Joe Ryan had barely completed the follow-through on his ninth pitch of the game Sunday before he took off running.
The righthander sprinted from the mound and toward the Cleveland dugout, but it wasn’t to get out of the infielders’ way. His eyes were up to the sky with every stride, tracking a Steven Kwan pop-up. Catcher Ryan Jeffers was on a similar trajectory, the two meeting at the same point. But just before the ball reached catching altitude, Jeffers squatted out of the way, allowing Ryan to make the play.
Ryan immediately turned and stared down the dugout, flashing 5-0-0 signs with his right hand while still clutching the ball in his left. Because now Ryan not only has a million dollar arm, but also a $500 glove.
“We get a hundred bucks from each starter for each foul ball that we catch,” Ryan said after pitching six strong innings in the Twins’ 3-1 victory at Target Field. “I looked over in the dugout, and Sonny [Gray] was laughing, so I just said, ‘five hundred.’ “
With the first inning off to such a lucrative start, the Twins’ luck carried them to a series victory, a 5-4 homestand and 20-15 overall record. It was a needed bounce-back in front of an announced 19,850 fans after a contentious call and an absent Byron Buxton headlined Saturday night’s 3-2 extra-inning loss.
Perhaps knowing he was $500 richer fueled Ryan to a stellar start. He cracked 100 pitches through his six innings, giving up only four hits and one run, on Jose Ramirez’s fourth-inning homer. He struck out five and didn’t walk anyone, one start after he set a career high with five walks.
Manager Rocco Baldelli said Ryan looked “comfortable and at ease” from the start Sunday, displaying solid command and control. He also specifically highlighted the pop-out, since he’s familiar with the starting pitchers’ hustle that is apparently a brainchild of veteran Gray.
“Yeah, we have a few deals over here, a few carrots and enticements that float around,” Baldelli said. “That’s a nice one. We’re not going to rein him back yet. If he wants to go catch a pop-up that others are struggling to get to, so be it.”
The defense wasn’t the only aspect of the Twins’ game to heat up early. The offense pushed across a first-inning run when Luis Arraez walked, stole second and scored on Max Kepler’s two-out single. Cleveland tied the score on Ramirez’s fourth-inning homer, but the Twins responded with homers in the fourth and fifth innings.
Gio Urshela delivered the go-ahead shot in the bottom of the fourth, his second homer in as many games. Then Buxton felt one into the left-center stands in the fifth, his 11th of the season. Both came off Cleveland starter Triston McKenzie, who gave up only those three run-scoring hits in his seven innings.
Urshela also turned some impressive plays at third base, whipping the ball to Luis Arraez at first for groundouts. He said the team knows how important winning close games is to maintaining the AL Central lead.
Something else that helps with that is having Buxton in the lineup. He returned after his scheduled off day Saturday as he continues to play through a nagging knee injury.
“He’s an MVP player. He’s a great player. He’s really good,” Urshela said of Buxton. “Really excited that I’m playing on the same team with him.”
BOXSCORE: Twins 3, Cleveland 1
Ryan and Jeffers probably also enjoy being on the same team together, even though the catcher snatched what could have been another pop-out for Ryan later in the game.
“I called the second one, too, so I was kind of bummed out. Jeffers yelled, ‘No!’ “Ryan said. “That would have been nice.”
Jeffers joked that maybe if Ryan planned to share $300-$400 of the winnings, he would have let him nab the second one. Side wagers such as these aren’t uncommon in the clubhouse, and Jeffers knew of the deal beforehand, which is why he walked away from Ryan’s pop-out laughing. But alas, he had to do his job, though he did apologize for (literally) robbing Ryan of a $1,000 total.
Ryan is a known vintage car and bicycle enthusiast, but he’s actually being pretty responsible with his cash for a 25-year-old.
“A nice index fund,” Ryan said, “and let it grow.”