The Minnesota Twins had been there before. When Friday’s 2-2 game was erased due to rain, they knew they would be playing 18 innings in one day. They may be playing the Cleveland Indians in Ohio with serious AL Central implications on the line, but playing more than nine innings was nothing new to them. At least this time they would have a couple of hours between the first nine innings and the second nine.
“The general feel of some of those games does lend itself to just the attitude of you kind of embrace the fatigue,” said Rocco Baldelli. “You embrace the long day. You embrace the challenge of a very difficult day at the ballpark.”
The Twins won a 17-inning game against the Boston Red Sox on June 18 and then lost an 18-inning battle against the Tampa Bay Rays on June 27, making them only the third team in the last 40 years to play a 17 inning game and then a longer one within 10 days of each other.
Not only that, but Minnesota has played nine other games that have gone into extra innings this season. At this point, they’re used to long days at the park.
“Neither team is wide awake and feeling energetic and strong and anything like that, these are long days,” said Baldelli. “It’s late in the year, and it takes unique players and good, mentally strong players to go out there and continue to have success on days like that.
“Yesterday was a great example of that. Did the 17 inning and (18) inning games help in some ways? Maybe in some ways. Maybe mentally they do.”
Not only did the Twins get through 18 innings on Friday, but they were able to mount a comeback in Game 2. Down 5-2 after four innings, they rallied to come back and win it 9-5. Nelson Cruz homered in the sixth inning to make it 5-4, Jorge Polanco had a 3-for-5 night and Miguel Sano hit his first career grand slam to break the tie in the eighth inning.
“We had been [backs to the] wall a few times this year and we find a way to bounce back,” said Cruz. “That was the way we’ve been doing it all year.”
“When you see a good team that’s together, they never put their heads down,” added Sano. “We fight, we compete, we do the little things, we play defense, we run the bases, we take good pitches, we try to hit the ball, and we had our moment where we scored to win the game.”
“Our guys have been engaged every game the entire year, the entire game,” said Baldelli. “There’s never been a break where we look up in the dugout and go, Wow, we just don’t have the energy today. It’s a pretty down day.
“I couldn’t even tell you if I remember having experiences like that, and that’s not normal. We’ve been in every game, we’ve kept ourselves in every game because we just keep playing.”
The Twins would prefer not to have played so much extra-innings baseball, especially the 17- and 18-inning marathons in June. But the experience paid off for them when it mattered most.
“Those games also take a tremendous amount out of you, so you wish you didn’t have to play them,” said Baldelli. “And you wish you didn’t have to play doubleheaders late in the year either, because they are tough days, physically and mentally to get through. But our guys, they persevere very well.”
They did on Saturday. And it might have been enough to secure the AL Central for the first time since 2010.