BALTIMORE — When Ryan Jeffers tinkered with his swing heading into this season, it wasn’t so much an overhaul as it was a rediscovery.
When he ascended to the major leagues in 2020, playing in about half of that shortened season, and asserted himself as the No. 2 catcher for the Twins in 2021, Jeffers’ command at the plate drifted amid all the other responsibilities and pressures of playing at the highest level. As he embarked on this third season in the majors, his goal was to reclaim the hitter he had been when he batted .344 in his first minor league season in 2018 or when he smacked 14 home runs and 49 RBI the next year.
“Actually, if you go back and look at video from ’19 and even ’20, I’m a lot closer there now than I was in 2021, like last year and early spring this year,” Jeffers said. “I’m getting back to kind of who I was when I made it up here… when I was crushing the ball. And now I’ve got all the experience of how to be a big-league baseball player and how guys like to pitch you. Stuff like that, and putting it together with a swing that can play, it’s exciting.”
So with Tuesday’s game in Oriole Park at Camden Yards tied 2-2 going into the sixth inning, of course it was Jeffers who blasted the three-run homer to break open the game en route to the Twins’ 7-2 victory over the Orioles .
Against reliever Joey Krehbiel, Gary Sanchez doubled before Trevor Larnach drew a walk. Then Jeffers stepped up and homered to center field.
Gilberto Celestino, Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa hit consecutive doubles in the ninth, and paired with Jorge Polanco’s sacrifice fly, the victory was ensured with two more runs.
Before that, it was a back-and-forth game, with the Twins taking the lead in the fourth from Jose Miranda’s first major league hit, an RBI double, only for Baltimore to respond in the bottom of the inning when Correa’s rare fielding error allowed a run to score. In the fifth, Polanco drove in Jeffers for a run, and the Orioles leveled again with an RBI single from Trey Mancini.
“It wasn’t as clean a game as we’ve been playing,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “… Even though we made some mistakes, we played some good baseball overall.”
It was a strong offensive game for the Twins. The entire starting lineup recorded at least one hit, minus right fielder Max Kepler, who left the game in the fifth inning with a non-COVID illness. The hitters mostly took advantage of the Orioles’ bullpen, as starter Bruce Zimmermann limited the damage to four hits and two runs with two walks and four strikeouts.
Baldelli classified the game as a fight, and starting pitcher Joe Ryan exemplified that. He went 4 2⁄3 innings, allowing six hits, two runs and one walk. He struck out three but hit two batters with pitches.
“Just didn’t have my best stuff, didn’t have sharpest stuff,” Ryan said. “But just kept making pitches and trying to get outs. Let the defense work some great catches.”
Twins relievers Caleb Thielbar and Tyler Duffey combined for 3 1⁄3 no-hit innings before Cody Stashak held the Orioles at bay in the ninth.
The Twins have won 11 of their past 12 games, good for a 15-9 record that ranks second-best in the American League behind the Yankees. They also take that position for run differential, at plus-29.
Just before this run began, Jeffers spoke from the visiting team clubhouse in Kansas City after the Twins had lost 2-0 and carried a 4-8 record. Jeffers was hitting .148 and described the disconnect between feeling like he is a better player this season but failing to record any tangible results. He was frustrated, as the whole team was, but he also sensed this team was good and would have everything click into place soon.
He was prophetic.
“Up and down the lineup, not just for me, a lot of guys are kind of starting to put it together,” Jeffers said. “… I knew as an offense, the guys we had in here, the work that was going in behind the scenes and just how close we were. It wasn’t something I could put my finger saying, ‘This is showing me we’ re close.’ It was just a feeling. A team like this with the players we have, you can’t keep us down for very long.”