Rocco Baldelli was asked Sunday whether baseball’s decision to put an automatic runner on second base to start extra innings has made teams try harder to sew up a game in nine, or fewer, innings.
The Twins manager said he wasn’t sure whether it was the (relatively) new extra innings rule that has changed the way teams are managed or if teams are just more aggressive now. Because they are.
“That’s infield in, guys going on contact, that’s pinch-running, that’s using every guy on their bench, that’s using their best bullpen arms sometimes in even the seventh or eighth inning,” Baldelli said. “I think we’re seeing a little bit more of that than we used to.”
Generally, he added, teams work on the premise that “you should be putting yourself in every possible spot to win the game as early as possible, no matter what.”
Which is why relief pitcher Emilio Pagán was holding a bat and wearing a helmet in the 10th inning of Saturday’s game.
Had the Giants replaced right-hander Dominic Leone with a left-hander to face Gilberto Celestino with the winning run on third, the Twins would have pinch-hit Kyle Garlick, setting up a scenario in which Pagan, a former position player, would have had to hit in the pitcher’s spot in the 11th inning.
“I was going deep,” Pagán joked on Sunday before the series finale against San Francisco at Target Field.
Had Garlick pinch-hit and not brought home the winning run, the Twins would have lost their designated hitter and been forced to play Caleb Hamilton — who pinch-ran for Jose Miranda to start the 10th — at first base.
“So, aggressively trying to win the game?” Baldelli said. “We need to win the game, and we’re going to do what we can to win the game when we can. “If we play 11 innings and that spot comes up, Pagán’s hitting. Luckily, that didn’t happen.”
Celestino drew a bases-loaded, four-pitch walk to bring Hamilton home with the winning run.
IT’S A HABIT
Before trotting to first base, Celestino reflexively removed his shin guard — an unnecessary move because all he had to do was touch the base to clinch the win. He could have crawled, or done cartwheels there if he wanted to.
“It wasn’t different from any other walk I take,” Celestino said. “I always do that when I take a walk. It was just in the moment. I just did it. I don’t know. I didn’t think about it.”
Celestino, 23 and playing his first full season in the majors, said he wasn’t nervous with the chance to win the game on his shoulders. He never came close to swinging the bat.
“I just knew that (Leone) threw fastballs and cutters,” he explained. “I subtracted those pitches, and I was just looking for a pitch high up in the zone that I could drive, to bring in at least a run. I never saw that pitch.”
Second baseman Jorge Polanco, who left Saturday’s game after the sixth inning with what the team is calling left patella tendinitis, was unavailable for Sunday’s game. It’s been a chronic issue for the Twins’ RBIs leader (56).
“We’ll see if he’s even going to be available to come out and pinch-hit,” Baldelli said. “I wouldn’t say it’s completely out of the question, but I do think this is something that the trainers are really going to have to put their hands on and work on and see if they can get him in a better spot in the next day or two.”