MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — He might look more like a fullback than a baseball player. His resume might read more “suspect” than “prospect.” But Willians Astudillo has become something of a folk hero in Minnesota, and on Sunday he rewarded Twins fans for their support.
Astudillo hit a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning that gave Minnesota a 3-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
Max Kepler doubled off Jason Hammel (2-13) with two outs in the Twins ninth. Astudillo then hit a drive deep to left field for his third home run of the season, touching off a raucous celebration at home plate.
The 5-foot-9 Astudillo is conservatively listed at 225 pounds, but he’s a better athlete than his frame might suggest. In two stints with the Twins this year, the 26-year-old rookie has started games at catcher, second base and third base. He played left field and center field in his major league debut at Wrigley Field. And he’s even pitched an inning.
But he’s most known for his aggressive, contact-heavy approach at the plate. In 38 plate appearances with the Twins he’s yet to draw a walk, and he’s only struck out twice. It’s a pattern that he’s followed throughout his minor league career, which has already spanned four franchises.
“I just go out there with a plan to make good contact, a good pitch, specifically a good pitch,” said Astudillo, who took a pitch in the dirt before jumping on a hanging slider from Hammel.
Twins manager Paul Molitor admitted he considered using catcher Mitch Garver to pinch-hit for Astudillo.
“I’m glad I paused,” Molitor said, “because it worked out pretty good.”
“He’s probably going to put it in play, and you hope he finds a hole. And as it turns out he hits it over the fence, so that was a bonus,” he said.
Trevor Hildenberger (4-3) got two outs to pick up the win.
Adalberto Mondesi homered for the Royals, who were held to three hits on the day. The closest they came to a rally was in the third inning, when an error and two walks filled the bases. But Hunter Dozier grounded out to end the threat.
“We had the bases loaded looking for a clutch hit, and we couldn’t get it,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Just not a lot going on offensively for us out there.”
Royals starter Ian Kennedy made his first appearance after missing two months with a strained oblique. He ended up throwing 93 pitches over six innings, allowing one run on four hits with three walks and six strikeouts.
Minnesota starter Chase De Jong made his Twins debut with four scoreless innings, walking four and striking out five. He arrived from Seattle in a trade for reliever Zach Duke on July 30.
Zack Littell followed De Jong for the Twins and gave up Mondesi’s tying home run in the sixth but was otherwise sharp, allowing just two runners in 3 1/3 innings.
An estimated 300 fans arrived more than three hours before the first pitch to watch Twins reliever Trevor May show off his skills against some elite competition. But May wasn’t on the mound. He was playing the video game Fortnite, with the action being streamed on the Target Field video board.
May, an avid video game player who is a brand ambassador for a professional e-sports organization, squared off against three pro gamers in a Fortnite streaming party. Garver served as the emcee, interviewing the players and answering fans’ questions during the one-hour event.
Twins: 3B Miguel Sano missed his fourth straight game with a lower left leg contusion.
Royals: RHP Jakob Junis (8-12, 4.32 ERA) takes the mound on Monday night as the Royals open a three-game series at home against the White Sox. Lucas Giolito (10-10, 5.85) will start for Chicago.
Twins: RHP Kyle Gibson (7-12, 3.74) will start for the Twins as they host the Yankees for the opener of a three-game series on Monday. New York will counter with LHP J.A. Happ (14-6, 3.90).