When the Twins reversed their decision to option Alex Kirilloff to Triple A just days after sending him down, manager Rocco Baldelli expressed hope that the left-handed hitter could shake up their lineup.
The Twins’ sagging offense desperately needed a jolt, and Kirilloff provided it Wednesday night, delivering the clutch hit the Twins needed in the 11th inning to send them to a 4- 3 to the Padres at Target Field.
“He’s not really afraid. He goes up there in big spots and just looks for a pitch that he thinks he can handle and makes it easy,” Baldelli said. “It was big for us. We needed someone to come in and do that and he did that today.”
The night before, Baldelli had talked about shuffling the line-up. One move was sliding Kirilloff, who ended the day with a pair of hits, into the cleanup spot. Another moved Max Kepler, who, as a pinch runner, scored the winning run, to 2nd in the batting order. Kepler, like Kirilloff, answered near the top of the group.
The right fielder hit a first-inning home run off Padres starter Seth Lugo and doubled in the third, ending up scoring on Carlos Correa’s double, which the shortstop mistakenly thought was a home run. Correa didn’t rush out of the box, and once he realized the ball was in play, he had to sprint to second to avoid the out. Correa was then thrown out at home on Kirilloff’s first hit of the game, ending the inning.
From that point forward, the Twins (20-17) did not advance a baseman past first base for six consecutive innings. While their offense stagnated, the Padres (19-18) clawed their way back into the game.
Twins starter Pablo López managed to keep his star-studded lineup quiet despite allowing a season-high four walks over most of his start. Xander Bogaerts’ infield single to lead off the fifth inning was San Diego’s first hit of the day. The only other hit López allowed was a solo home run to Juan Soto to center in the seventh.
“It’s a good lineup, very deep. They will make you work, they will challenge you,” said López. “In this case, they provoked me. But you have to navigate. You have to know there’s always a place to go or a pitch you can throw in any number, any situation, and it comes down to execution and conviction.”
He left with a one-run lead that disappeared an inning later when the Padres, after hitting reliever Jorge López hard, tied the game on a Manny Machado sacrifice fly. They took their first lead of the night in the 10th on a perfectly executed squeeze play, as Rougned Odor homered before Austin Nola grounded out to third.
But the Twins came alive, using Donovan Solano’s single off closer Josh Hader to avoid the loss.
“Good reliever, good closer, so I (didn’t) try to do too much,” Solano said. “I try to get it to right field and move the runner to third. I found a hole.”
Griffin Jax stranded the bases loaded in the top of the 11th — one runner was an automatic runner, another was intentionally walked — by catching Matt Carpenter looking. That set the stage for Kirilloff, who fired his single past first baseman Jake Cronenworth and into right field to send home the Twins winners.
“It’s definitely a cool feeling,” Kirilloff said. “But obviously the most important thing is to play good baseball and put together winning games. We had a lot of good things going for us today, good offense, some good at-bats, really good pitching and good defense. That’s a good recipe to keep stacking and winning games.”