SAN DIEGO — The busting of a slump can come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. It might take an offensive outburst by the entire team, the club’s star slugger smashing a few homers, or perhaps the staff ace delivering a “stopper” performance on the mound.
This is new one, though: How about an umpire knocking down a baseball?
The Padres should have erased a one-run deficit in the seventh inning on Saturday at Petco Park, when Jurickson Profar hit a liner destined for the right-center field gap with the tying run on second base. Instead, second-base umpire Jerry Layne couldn’t get out of the way of the ball, knocking it down and keeping it in the infield, holding the runner and preserving Minnesota’s lead.
Baseball works in awfully mysterious ways, because the Twins looked like a different team after that, escaping that jam with the lead intact, then piling on for a 7-4 win over the Padres. It’s too early to make any grand proclamations, but it seemingly put them on the right path to reversing the fortunes of their consecutive big losses from Wednesday and Friday that had the club preaching urgency and the need for soul-searching to get back to playing its best baseball.
“Oh, yeah, that was great,” Carlos Correa said of Layne’s accidental involvement in the key moment. “He was our player of the game today. Yeah, Jerry, he got smoked. And he was hurting after. He was telling me how much he was hurting. It was good to get that break.”
“We have a break go our way, which is maybe what we need at this point,” Twins starter Sonny Gray said.
For as much as Layne was hurting, the Padres were no doubt hurting more after that. What should have been a tie game instead turned into Twins reliever Griffin Jax striking out Manny Machado and inducing a popout from Eric Hosmer to leave the tying run on second. The Twins immediately took advantage, erupting for a five-run eighth inning to create some separation — with plenty of encouraging moments throughout.
Correa plated Luis Arraez with a two-run blast to center field, with the pair celebrating the round-tripper by sharing a big hug at home plate. After Byron Buxton singled, he stole second base, something the Twins haven’t seen much of lately because of the care his balky right knee has required throughout the season. It marked the star center fielder’s third stolen base of the season, and his first since July 5.
“It’s a good sign,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We’ll take that.”
They got another break to go their way when Padres second baseman C.J. Abrams made an errant throw on a potential double play to extend the inning — and took further advantage with opposite-field RBI knocks from Jose Miranda and Nick Gordon. The five runs marked the Twins’ largest scoring output in an inning since July 16, a full two weeks ago, and it further helped when bullpen ace Jhoan Duran followed with an easy 11-pitch inning, marking only his second clean appearance within his last seven.
The Twins have talked about the need to play their best baseball on a more consistent basis after getting outscored by 15 runs across their last two games while facing playoff-caliber opponents — and when the Padres opened that door, they rushed through.
“You know what? It may have gone our way, but we also took advantage of an opportunity late in the game and piled on some runs and put the game to where it was going to be in our favor when we put those runs on the board,” Baldelli said. “We had to do something like that.”
It wasn’t a clean, convincing game from start to finish, as Gray dealt with traffic in all five of his innings, the club committed a pair of errors in the field, and both Trevor Megill and Tyler Duffey ran into speedbumps in relief.
But there was also the crisp defense at meaningful times, the clutch escapes when needed, and, most importantly, the offense taking advantage when afforded an opportunity by the opposition. It’s too early to say that the ship has been righted — but it’s a start.
“This was a good step,” Baldelli said. “It was a good step for us. … We did a lot of good things. We’re playing a good team right now, and it was a good win. That’s what we were looking for. Coming out of yesterday, this is what we were looking for.”