“Home” may be one of the most comforting words in the English Language. It’s a soothing word. It conveys family. It speaks to notions of comfort and security. It is among the first words you learn as a child. It is tied to your identity. No matter your age, you always carry an image of a specific place in your mind when you hear it. There is a reason why “Home” is important to the game of baseball. It signifies the completion of a journey around the diamond’s four corners. It is the return to where you started. It’s recorded and will ultimately decide the outcome of the contest.
This past week, two members of the Minnesota Twins, pitcher José Berríos and left fielder Eddie Rosario and two members of Cleveland’s team, shortstop Francisco Lindor and catcher Roberto Perez got a chance to go home as their teams met at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico for a two-game series. With 19,516 in attendance on Tuesday night and 19,537 on Wednesday, these games may have labeled the Minnesota Twins as the “Home” team but it hardly mattered. Both were the home team to these fans.
For Lindor, Rosario, Perez and Berríos it was a long dreamed upon chance to play in front of family and friends. To play in front of the neighbors they grew up around. The schools, streets and shops where they forged their identities were all there. Except, it was different. Much, much different.
Puerto Rico continues to live with the after-effects of Hurricane Maria that decimated the island on September 20. By most accounts, 95% of the population was left without power. The situation largely continues to this day. On the day of the second game, the already shaky power grid faltered, once again plunging the isle into a blackout. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz went to Twitter to notify the world that the night’s planned game would go on as planned, defiantly closing the message with “Nothing will stop us.” I like that. It speaks to the scrappiness of the inhabitants who have had to endure tremendous hardship over the past seven months as they strive to re-build their home. As a United States territory, Puerto Rico has been grossly underserved by the politicians in Washington D.C. and ignored by their President outside of a feeble “paper towel throwing” photo opportunity in early October. These are a proud people and baseball is in their blood. Of course, the game would go on. How could it not?
It has been nearly a decade since Major League Baseball played a game on Puerto Rican soil. The last one was in 2010 when the then-Florida Marlins played the New York Mets there. After 2016’s scheduled contest between Pittsburgh Pirates and the Marlins was cancelled due to concern over the Zika Virus, there was no way a simple power outage was going to stop this one. Power outages? “We’re used to that” they seemed to say. This is our home. Bring it on, PLAY BALL! This was all more than just a couple of big league games; this meant something. This was about pride. This was about home.
Game 1 went to Cleveland with Francisco Lindor serving as the hero of the night. Right-handed starter Corey Kluber was magnificent pitching for the so-called “mistake by the lake” team, giving up just one run on five hits while striking out six
among his 6.2 innings pitched. The moment of the game came when Lindor approached the plate for the third time of the evening in the top of the fifth inning. With two outs on the board and Jake Odorizzi on the mound, Twins Catcher Jason Castro committed an error on a passed ball, allowing centerfielder Bradley Zimmer to reach third base. On the next pitch, Lindor sent the ball deep into the right field stands, just over Robbie Grossman’s head to make the game 2-0. Cleveland went on to win 6-1.
For me, the better game of the series was the second one. After a shaky first inning, Twins pitcher Jose Berríos found his groove and quickly proved to his country why he is one of the game’s most exciting prospects. Before his exit after the seventh inning, Berríos retired sixteen straight hitters, striking out 5. The only shame was that the 23-year old righty wasn’t able to get the win ascribed to him.
The game was a long one. After Eddie Rosario made the third out at the bottom of the ninth with a fly out to center, the crowd seemed to acknowledge that they were in for a very long night indeed. It wasn’t until the 14th inning when Edwin Encarnacion hit a solo home run to left field that the crowd began to think that the end might be close to hand. Trevor Hildenberger got the next two hitters, and Minnesota moved into the last opportunity in the bottom of the frame.
Former Twin Matt Belisle took the mound for Cleveland, and on the very first pitch he threw, third baseman Miguel Sanó sent the ball deep into left field, extending the game into the 15th inning, as Wednesday faded into Thursday morning on the island.
Josh Tomlin came in to pitch for Cleveland in the bottom of the 15th. Castro and Brian Dozier both flied out, but Joe Mauer reached with a single hit to right field. Tomlin threw a wild pitch to Sanó and Mauer made a break for second base. Cleveland catcher Yon Gomes throw sailed by Jason Kipnis at second base and bounced into the outfield as Mauer scrambled for third base. Sanó hit a pop fly to Davis in center to end the inning. Yup, it felt like this game would go on forever. No one was ever gonna go home.
After Alan Busenitz got through the top of the 16th without incident, we moved to the bottom of the frame and Puerto Rico’s own Eddie Rosario led off with a single. Logan Morrison reached due a fielding error, this time by Kipnis and Rosario hit third. Tomin intentionally walked Eduardo Escobar to load the bases with nobody on, looking to force a double play. However, Twins rookie outfielder Ryan LaMarre hit an 0-2 ground ball to center field, scoring Rosario, and giving the Twins a 2-1 win after 5 hours and 13 minutes.
Who says you can’t go home after all? For the Puerto Rican fans and the players on the field, these games WERE home.
Daniel G. Moir is a freelance writer, musician, and baseball enthusiast. He hardly ever misses a Minnesota Twins home game at Target Field, and when the team is on the road he watches at home with his pal Brubeck. He can be contacted at @DMoir5150.
If you like what you’ve read here, please CONSIDER THIS