Twins add to celebratory ways as team’s longest winning streak since 1991 reaches 12 games


MINNEAPOLIS — When it first happened earlier in the week, the Minnesota Twins’ post-victory photo was an exclusive event limited to the team’s infielders and catcher who were on the field for the final out. Yet as the team’s winning streak stretches on, the number of players involved has steadily increased.

Following Saturday afternoon’s 3-1 Twins victory over the Boston Red Sox at Target Field, 11 players, including two who had been removed from the game, participated in a celebratory photo reminiscent of those we see on our television screens every fall when NFL defensive players recognize turnovers and other big plays by posing for group photos in the end zone.

The photo is the latest way the Twins celebrate their victories, snapping yet another one shortly after they increased their winning streak to 12 games, the second-longest in franchise history and the team’s lengthiest since Minnesota won 15 consecutive games in 1991.

Pablo López delivered six outstanding innings, the bullpen followed with three more good frames and the offense did enough to help the Twins produce the longest winning streak in the majors since Cincinnati reeled off 12 in a row last June.

“You’ve just got to have fun and find things that unite the team,” said shortstop Carlos Correa, who drove in a pair of runs. “It makes us feel like more of a family than just teammates. All of those little things play a big part, the sausage, everybody touching it, everybody acknowledging and celebrating every time we hit the home run. The picture, now everybody wants to be a part of it. Those are the little things that mean a lot to players and you feel like you’re in a family atmosphere.”

First, there was the celebratory summer sausage, which has existed long enough the team began refrigerating it after returning from Chicago on Wednesday. Next came manager Rocco Baldelli’s red therapy light, which casts an ominous hue on his face during interview sessions. Then on Tuesday, Twins players started emulating the NFL, commemorating each win of their budding streak with a group photo near the mound during the team’s postgame handshake line.

To arrive at their 12th victory in a row, which matches a September/October stretch from the 1980 club and is second longest only to the 1991 team, the Twins needed another strong effort from their pitching staff.

López (3-2) set the tone by shaking off a tough first inning.

The right-hander recorded two outs but surrendered a double to Tyler O’Neill, who scored when Wilyer Abreu ended a 10-pitch showdown by guiding a changeup through a vacated left side for a two-out RBI single. After yielding another cheap hit to Connor Wong, López escaped the jam and settled in.

Working with a dominant four-seam fastball and a solid mix of four other pitches, López kept Boston off-balance the rest of the way. He produced 19 swings-and-misses in 99 pitches and struck out eight, retiring 15 of the final 18 batters he faced.

“I just took advantage of the momentum, the good thing that we have going on,” López said. “I kind of let it take over me and then just let things flow, let things happen natural, and then I’m just competing. I know the guys are playing great ball, like, offense, defense they’re going to make the plays for me, they’re gonna make things happen.”

The Twins didn’t make López wait long.

Down a run in the first, the Twins started a rally when Jose Miranda was hit by a pitch ahead of a Willi Castro single. Both runners advanced on a passed ball and Correa tied the game with an RBI groundout to deep third base.

Three innings later, Max Kepler continued to blister the ball, ripping a go-ahead solo home run off left-handed Boston reliever Cam Booser. The 405-foot drive gave Kepler his seventh go-ahead RBI of the season, which leads the Twins, and all of which have occurred since he returned from the injured list 12 games ago. In that span, Kepler, who started the season 1-for-20, is hitting .400/.463/.629 with two home runs and 11 RBIs.

Kepler, who had an opposite-field single in the sixth inning, also was credited with an assist in the seventh inning when he threw out Dominic Smith trying to stretch a single high off the wall into a double.

“(Kepler) came back and he started shooting line drives all over the field, driving runs in,” Baldelli said. “He’s always had the ability to put the ball in play and make good decisions. That’s just kind of who he is as a player. But when you see it come together like it did in the second half last year, and now we’re seeing second-half Kep in April and May. That’s what you’re looking for.”

They’re also seeking — and receiving — contributions from throughout the bullpen.

On Saturday, the group produced three quality innings, including a surprise appearance from Cole Sands in the ninth inning.

Jorge Alcala went first, recorded two outs, and appeared to get the third only for first-base umpire Angel Hernandez to rule that Boston’s Ceddanne Rafaela didn’t swing when replays showed he did. Rafaela took advantage of the gift and extended the inning with a single. Steven Okert took over and walked a batter to load the bases for the Red Sox’s most dangerous hitter, Rafael Devers. Okert immediately fell behind in the count 3-1 but fought back to strike out Devers and end the inning.

With the heart of Boston’s order due, Jhoan Duran, who accidentally snapped a poor group selfie after Saturday’s win that featured only his face and not the rest of his teammates, pitched a scoreless eighth inning, striking out two. Then Sands took over and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning, striking out one.

As the team celebrated, a larger group showed up for the postgame photo.

“The group grew quite a bit,” Okert said.

Included among those participating was Austin Martin, who began the game in center field and went 1-for-2 with a stolen base but was removed for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning. Martin was sent back to Triple A on Monday. Saturday was his first real opportunity to participate and he didn’t want to miss it, especially after Miranda, who was also removed after playing eight innings, reminded him.

“I didn’t even know about it until Miranda came up to me,” Martin said. “The first time I saw it was (Friday). I thought it was sick. That’s one of the coolest celebrations I’ve seen in the league.”

Veteran catcher Christian Vázquez is one of the players responsible for the photo. He wanted a celebration just for the infielders. Outfielders across the league in recent years started gathering after wins in center field, partaking in Fortnite dances, faux jump shots, etc.

Though he’s dismayed by how his idea is being infiltrated by outsiders, the sting is lessened with each additional victory.

“I don’t like that,” Vázquez said with a laugh. “No, it’s fun. It’s fun. It’s a group thing. To see everybody in the picture is fun. This is the first time this long (of a streak for me). I hope we can break the record.”

Whether the Twins can match the 1916 New York Giants, who won 26 in a row, or even catch Cleveland, which rolled off 22 straight in 2017, remains to be seen. But were the streak to continue even a little longer, Correa thinks the Twins’ substituting ways will water down how many players participate.

“I guess we’re going to have the whole team at some point,” Correa said with a laugh. “It’s going to look like the division champ picture.”

Topa nears return as Stewart hits IL

Justin Topa joked earlier in his rehab there might not be a spot available for him in the Twins’ bullpen when he’s ready to return. With three scoreless innings and four strikeouts Saturday, Twins relievers own a 2.69 ERA with 144 strikeouts in 117 innings. But as Topa prepares for another rehab outing at Triple-A St. Paul on Sunday, he’s seeing good progress. There’s also potential flexibility for an opening in the late innings after fireman Brock Stewart went on the 15-day IL before Friday’s game with right shoulder inflammation.

Topa averaged 93 mph with his two-seam fastball, 2 mph down from last year’s average. But, he touched 94 mph in striking out two in a scoreless inning Friday and sees improved command with each turn.

“I think that just comes with building back up,” Topa said. “Took three, four weeks off from throwing off the mound and doing everything. Once you’re kind of rolling in these games and kind of get back into the groove, I think that will come back pretty easy.”

With his previous injuries, sitting down isn’t easy for Stewart. Finally healthy, the right-hander has enjoyed being “that guy” for the Twins, notching a 0.66 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 41 innings since getting promoted in 2023. Stewart said the soreness in his shoulder doesn’t bother him during games but affects him during warmups. He also said the intensity isn’t nearly what it was with previous shoulder injuries.

He’s hopeful this is simply him and the Twins getting ahead of an issue before it blows up. Still, that doesn’t make the news of a trip to the IL any easier.

“We’re going to be playing some very meaningful ballgames in another month and then two months and then the second half of the season so just got to think big picture and take care of it now, if we can, and not let it get worse to a point where I just basically screw myself for the rest of the season,” Stewart said. “Just as much as my shoulder’s hurting, my brain and heart is hurting, too.”

(Photo: Matt Krohn / Associated Press)

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