explained of the decision to pull Dobnak. “It’s never the greatest feeling when you know a guy still has a bunch of pitches to work with, and he was so efficient and so good.”
In the second game, Matt Wisler didn’t give up a hit in his two innings and completed his fourth consecutive “opener” assignment without allowing a run. After Poppen gave up a pair of runs, Caleb Thielbar escaped from a bases-loaded jam, and Tyler Clippard, Sergio Romo and Trevor May finished up, with May striking out Miguel Cabrera, Jeimer Candelario and Willi Castro with Jonathan Schoop on second to earn the save.