The negative reaction at Target Field caught Bally Sports North analyst and former Twins pitcher LaTroy Hawkins off guard.
Fans were booing the decision by Twins manager Rocco Baldelli to intentionally walk a visiting player — Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani — in the top of the eighth inning on Sunday afternoon. There were two outs with a runner at third base and the Twins trailed by a run.
“Our own fans are booing because of that?” Hawkins asked with a hint of curious disapproval.
Play-by-play man Dick Bremer was ready to reply: “They want to see the man play!”
The “man” being Ohtani. The Angels won 6-2 after Ohtani got worked around. Here’s how Ohtani’s sixth free pass of the season looked and sounded:
The only reason the immediate reaction wasn’t louder and longer was because pitchers by rule no longer need to physically throw any pitches to issue an intentional walk. Angels manager Joe Maddon agreed with the Twins’ move.
"I was booing, too," Maddon said with a smile. "But it was the right move by Rocco.”
Tactically understandable, sure. Earlier in the game, Ohtani had gone deep for his 35th home run of the season, an absolute rope estimated at 112.6 mph by MLB Statcast. It was his second dinger in as many games at Target Field after experiencing a dead spot of sorts at the plate since the All-Star break that included 15 strikeouts in 27 at-bats. After getting a day off on Friday night (something else to boo, especially if you bought tickets!), Ohtani is starting to rake again.
It should be noted that Ohtani promptly stole second base after the walk, though he didn’t come around to score. The Angels added three runs in the ninth.
It’s true that a lot of fans in the stands were wearing red in support of the Angels, even Ohtani in particular. So it probably wasn’t all Twins fans booing. But it makes sense, too, that Twins fans in their seats were looking at the bigger picture.
Minnesota finds itself in last place in the American League Central and was 16 1/2 games behind the White Sox at the moment of Baldelli’s decision to put up four fingers. Because contending for this season is a lost cause, the Twins also recently shipped off slugger Nelson Cruz to the Rays for prospects. Word also has been circulating about the very recent failure of contract-extension talks with Byron Buxton, who probably won’t be traded this week but also isn’t looking like a Twins keeper in the long run. High-leverage reliever Taylor Rogers, it has been said, is likely to be dealt by Friday’s trade deadline.
If the Twins are out of it and selling, why not root for Ohtani to do something amazing?
While the concept of lineup “protection” is often overblown, here’s a case where the presence of Mike Trout hitting after Ohtani in the batting order probably prevents such an obvious bypass. And we might have news on such a development soon. Maddon said Trout is due to put down his fishing rod and is scheduled to see a doctor about his strained right calf, which has kept him sidelined since May 17. Trout doesn’t feel pain in his leg, Maddon said, but he does feel “something” in the injured area and is having it checked out. It could be a final barrier to getting back in the lineup or it could mean Trout will continue to rest and heal.
Ohtani clicking with Trout also in the lineup would be something to see, no matter what team you might root for as a fan. Right, Shohei?