Maybe Martin Perez was just setting up the triple-play.
When Perez walked DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge, the first two New York Yankees hitters he faced, it looked like the Minnesota Twins’ old demons were back. After a hot start to the season, Perez had given up four or more runs in five of his last seven starts, and the now-healthy Yankees appeared ready to put this one away early.
But Edwin Encarnacion hit a grounder to Luis Arraez at third, who proceeded to turn Minnesota’s first triple-play since 2017.
“Two pitches before, I told him if it’s close to you, go to the base and trust me,” said Jonathan Schoop, who was manning second base and has been a part of three triple plays. “All of the time I’ve got a shot. Nobody runs faster than the ball. That’s why I like second base.”
“I told him that if they hit it over here, I was going to step on third and throw the ball to him,” said Arraez, a bit giddy. “That’s exactly how it happened.”
“I think that was the secret for the game,” said Miguel Sano, who started a triple play in Anaheim in 2017 but was at first on Monday, “to get the triple play.”
Jorge Polanco and Nelson Cruz, the 2 and 3 hitters, connected for home runs in the first inning. Perez struck out the side in the second inning. Mitch Garver hit two more home runs, and Max Kepler added a fifth in an 8-6 win over the Yankees. The Twins joined the 1977 Boston Red Sox as the second team in baseball history have eight five home run games.
“It’s huge, huge,” said Garver on the triple-play and then the 2-0 lead. “It’s not how we exactly anticipated to go about the first inning. Martin had a great bullpen session, we came in with a really good game plan, I think he was just a little bit too fine with his pitches.”
Perez typically uses the first couple of innings to find his location, then airs it out. But because of the trouble he ran into early, plus plus a long third and fourth inning, Minnesota would have to turn to a taxed bullpen to beat New York.
Tyler Duffey pitched the fifth inning, then turned it over to Australian rookie Lewis Thorpe. Thorpe struggled right away, giving up a double to Gleyber Torres, an RBI single to Mike Tauchman and a single to DJ LeMahieu before getting Aaron Judge, who walked in his first three at-bats, to hit into a double-play.
“There were some nerves when I first got in there,” admitted Thorpe, who got his first career win. “Just hearing some of the names that were being called gets your adrenaline going so much.”
But Thorpe settled in after that, pitching 2 2/3 innings total, giving up four hits and only one earned run while striking out two. His performance allowed Ryne Harper to close out the eighth with only one out, and then Taylor Rogers to pick up the save in the ninth.
Rocco Baldelli said that Thorpe’s clean seventh inning was factored in when deciding to allow him to pitch the eighth.
“We don’t always make decisions based on that, but with all the variables factored in, he looked good and he was throwing the ball well and confidently and we wanted to give him an opportunity to go back out there and get some more outs for us,” he said. “There was no set plan going into that third inning of his.”
“Thorpe, for him to make his first relief appearance in the major leagues and go about it the way that he did, I know he started off a little shaky and that’s totally natural,” said Garver. “I can only imagine what was going through his head out there facing the Yankees. Came in, pitched incredibly well, was able to locate his breaking ball, threw a few changeups there, late to [Gio] Urshela (who grounded to third), fastball was exploding at the top of the zone.
“Just a very impressive outing for him, we’re really happy that he was able to step into that role.”
The Twins themselves may not be using this series as a measuring stick, but it is an indicator of where they sit in the A.L. hierarchy. They won their season series with the Houston Astros 4-3, but were blown out in all three losses while beating them by five or more runs only once. They took five of seven from the Tampa Bay Rays, which included an 18-inning loss and a 14-3 clunker, and just lost their season series with the Oakland A’s, 4-3.
They still have three games left against the Boston Red Sox, plus their division battle with the Cleveland Indians. But the true test of whether or not these Twins are different is if they play the Yankees just like they do any other team.
On Monday they did. The Bombas outhit the Bombers, and it all started with a triple-play.