BOSTON — The Minnesota Twins’ trip to Fenway Park began with Rocco Baldelli being swarmed by media that had journeyed from Pawtucket to Nantucket, and ended with Eddie Rosario leaving the clubhouse to the applause of Twins fans who had traveled across the country to see the 2-1 win.
It was a good early test for Minnesota, whose players won 2-of-3 from a Boston Red Sox team with a powerful lineup under the bring lights and loud crowds in baseball’s oldest park.
“It was a perfect way to end the game,” said Baldelli. “It was a phenomenal throw. Obviously strong, accurate. As big of a moment as we’ve had all year long in any game. It was a great way to cap just a phenomenal baseball game all the way around.”
In the bottom of the 9th inning, Xander Bogaerts hit a one-out single off of Sergio Romo. Baldelli brought Taylor Rogers in, who got Rafael Devers to ground into a fielder’s choice. With two outs, J.D. Martinez doubled off of the Green Monster, Rosario played the ball perfectly and threw Devers out at home.
“Since I was younger I like the spotlight, moments like that,” said Rosario. “I try for those and I think I do a good job. When it comes to the team and the moment, it was back and forth, a good game. Playoff atmosphere and we came out on top so that’s good.”
Baldelli went to great lengths to ensure that this series was not about him.
“It’s special to get the win, more than anything else,” he said after winning the first game of the series. “I’m not worried about any of the other stuff.”
He didn’t pretend that managing in Boston wasn’t meaningful, however. He went on a familiar job before the series started, had friends and family in the crowd and answered questions about being a Red Sox fan from Woonsocket, R.I. and playing a year for them in between stints with the Tampa Bay Rays.
He also knows that Boston posed an interesting test for his team. They have a potent lineup that nearly came back in the first game, beat Jose Berrios 6-2 in the second and was held at bay in a 2-1 win with Martin Perez on the mound.
“I’d say this is a good time for us to be playing here,” he said when asked if a September trip to Fenway would prepare them for crucial games down the stretch and October baseball.
“I mean you never know what’s going to happen. We have a long way to go before we start talking about anything related to the playoffs. We believe in ourselves, we believe we’re a good team but we’ll worry about today first.
“This is a good time. This is a high-excitement, high-anxiety type atmosphere. It just is. There’s a lot of people here. It’s an interesting field for guys that have never played here. It forces you out of your comfort zone in many different ways.”
It’s hard not to think about playoff baseball, though, especially given how this year has gone for the Twins, who are now 6.5 games up on the injury-riddled Cleveland Indians.
“We have to win. We’re close to (the end of the season) and we have to play well now,” said Perez. “Everybody [has to] do their job and stay together. This is a humble team, and we’re going to have fun in the playoffs, but we have to stay focused.”
All year long Baldelli has focused on keeping his team even-keeled. It becomes rote and tiresome, but his team has backed it up. They didn’t let Boston come back when they got up 6-0 on Rick Porcello in a bullpen game. They won a tense 2-1 game to close out the series. And they didn’t let another poor start for Berrios, albeit one where his velocity appeared to come back and he made fewer mistakes than he did in his August outings, ruin the series.
“I don’t mind talking about that every day because it feels like we end up mentioning that at some point,” said Baldelli. “It’s one of the most important things that we do and it doesn’t matter that we’re here at Fenway Park, it doesn’t matter when we go home or any other place that we show up to. Our guys, they show up ready to play.
“They have short memories and they believe no matter where we’re at or who we’re playing or who is pitching for either team, it doesn’t matter. I mean we go out there and play hard and expect to win and when that game ends, we go to bed, we relax a little bit and show up the next day and we’re ready to go.”
That’s a winning formula. But they still have six games left against Cleveland. And Berrios needs to return to All-Star form. And they need two other pitchers to establish themselves as playoff starters. And it would be a big plus if Byron Buxton got healthy. And, and, and…
A lot needs to go right for them to lock down the AL Central and go deep into the playoffs. But winning a series in Fenway is a good start.