MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — With Eddie Rosario dug in the dirt for Minnesota in the ninth inning of a tied game and one runner on, his arms wiggling the bat as they hovered over home plate, the 2-1 fastball from Cleveland closer Cody Allen came in chest high at 94 mph.
Most players would’ve let that pitch go.
Rosario let it rip.
The ball soared over the 23-foot wall above right-center field, and Rosario exuberantly raced around the bases with his right arm and right index finger extended Sunday in celebration of a walk-off Twins win on his third home run of the afternoon .
“I’ve seen a lot of good days in the big leagues, but I don’t know if I’ve seen one that was more dramatic than that as far as the first inning all the way through the end,” said 61-year-old Twins manager Paul Molitor, whose Hall of Fame playing career lasted 21 seasons.
Rosario’s homers in the first and seventh innings also gave the Twins the lead on their way to a third straight victory over the division-leading Indians. For extra effect, the proud native of Puerto Rico had his parents and two brothers in the seats along with his wife and their three children.
“Whatever happens in the game, homer, double, base hit, I’m going to play hard,” Rosario said. “Sometimes you feel like you’re going to have a good game. But today, everything happened. Sometimes you try to hit homers, and today I hit three homers. That was special.”
One-third of the way through an unpredictable season for the Twins, headlined so far by several setbacks and some bad luck leading to a losing record for the last six weeks, the emergence of Rosario as their best everyday player has fittingly been a bit of a surprise too.
Center fielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano have long been the organization’s most-heralded prospects. First baseman Joe Mauer has been a franchise cornerstone for 15 years. Second baseman Brian Dozier was an All-Star in 2015 who hit 104 home runs over the previous three seasons.
Instead, their lanky left fielder who was prone to erratic stretches of play over his first three years in the major leagues is the one carrying the lineup. Any question about who the team’s strongest candidate for the All-Star team this summer was answered over the weekend by those rousing, rhythmic chants of Rosario’s first name: “Ed-die! Ed-die! Ed-die!”
After becoming the first player in Twins history with multiple three-homer games, Rosario is either leading or tied for the team high in games played (55), runs (36), hits (69), home runs (13), RBIs (40), stolen bases (five), batting average (.317) and slugging percentage (.573). His on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.926) is also a team best and 90 points higher than his previous career high set in 2017, when he broke out with 27 homers and a .290 batting average.
“I feel more strong,” Rosario said. “I know last year, after the summer, I felt good. I had a good August. But this year, I wanted to start and do the same thing as last year when I finished. I feel good.”
Selected in the fourth round of the 2010 amateur draft, Rosario debuted in 2015 and was sixth in American League Rookie of the Year voting after leading the majors with 15 triples and tying for second with 16 outfield assists. He was sent to Triple-A for six weeks in 2016, though. Until last June, Rosario’s body of work was painted as much by overly aggressive baserunning gaffes and strikeouts on pitches well out of the zone as it was by power, speed and defense.
Then he made significant strides last summer. He has only progressed further this spring. Against the Indians, a four-game series that was critical for the Twins to avoid sliding too far down the AL Central standings, Rosario went 7 for 15 with four walks, four homers and eight RBIs.
“He’s understanding where he’s hitting. His opportunities to drive in runs sometimes just by taking a good at-bat and hitting a single has worked pretty well for him to,” Molitor said.
His tendency to swing at pitches out of the strike zone sure hasn’t been a problem. Indians starter Trevor Bauer threw Rosario a first-pitch fastball in the third inning on Saturday that was so far inside Bauer lamented later it was “in his own batter’s box.” He hit it hard enough for a two-run homer.
The fastball from Mike Clevinger in the first inning on Sunday was about a foot off the plate, and Rosario drove it the other way into the left-field seats. The curveball by reliever Tyler Olson in the seventh was low and inside, but Rosario smashed it over the wall in right-center.
“Oh, man,” Dozier said. “He is locked in.”
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