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Wetmore’s 5 thoughts: Brian Dozier’s grand slam caps statement homestand for Twins players

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins probably heard the critics and they want you to know that they won’t simply go quietly into the night.

Sunday’s strange and dramatic game went Minnesota’s way in the end, as Brian Dozier’s walk-off grand slam catapulted the Twins to victory and assured that as his teammates scattered for the all-star break, they’d have some good memories from the office to keep in mind.

This column presents 5 thoughts from Sunday’s 11-7 win against the Tampa Bay Rays. 

1. Brian Dozier, walk-off winner.

Dozier was sitting on a changeup in the 10th inning and the first one that he connected with nearly punctured a hole in his teammate when it screamed off the second baseman’s bat. No matter. Third-base runner Jake Cave narrowly escaped the liner with his entire body still intact, and he was upright and unharmed when Dozier sent another offspeed pitch sailing over the fence for a walk-off grand slam in the home half of the 10th inning Sunday at Target Field.

It was hard to tell from afar whether Dozier was happier with the home run or when he scored the tying run in the 7th inning by baiting a reliever into a balk when Dozier danced off third base. In both cases he looked pretty fired up.

He’s alternately played team spokesman, popular trade rumor target and on Sunday he played hero.

“I knew he was coming with it, and every pitch I sat on it,” Dozier said of Matt Andriese’s changeup. “I knew it was out there far enough for at least one to score, and that’s all that mattered.”

Last year Dozier was the most vocal Twins player about the front office making the wrong choice to sell off parts from a club that would eventually make the postseason. Dozier backed up his words with his play then. Now, the Twins find themselves in a big hole in the A.L. Central standings and they could use one of those patented 2-month scorching stretches from Dozier.

2. Closer Fernando Rodney pitched early because he had a plane to catch. 

No, really. Rodney had a plane to catch, so he pitched in the 5th inning in a regular season game for the first time since 2005.

Starter Fernando Romero ran into a little bit of trouble in the 5th inning and the Twins were down 4-1 with Rays runners on second and third base. Twins manager Paul Molitor turned to his closer very early in the game, and Rodney got the Twins out of the jam with a strikeout and a groundout.

Good move, I thought, considering the Twins have 4 built-in days off for the all-star break, so you might as well use your good and trusted relievers while the game’s outcome still hangs in the balance.

As it turns out, it was less about strategy and more about travel plans. Rodney had to be gone by about 3:30 p.m., Molitor said, so the clean-up duty in the 5th inning turned out to be about the right time to deploy the closer.

“To be honest with you it wasn’t about being overly strategic,” Molitor explained afterward. “It wasn’t something that we really talked about before the game, but he needs to be in Miami for an immigration hearing tomorrow morning. He had a flight that he had to catch and all that kind of stuff so we had postponed it a couple of times, trying to get it [movd to] a time that was more feasible, but it turned out tomorrow was the only day and so [we] got him in the game a little earlier.

“It worked out pretty well because he got a couple of really big outs,” Molitor said.

Twins closer Fernando Rodney enters early so he could exit early

Rodney last pitched during a 5th inning of an MLB game in July 2005, when Tigers scheduled started Nate Robertson didn’t face a single batter, and Rodney the reliever came in to pitch the fourth through sixth innings, three days before the all-star break. (This year Rodney had only appeared before the 9th inning once, and never when the Twins trailed in a game like they did Sunday.)

3. Benches and bullpens clear twice, Escobar ejected 

Tempers flared and Eduardo Escobar was ejected after he was in the middle of two separate bench-clearing events Sunday. They both stemmed from the same series of events, and Escobar happened to be the guy that got run.

I heard one side of the story. I read the other side. I believe that it all stemmed from Eddie Rosario (earlier in the series) and Brian Dozier toying aggressively off third base, trying to goad the pitcher into a balk. Dozier was successful at the trick, validating the gamesmanship.

What caused the benches to empty at Target Field? This Twins reliever played a big role

4. Statement homestand?

“9-2. We’re not done yet.”

That line scrawled across the giant outfield scoreboard at Target Field and later across the TVs inside the home clubhouse. The statement was an acknowledgment, a celebration of a 9-2 homestand capped by Dozier’s walk-off winner into the all-star break.

The great part about the line if you’re a member of the Twins is that it’s true. The season isn’t yet finished. In two months, perhaps that’s a rallying cry that is remembered as a team surges into the postseason picture. Or perhaps the 2018 Twins will be more like that old guy thrown onto the back of the cart during Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

As trade rumors swirl around the Twins, the team’s impressive run against two bad teams and a decent one might at the very least cause the members of the Twins’ front office to pause. Minnesota quickly erased the sour taste brought on by finishing the latest Midwest road trip on a 2-11 skid. A 9-2 homestand wipes out most of those losses — all but two games and the lost calendar in July.

“You go through times that are really sucky and you go through times that are really good,” Dozier said. “You ride the wave when it’s good.”

“We knew that we had to make hay coming into here. Nine-and-two, that’s pretty dang good,” he said.

Dozier has been and will continue to be a hot topic on the trade rumor mill. Some of his teammates will hear and read their names, too, over the next two weeks. The only member of the team with a full no-trade clause, in fact, is Joe Mauer, in the final season of his 8-year megacontract.

“I just try to tell the guys in here you can’t worry about that,” Mauer said. “You worry about things that you can control and all you can control is just coming in every day and working hard, playing the game. Obviously, if your mind wanders on — not just that [trade deadline] but other things — you kind of forget about the task at hand. We did a pretty good job of that this homestand and guys were fighting hard to win the day.”

5. Fernando Romero

Romero gave up 4 runs on 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings of work Sunday. Rodney bailed him out of the 5th-inning jam. The Twins announced later Sunday evening that Romero they’d optioned Romero back to Triple-A Rochester after the game.

I’ll be curious to see what happens to Romero’s 25-man roster spot after the break for 2 main reasons, leaving alone the simple fact that he’s an interesting pitching prospect.

First off, the Twins won’t necessarily need to carry that fifth pitcher on the roster right out of the break, since they’re lined up to go Kyle Gibson – Lance Lynn – Jake Odorizzi and then maybe J.O. Berrios right after the all-star game. Maybe another position player could help fill out a thin bench?

Secondly, Ervin Santana pitched on Sunday as well, and the arrow on his rehab journey could soon point toward the Major Leagues.

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