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 lefty hitter could bring a jolt to their lineup.
The Twins’ slumping offense has desperately needed a jolt, and Kirilloff delivered it on Wednesday night, coming through with the clutch hit the Twins needed in the 11th inning and sending them to a 4-3 win over the Padres at Target Field.
“He doesn’t have much fear. He goes up there in big spots and just looks for a pitch that he thinks he can handle and simplifies it,” Baldelli said. “That was big for us. We needed someone to just come up and make it happen and he did that today.”
A night earlier, Baldelli had talked about mixing up the lineup. One move was sliding Kirilloff, who finished the day with a pair of hits, into the cleanup spot. Another was moving Max Kepler, who, as the automatic runner, scored the game-winning run, into the No. 2 spot in the batting order. Kepler, like Kirilloff, responded near the top of the lineup.
The right fielder hit a home run in the first inning off Padres starter Seth Lugo and doubled in the third, coming around to score on a Carlos Correa double, which the shortstop mistakenly believed was a home run. Correa did not hustle 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 after Kirilloff’s first hit of the game, ending the inning.
From that point forward, the Twins (20-17) did not advance a baserunner past first base for six straight innings. While their offense stagnated, the Padres (19-18) worked their way back into the game.
Twins starter Pablo López was able to hold their star-studded lineup quiet, despite allowing a season-high four walks, for a majority of his start. Xander Bogaerts’ infield single, which led 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’re going to make you work, they’re going to challenge,” López said. “In this case, they challenged me. But you have to navigate. You have to know that there’s always a place to go or a pitch that you can throw in any count, in any situation, and it comes down to execution and conviction.”
He left with a one-run lead, which 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, Rougned Odor breaking for home before Austin Nola laid down a bunt towards third.
But the Twins showed some life, using Donovan Solano’s pinch-hit single off all-star closer Josh Hader to stave off defeat.
“Good reliever, good closer so I (didn’t) try to do too much,” Solano said. “I try to just 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 the automatic runner, another was intentionally walked — by catching Matt Carpenter looking. That set the stage for Kirilloff, who shot his single past diving first baseman Jake Cronenworth and into right field to send the Twins home winners.
“It’s definitely a cool feeling,” Kirilloff said. “But obviously the most important thing is playing good baseball and putting 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 as well. That’s a good recipe to keep stacking and winning games.”