Players Weekend is over and it went by without Ervin Santana throwing a single pitch. He still stood true to his jersey nickname on Tuesday night at Target Field, however, as for five innings he performed Magic in a 6-4 win over the Chicago White Sox.
It was a nice bounce-back performance for Santana, if that’s what you’d like to call it. The Twins lost his last start 4-3 at Guaranteed Rate field on Wednesday — also a Santana-James Shields matchup — but the lanky righty tossed seven innings of two-run ball with eight strikeouts. Facing the same offense the second time in a row, Santana backed it up 6.2 innings of three-run ball with seven strikeouts and a pair of walks.
In all, it capped a terrific month of August for Santana. In all, the righty made six starts over the month, pitching to a 2.95 ERA with just 34 hits allowed and 42 strikeouts in 39.2 innings. While that ERA pales in comparison to what Santana did over the first two months of the season, it’s worth noting that it appears he’s gotten his second wind. Santana posted a 6.03 ERA in June and followed it up with a 4.68 mark in July as the Twins went just 4-7 in his starts over that stretch.
The offensive star of the night on the Twins side was Jorge Polanco, who continued his torrid August by becoming just the fifth player in team history to homer from both sides of the plate. In doing so, Polanco joined Kennys Vargas, Ryan Doumit, Chili Davis and Roy Smalley — who was in the Fox Sports North booth doing color commentary — as the only Twins to reach that feat.
“Not too many guys in the history of this franchise have done that,” manager Paul Molitor said. “So that was impressive.”
Polanco himself hasn’t done it any level either, he said after the game. “No I haven’t,” Polanco told Fox Sports North sideline reporter Marney Gellner. “It’s the first time.”
Polanco’s first home run came in the third inning from the left side of the plate against Shields, while he golfed a pitch from White Sox reliever Aaron Bummer just over the fence in left in the eighth inning to give the Twins a 6-3 lead.
Polanco has nine home runs on the season and 13 for his big-league career. Nearly half (six) of his career home runs have come in just the last week. More than half (eight) have come at the hands of Chicago White Sox pitchers.
Polanco upped his season line to .256/.304/.408 — a wRC+ of 84 that won’t make anyone forget about Cal Ripken Jr., but is still important nonetheless. That’s a .712 OPS. Polanco came into the month hitting just .213/.265/.308 amidst a prolonged slump that saw his OPS dip as low as .570 at its worst.
Like all good shows, the Twins didn’t start with the fireworks, however.
Brian Dozier walked to lead the bottom of the first, and was on the move when Joe Mauer shot a single past Tim Anderson who was racing to cover the bag. After Polanco struck out swinging, Eddie Rosario hit what appeared to be an inning-ending comebacker to Shields, who attempted to start a 1-6-3 double play. The throw sailed on Shields however, pulling Anderson off the bag to the point where he had to scramble to tag Mauer with no time for a relay throw to get Rosario at first. That also allowed Dozier to streak home with the game’s first run.
“We took advantage of a bit of an errant throw there in the first inning to capitalize with a couple runs,” Molitor said. “I thought that was really huge.”
Rosario moved up to second on a wild pitch from Shields, and came around to score on a single off the bat of the red-hot Byron Buxton, giving the Twins an early 2-0 lead.
Santana settled into a groove early, facing just four men in each of the first two innings as both Jose Abreu and Tyler Saladino reached on two-out singles but were stranded at first base. Things got a little bumpier in the third inning, as Yolmer Sanchez got the third two-out single in as many innings for the White Sox to start a brief rally. Abreu walked and both runners moved up on a passed ball by Chris Gimenez before Santana bore down to fan Avisail Garcia swinging.
“Ervin kind of settled in,” Molitor said. “I think after the off-day, it takes him a little while sometimes to get going. But he threw the ball well.”
Santana then faced the minimum over the next two innings before getting into a little more trouble in the sixth. By this time, the Twins led 4-0 thanks to Polanco’s first home run and an RBI single from Eduardo Escobar in the fourth. Abreu hit a one-out single to center and came home to score on a Garcia double off the wall in right-center. Santana managed to get Matt Davidson to ground to short and Saladino to strike out swinging after a walk to Kevan Smith, but the White Sox were finally on the board at 4-1.
The Twins answered to push the lead back to four runs with a booming double from Max Kepler, who eventually scored on a sac fly from Escobar.
In the seventh, a deep double to left from Anderson was followed by Adam Engel getting hit by a pitch. Leury Garcia grounded to first to move both runners up, and Sanchez hit a sac fly to bring home Anderson. Trevor Hildenberger took over for Santana — his 13th appearance in August and his sixth in the last week — and allowed an RBI double to Abreu before Garcia again struck out to end another chance for the Sox.
Hildenberger allowed another double in the eighth, but mixed it in with three swinging strikeouts to finish his night with four strikeouts in 1.1 innings of work.
Polanco’s second home run of the night provided insurance for the Twins at 6-3, and that proved to be a nice cushion as Matt Belisle got his fifth save of the season, but faced five hitters and allowed a run to close it out.
“There was a little too much drama there,” Molitor joked. “I’d prefer the ninth to be a little cleaner, but we got through it.”
Notes and Quotes
- The Twins improved to 32-25 at Target Field this season, and 10-7 against the White Sox.
- Polanco was the only Twins player with multiple hits, but Mauer’s first-inning single extended his hitting streak to a modest seven games.
- Belisle is 5 for his last 6 in converting save chances. The walk-off home run in Detroit from Justin Upton was the only unsuccessful opportunity in that stretch.
- Molitor on Polanco’s first at-bat setting the tone for the rest of the night: “I think he was a little frustrated in that first at-bat. He expanded the zone a little bit and ended up striking out with runners in scoring position. In the next at-bat, he took some of the same types of pitches and got up in a hitter’s count at 3-1 and hit the homer. They brought the lefty in there, and Polanco is one of the guys I stick in between lefties to protect us a bit, and he did his thing. He got an offspeed pitch and hammered that one, too. He’s feeling really good about his game. He made some really nice defensive plays, too. As of late, he’s been an important part of our overall team, the way he’s swinging the bat and playing defense.”
- Molitor on Polanco’s hot streak: “Those surges are a bit unpredictable for a guy you don’t expect to hit a lot of home runs. Sometimes you just get that feel, and if you know if you get your pitch you have a chance to drive it. The ones tonight were both first row-type jobs, but they’re still homers. We’ll take them.”