MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Following Fernando Rodney’s first blown save with Minnesota, Twins manager Paul Molitor took the long-game approach and began talking strategy in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Max Kepler stepped to the plate and negated any further planning.
Kepler hit his second home run of the game, connecting for a solo drive with two outs in the bottom of the ninth as the Twins bounced back from a late collapse to beat the Houston Astros 9-8 on Wednesday.
“We’re talking strategy in the dugout and the next thing you know, the game’s over,” Molitor said.
After the Twins blew an 8-1 lead, Kepler homered with two strikes off Brad Peacock (1-1).
“I wasn’t really expecting anything,” Kepler said of his second career walkoff homer. “I was just in battle mode, trying to put the ball in play. I struck out the at-bat before. I hate striking out, so I was just trying to put it in play.”
Kepler also hit a two-run homer to cap an eight-run fourth, an inning that included Eddie Rosario’s bases-loaded triple. Rodney (1-1) gave up two runs — one earned — on two hits and a walk in one inning.
A throwing error by second baseman Brian Dozier helped Houston tie it in the ninth against Rodney. Down 8-6, the Astros loaded the bases with one out. George Springer grounded into an RBI forceout, and the tying run scored when Dozier threw wide to first trying for a double play.
“There was a lot in that game that could’ve gone a little bit better for us, but obviously I’m proud of the way we fought back,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “They hung in there, too, and they came back from a tough blow losing an 8-1 lead. Weird game all the way around. For them to win on one swing is frustrating.”
A series that had been marked by cold weather, walks and strikeouts finally saw a bit of offense after both starters faltered in the middle innings.
The first-pitch temperature was 44 degrees after starting in the 30s at night the previous two days. The teams combined for 32 walks and 61 strikeouts in the three-game series.
Lance McCullers Jr. allowed a career-high eight runs in 3 2/3 innings for Houston. He gave up seven hits, tied a career high with six walks and struck out six.
“I had a game plan going into the game that maybe doesn’t fit what I do best,” McCullers said. “That’s on me. I’ve got to kind of have a better idea of what I really want to do and what I feel comfortable with.”
Alex Bregman had a career-high four hits, including his first homer of the season for the Astros.
Houston’s comeback had players and coaches remembering their big comeback in Target Field on Memorial Day last season. Then, the Astros were down 8-2 before rallying for 11 runs in the eighth inning of a 16-8 win.
“When we got down 8-1, I told A.J. in the dugout, I said, ‘There’s something about this field where I don’t feel like we’re ever out of it,'” Bregman said. “Sure enough, we were down six again in the eighth and came back and tied it. It’s what our team’s all about. We’re going to keep fighting and competing every single pitch.”
Dozier offered a similar feeling as Bregman, talking about Minnesota’s resiliency to come back strong after tough moments.
“We don’t let stuff bother us,” Dozier said. “Keep the line moving. Take your walks, take your hits and move on, and Kepler was the hero today. We don’t let too much faze us, which is a really good thing at this level.”
Astros: 1B Yuli Gurriel (left hand surgery) returned to Houston and will work out in preparation for being cleared to return to the lineup on Friday. Gurriel hit .429 with four doubles and three RBIs in six rehab games at Double-A Corpus Christi. He was suspended for the first five games of the major league season for making an inappropriate gesture toward Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish during the World Series.
Twins: RHP Addison Reed gave up one hit in 1 2/3 innings the day after an illness kept him away from the park.
Astros: Following an off day, RHP Gerrit Cole (1-0, 0.64 ERA) will start Friday as Houston hosts the Texas Rangers. Cole has struck out 11 in each of his first two starts for the Astros and has given up one run in 14 innings.
Twins: RHP Jose Berrios (1-1, 3.29) will start the opener of a four-game series at home against the Chicago White Sox, though weekend weather could disrupt the schedule. Berrios gave up five runs in 4 2/3 innings to lose his last start on April 7 against the Seattle Mariners.
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