Twins have things moving in right direction
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It was just one game, an exhausting 6-4 Twins' victory that took 12 innings over 4 hours and 48 minutes to complete as the clock crept toward midnight.
But for this success at Tropicana Field -- a chamber of horrors for the Twins -- it was indeed much more than just one game, one win.
The folks from Minnesota had lost to the Rays seven consecutive times.
Ending that losing streak on Wednesday night was significant, but more important is the new image of this rebuilding team that was on display. Since they won the AL Central Division title in 2010, they're an aggregate 96 games under .500 -- two last-place finishes and a fourth in 2013.
This team might not win its division or advance to the postseason this year, but it's obvious the Twins are turning the corner.
When the amazing Chris Colabello lined a two-run single up the middle against struggling Rays reliever Josh Lueke in the 12th inning, the Twins all but sealed their 10th victory in 20 games.
And on Thursday afternoon, they held off Tampa Bay for a 9-7 triumph that moved them a game above .500. The Twins kept reaching for a little extra, a gritty performance in stark contrast on Wednesday night to the way they played the last three seasons. They flashed energy and determination so lacking in 2013.
They kept reaching for a little extra, a gritty performance in stark contrast to the way they played the last three seasons. They flashed energy and determination so lacking in 2013.
I asked manager Ron Gardenhire how a similar game would have ended a year ago.
"You saw us, we lost 96 games," he said. "It's not hard to figure it out. It probably wouldn't have gone very good. We had a lot of tough ones just like this last year. We were in games and had chances, but couldn't finish them off.
"This is a different group. They're battling pretty good. In this game they persevered and hung in in situations where we could have let it get away from us. We missed some opportunities, but no one got down. They just kept plugging away."
Manager Joe Maddon lived through the same growing pains when he took over the Rays in 2006. They lost 101 games his first year and 96 in 2007. The following season they played the Phillies in the World Series.
"Their turnaround is going to be tied to how well they pitch," he said. "That's where we were. The first two years we didn't pitch well at all. In 2008 we pitched a whole lot better and our bullpen got significantly better. Minnesota's bullpen has been good.
"Their offense has been outstanding and when their starters get it together that's when you're going to see the accession take place."
Prior to his 12th inning heroics, Colabello blasted a two-run homer in the Twins' four-run fourth inning as his mom Silvana, on her birthday, watched from the Tropicana stands while doing a TV interview.
When the Twins took the field for Thursday's game, Colabello's 26 runs batted in were tops in the American League and second on the Major Leagues. He remained at that number, as he went 0-for-5 in the matinee.
The 30-year old spent seven seasons playing for the Worcester Tornadoes in the independent Canadian-American Association; he calls it a "a beer league."
Regardless, the Massachusetts native whose dad Lou played for Italy in the 1984 Olympics, is baseball's No. 1 feel-good story this season.
How amazing has his start been?
His 26 RBIs tie him with the late Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett for the most by a Twins hitter in April and he has a handful of games remaining.
"I'm just trying to go up and have good at-bats. I swear I'm telling the truth," he said. "I'm trying to help this team however I can. Obviously, I'm thankful to the coaches for giving me the opportunity. To hit in the middle of this order is a lot of fun. To have both my parents here is pretty special for me."
Gardenhire says: "It's a lot of fun to watch Colabello. For a guy, as he puts it, (who) played in beer leagues for seven summers. We'll see how long he can keep it going. He's put a lot of great swings on the ball, driving the baseball. What a heckuva month. It's got to be pretty special for him and it's very special for our ball club, our organization and our fans. It's a good story."
With almost a month under their belts, the Twins have created a buzz in their division.
"We came out swinging," said Gardenhire. "In Spring Training, we didn't hit much, so that tells you not to always go with what happens in the spring.
"We've been swinging the bats a lot better than I thought we would. Our starting pitching, on the other hand, has been a little suspect. But we know they are pretty good. The difference is when we get down three or four runs, I don't feel like we're out of the game. The last couple of years when we got down like that it seemed almost impossible to get back in the game."
A much better team?
"Yeah," he said without hesitation. "I think we have an opportunity here and it's a lot more fun to watch. We've got some good life."
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.