MINNEAPOLIS — Eddie Rosario has emerged down the stretch of his third season as one of Minnesota’s most productive players.
These Twins have sure matured quickly, coming off that club-worst 59-103 record in 2016.
Rosario hit a towering two-run home run with two outs in the 10th inning to send the Twins to a 3-1 victory over the San Diego Padres on Wednesday night to maintain their two-game lead for the second AL wild card spot.
"He’s been on such a great roll, and he’s such a gamer," reliever Matt Belisle said.
After Joe Mauer hit a one-out single off Phil Maton (3-1), Rosario sent a 2-0 pitch soaring into the right-field seats that sailed just inside the foul pole. He raced around the bases with fists pumped to find a mob of teammates waiting for him at the plate in celebration of the team’s fourth walk-off win this season, dumping a bucket of water on his head after his 23rd homer.
"It’s the moment for every player like that," Rosario said.
Rosario has 12 home runs and 33 RBIs in his last 35 games, with a .292 batting average and 69 RBIs for the season. The native of Puerto Rico has speed on the bases and range in the field, but he has become more patient at the plate to supplement his natural skills.
Rosario also manufactured Minnesota’s only run against starter Dinelson Lamet with a leadoff double in the second inning, advancing on a wild pitch and scoring when Austin Hedges threw wildly past third base and into left field for an error.
"He’s reaching some highs in a lot of offensive categories, but I think his overall game has come a long way," manager Paul Molitor said.
Belisle (2-2) retired all five batters he faced for the Twins, who improved to 15-5 all-time against the Padres. They lead the Los Angeles Angels by two games and the Seattle Mariners by 3 1/2 games, with 17 games to go.
"We’ve thought we’ve had something special since the All-Star break, so our mindset really has not changed," Belisle said. "Nobody’s really concerned about the standings. We’re just concerned about each nine-inning game that’s in front of us, and I know it sounds cliche, but the guys are doing such a good job of embracing that, and that’s what special about this club."
Hedges homered for San Diego to tie the game in the eighth inning, but with runners at first and second in the ninth he flied out.
"It’s a big swing that gave us an opportunity to come back and win the baseball game," Padres manager Andy Green said. "We just couldn’t cash anybody in."
Ervin Santana gave the Twins six scoreless innings, with only three hits and one walk allowed while striking out seven. Santana has five complete games this season, with 100-plus pitches thrown in 17 of 30 starts, but Molitor decided to pull him after 93 pitches with an eye toward freshness in the final two weeks.
Trevor Hildenberger, the rookie who has deftly filled a need in the bullpen during the second half since his recall from Triple-A, recorded four outs until Hedges took him deep into the flowers behind the left-centre field wall.
The Padres have used 13 starting pitchers this year, but Lamet has been a big help. The 25-year-old left-hander from the Dominican Republic, who joined the rotation in late May, has logged 10 straight turns with three or fewer runs allowed and a total of just 16 runs surrendered in that span.
Lamet has 128 strikeouts in 104 innings for a per-nine innings average that entering the game ranked as the fourth-best by a rookie in major league history and third this season in the NL. Lamet pitched into the seventh, allowing five hits and two walks with one run while striking out five.
"Another step in the right direction," Green said. "More of the same: good slider and good fastball."
REJOINING THE ROTATION
The Twins reinstated LHP Adalberto Mejia from the DL, where he’s been for more than a month because of an upper arm strain. He’ll start on Saturday.
Padres: LF Jose Pirela was out of the lineup for a second straight game, due to a sprained pinkie on his left hand from sliding into a base on Sunday. He entered in the ninth inning as a pinch runner.
Twins: 3B Miguel Sano was "a little sore" after his batting practice session on Tuesday, according to Molitor. Sano has missed 24 straight games with a stress reaction in his left shin, with 17 games remaining in the regular season. "I don’t think it’s imminent, but he’s making progress," Molitor said.
Padres: After a day off on Thursday, the trip resumes in Colorado on Friday for a three-game series with LHP Clayton Richard (7-13, 4.78 ERA) taking his turn for the Padres and RHP Tyler Chatwood (7-12, 4.70 ERA) taking the mound for the Rockies.
Twins: RHP Jose Berrios (12-7, 3.94 ERA) starts the opener of a four-game series against Toronto. Berrios is 7-0 in his last seven starts at home, with 47 strikeouts and a 2.45 ERA in 47 2/3 innings with just 34 hits and seven walks allowed. LHP Brett Anderson (3-3, 5.90) takes the mound for the Blue Jays.