MINNEAPOLIS — After sitting four powerful right-handed bats against Atlanta All-Star starter Mike Soroka, Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli had plenty of pinch-hitting options late in another close game against a likely playoff team.
Baldelli chose wisely with the surging Miguel Sano and Minnesota came up with another meaningful win.
Sano’s pinch-hit, two-run homer in the ninth inning gave Minnesota a 5-3 victory over the Braves on Monday night. The home run came after working with assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez inside during the game.
“I felt when the game got tied, I told Rudy, if nobody does anything, I’m going to take care of it,” Sano said. “When you’ve got something in your heart and you feel it, that’s one of the biggest things. When I went out and hit, I was just thinking, one swing and come back to the dugout. It’s unbelievable.”
With Mitch Garver, C.J. Cron, and Jonathan Schoop all available, Sano entered and hit the first pitch he saw for his 19th home run of the season and the first pinch-hit, walkoff home run for the Twins since Michael Cuddyer against the Los Angeles Angels in 2006 at the Metrodome.
Sano’s homer went an estimated 443 feet off reliever Chris Martin, hitting high off the wall in center field. Martin (0-3) was making his second appearance for Atlanta since being acquired at the trade deadline. He got two quick outs before allowing a single to Luis Arraez in front of Sano.
“He’s got long arms,” Martin said. “He’s got leverage. I’ve faced him a lot. I kind of attack him the same way every time. I think he finally figured it out and he got good wood on it.”
Trevor May (5-3) pitched two innings with one hit allowed for the Twins, who have won four in a row to stretch their lead over Cleveland in the AL Central to four games. They’ve won nine of their past 11 games.
The Braves have lost three of four and are 12-11 since the All-Star break.
“It’s just been some tough games late,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “Well-played, just having a hard time bunching anything to get a really big inning going or something like that. It’s kind of what we need to get us off the mat a little bit.”
Freddie Freeman hit his 27th homer for the Braves.
Max Kepler followed with his 31st homer. Kepler has eight home runs in his past 15 games.
The Twins are playing their fourth series against possible playoff teams since the All-Star break with four of the 11 games decided in the final at-bat. Three of the 11 games have been decided by one run.
“I think when we play against these teams, we step up to the plate and we take our game to a different level and we play well,” Baldelli said. “I’ve been very impressed with the way our guys have competed against all these teams that have shown up here, and we expect nothing less of ourselves.”
MORE ON DYSON
Twins reliever Sam Dyson, who was placed on the injured list on Sunday with right biceps tendinitis, said the injury dates back to a series in Colorado while he was a member of the San Francisco Giants. Dyson allowed six runs in two appearances for Minnesota after being acquired at the trade deadline.
“I had an issue in Colorado like the second series after the All-Star break,” Dyson said. “My shoulder started bugging me and I just kept throwing through it and throwing through it. I had contacted (Twins general manager Thad Levine) and let him know the other day. I was like, `We can either medicate it short term or we try to give it a break.’ It was up to him. Whatever he wanted to do, I was in for either one. He was just like, `It’s probably better off to give it a break.”
Dyson made five more appearances for San Francisco after leaving Colorado. The plan is for the right-hander to take a few days off and then start rehab work later in the week.
Braves: OF Ender Inciarte left the game in the seventh inning for precaution with left quad tightness. . Snitker said he’s unsure if SS Dansby Swanson (right foot contusion) will join the team as it starts a series in Miami on Thursday. Snitker said Swanson will need at least one rehab game.
Twins: Willians Astudillo (left oblique strain) has started to hit but there is no timetable for his return.
Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2-5, 6.37 ERA) will make his return to Atlanta’s rotation after being recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett. The 2018 All-Star is taking the spot vacated after Kevin Gausman was claimed off waivers by Cincinnati. Foltynewicz was 5-1 with a 3.86 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings for Gwinnett. The Braves will push LHP Max Fried to Wednesday to give him an extra day of rest.
Twins: RHP Jose Berrios (10-5, 2.80) will start for Minnesota. Berrios is coming off a start in which he allowed two hits in seven scoreless innings at Miami.
More AP MLB: HERE and TWITTER.