BOSTON — Once again, Eddie Rosario showed how much he loves the big stage.
With Fenway Park on its feet in the bottom of the ninth Thursday, Rosario fielded a J.D. Martinez smash off the Green Monster and fired a perfect one hop throw to gun down Rafael Devers at the plate, preserving a nail-biting 2-1 Twins win.
Don't run on Rosie!
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) September 6, 2019
It was an incredible play in baseball’s most iconic ballpark from a player who continues to thrive when the stakes are highest.
“I like the spotlight, moments like that,” Rosario said. “I try for those. I think I do a good job at those. It was a good game. Playoff atmosphere. And we came out on top.”
In a historic year that has seen the Twins break the all-time single-season home run record, play in perhaps the game of the MLB season against the Yankees, and capture a fan base that for a decade has longed for a great team, this might have been the most dramatic moment to date.
“As big of a moment as we’ve had all year long in any game,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said after the game. “It was a great way to cap a phenomenal baseball game all the way around. There were two really good teams out there that were playing really good baseball, and there was a lot of good to point to on both sides.”
Rosario’s throw will rightfully be what Twins fans remember from this game, but a series of tremendous plays and performances led up to it.
Willians Astudillo had a huge two-out, bases loaded pinch-hit single to right to break a 1-1 tie in the seventh. A hit, Baldelli said, that Astudillo told him he was going to get (all the way down to where he was going to hit it) before walking to the plate.
In the bottom half of the inning, Jake Cave did his best Byron Buxton impression, ranging far to his right to rob Christian Vazquez of an extra base hit in center field. Cave said he initially thought the ball was going to fall for a hit, but realized at the last moment he had a beat on it and made a spectacular diving catch. Astudillo followed with a sliding play of his own at second base (a position he has rarely played this season) to record the third out of the inning.
In the eighth, Tyler Duffey — who has been phenomenal in the second half of the season — blew through three left-handed Red Sox hitters, striking out Jackie Bradley Jr. and Brock Holt and getting Mitch Moreland to fly out harmlessly to left, setting the stage for Rosario’s heroics in the ninth. The outing, Duffey said postgame, was one of the biggest of his career.
Lost in the late drama was perhaps Martin Perez’s best outing of the season. Facing one of the top lineups in baseball, Perez was effective and efficient. In six innings, he gave up only two hits and one run — a Mookie Betts home run off the Pesky Pole that only goes out in Fenway Park. He threw only 70 pitches in the outing, before handing the game over to Trevor May, Duffey, Sergio Romo and Taylor Rogers, who combined to work three scoreless innings.
“In some of his best starts, he definitely commands his fastball to both sides of the plate well,” Baldelli said before the game. “When you establish the fastball, whether it be the four-seamer or the two-seamer to both sides of the plate and you establish the changeup, then the cutter works and you get those swings you’re looking for and guys trying to react and trying to cover both sides of the plate.”
Perez did exactly that against Boston. Although he struck out only one hitter, he kept the Red Sox off-balance throughout, inducing 11 ground ball outs and allowing almost no hard contact. After a very rough outing in his previous start against Detroit, he showed why the Twins invested in him in the offseason, and proved that when he’s at his best, he has the stuff to shut down the top lineups in baseball.
“I was able to throw a lot of strikes,” Perez said. “My fastball was there, everything was there. We have to win. We’re close to the playoffs. This is a humble team, you have to stay focused and continue to play like we’ve played.”
The cutter, he said, was as good as it has been all season, and he credited a small adjustment he made in where he set up on the pitching rubber as part of the reason for his success.
“I was on the third base side of the rubber, and I moved to first base,” he said. “I think my last couple outings, the cutter was moving too much. (Tonight) I felt very comfortable from the first base side.”
The results certainly were there for Perez, and he played a big role in one of the biggest Twins’ wins of the season.
With the win, the Twins finished off an impressive 8-2 road trip that saw them sweep Chicago, take three of four from Detroit, and two of three from Boston. In the process, they gained three games on the Indians, and now hold a 6.5 game lead heading into a critical three-game set at Target Field.
“It was a great trip, a wonderful trip all the way around,” Baldelli said. “Offensively, defensively, the way we had to win games in many different ways. It shows everyone, shows ourselves a little bit, just what we’re capable of.”
The final win was perhaps the most eye-opening because of how they won. The Twins haven’t played many 2-1 games this season, but Thursday they won despite not getting an extra-base hit. It was pitching and defense that carried them on a crisp night at Fenway Park against a playoff-caliber team. It felt, in many ways, like a postseason game.
It surely was a happy flight back to the Twin Cities for the Twins. There won’t be much time to enjoy it, though, with the Indians coming to Target Field on Friday. Cleveland will be a desperate team, suddenly staring at a sizable deficit after holding a half-game division lead as recently as mid-August. A series win could all but finish off the American League Central for Minnesota.
With big crowds expected at Target Field over the weekend, the Twins will continue to play in critical, high-intensity games, as they move closer and closer to securing their spot in October and putting themselves in position to add to what already has been the most memorable Twins season in recent history.