The home crowd can make a difference in a playoff series, just ask the Minnesota Twins.
Before game 2 of the American League Wild Card series against the Toronto Blue Jays, Twins shortstop Carlos Correa pulled starting pitcher Sonny Gray aside and gave him a tip. The Blue Jays had been taking aggressive leads on the bases during the series, but Correa noticed the crowd noise at Target Field was making it difficult for the runners to hear their third-base coach.
That tip came in handy later. In the top of the fifth Gray had worked himself into trouble. His team led 2-0, but Gray had runners on second and third with two outs. Bo Bichette, the American League's two-time hits leader, was at the plate and worked a full count.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had taken an extended lead off second, so Correa signaled catcher Ryan Jeffers to put on the timing pickoff.
Sonny Gray with the huge pickoff! pic.twitter.com/hqRFIzKyCp
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 4, 2023
Suddenly, Gray whirled and fired the ball to Correa, who had snuck in behind Guerrero and applied the tag. The threat had been averted, and the Twins went on to win and sweep the series.
Sonny Gray said Carlos Correa told him Blue Jays baserunners couldn?t hear the third base coach because the crowd was so loud.
And that?s why they planned to pick Vladimir Guerrero Jr. off second base in a game-changing moment.
Gray: ?That?s why he?s special.?
— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) October 5, 2023
After the game, Gray didn't hesitate to give credit to his home fans for making that pickoff play happen.
"100%, and that tells you right there about how a home crowd or home field advantage or whatever can come into your favor," Gray said. "The crowd was incredible, they were incredible (in game 1), they were incredible today from the moment I stepped on the mound an hour before the game... The crowd really, really really helped us win that game today."
It's not difficult to understand the crowd's enthusiasm. The Twins had lost 18 consecutive playoff games since 2004 and will advance for the first time since 2002. The crowd reached a fever pitch in the ninth and shook the stadium to its rafters once the final out was recorded.
This is not to take away from the abilities of Gray and Correa in making that play happen. Picking off runners takes practice, expert timing and the element of surprise. Fan noise, however, can play an even bigger factor in baseball than before, especially when players can't hear the pitch com or their base coaches. It's not unlike a football game where fans cause quarterbacks and offensive linemen to miscommunicate the snap count, leading to penalties.
The crowd at Target Field is sure to be a factor once again when the Twins face the defending World Series Champion Houston Astros in the American League Division Series. The Astros have home field advantage, but finished a dismal 39-42 at Minute Maid Park during the regular season. They were much better on the road (51-31), but if the Twins can steal a game or two in Houston, their fans just might help them pull off another miracle.
Want More Sports News?
Get the biggest and best sports news sent directly to your inbox.