Wednesday came and went without a squirrel sighting at Target Field. The Twins lost 4-0 on a State Fair-worthy afternoon to the White Sox and All-Star right-hander Lucas Giolito, who struck out 12 while delivering a rarity in today’s homer-happy baseball: a complete-game shutout.
With things going badly from the beginning — the Twins trailed 2-0 in the first and 3-0 in the third — longing for the gray squirrel or squirrels who interrupted games the previous two nights filled Twitter feeds across Minnesota.
And why not? Those interruptions coincided with rallies by the home team. With the Twins squandering a 11 1/2 game lead in the AL Central, none of their relievers inspiring any confidence, and fear persisting that the Twins will blow the division to Cleveland, fans welcome all the help the Twins can get, whether two-legged or four.
For all the talk of talismans, credit the furry critter(s) for baseball acumen and savvy timing: The squirrel(s) appeared with two of the club’s best hitters at the plate, DH Nelson Cruz on Monday and All-Star shortstop Jorge Polanco on Tuesday. The Twins pushed across six runs in those innings, two Monday in a loss, and four Tuesday in a rout.
By Wednesday the Rally Squirrel was a thing, complete with (of course) a Twitter account. By Thursday, three online clothing companies pushed squirrel-themed T-shirts. The Twins finished the day with a three-game lead in the American League Central — not enough to exhale, but better than three games back — and the Bomba Squad gained a new mascot, at least until La Tortuga, Willians Astudillo, returns from the minors.
“We think it’s one squirrel,” said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, whose squirrel bona fides were never properly vetted. “We don’t think it’s a family.”
Memories can be short in the age of social media, so it’s worth noting this isn’t the first time an animal interjected himself/herself/itself into play in the ballyard by Warehouse District. Not even close.
In 2010, the year Target Field opened, a squirrel surprised Twins third baseman Brendan Harris (remember him?) and was still running around the outfield when Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees (remember him?) struck out.
That was also the season where two red-tailed hawks made a nest in the scoreboard (stadium workers removed it), and an American Kestral — a small falcon the size of a robin — took up residence on the right field foul pole. Fans named the latter Kirby, for Puckett. The Kestral had a Twitter account, too.
Squirrels dash around ballfields in lots of places; it’s certainly not a Minnesota thing. The best-known Rally Squirrel appeared in St. Louis during the 2011 National League Division Series, halting play in Game 3, then darting across the plate in Game 4 while Roy Oswalt of the Phillies threw a pitch. Before Game 5 in Philadelphia, mocking Phillies fans threw a stuffed squirrel into the Cardinals bullpen. Reliever Octavio Dotal kept it in his locker as the beer-soaked mascot of the eventual world champions.
(If the retired Dotel’s name sounds familiar, it’s because this hasn’t been his best week.)
Monday, the Twins led 1-0 in the first when said squirrel ran across the field and scooted through the Twins dugout. Several players scurried onto the field, Miguel Sano among them. You cover baseball long enough, you see everything, and I’ve seen this before: Aug. 23, 1988 at Fenway Park, my first season covering the Red Sox for the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. That night an enormous rat rumbled from the California Angels bullpen past Sox right fielder Dwight Evans before disappearing under the stands. Moments later it reappeared in the Boston dugout, which emptied as if someone set off a stink bomb. Pitcher Oil Can Boyd was Sano that night, nearly running into fair territory to escape it.
Luckily for the Twins on Monday, the unflappable Cruz was at the plate. He stroked a single for a 2-0 lead, though starter Kyle Gibson couldn’t hold it and lost, 6-4.
Then the squirrel (or a close relative) emerged Tuesday night in the fifth, scampering from short right field through Max Kepler’s legs as he took his lead from first base. Twins photographer Brace Hemmelgarn shot the photo of the moment from ground level. The squirrel ran around a bit until eventually escaping under the outfield wall.
When play resumed White Sox right-hander Reynaldo Lopez hit Polanco with a pitch, loading the bases. Cruz doubled in two runs, Eddie Rosario singled in two more, and the Twins were on their way to a 14-4 laugher. The Twins reportedly set a trap to catch and release the squirrel. As of Thursday, it remained at large.
Hurry back, Rally.
Now, about those t-shirts. Funny thing: All appear to be cheaper than the La Tortuga t-shirts the Twins sell in the Target Field team store, which go for $39.
Anyway, here’s one from SotaStick.com.
And lastly, there’s one from the gang at Raygun in Des Moines, Iowa, for my money the best cheeky T-shirt shop in the Midwest.