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McFeely: Thorpe provides relief from Down Under for Twins

MINNEAPOLIS — The television replays showed clearly what Lewis Thorpe said after getting New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge to ground into a double play to end the sixth inning Monday, June 22. His words cannot be repeated here, in what is considered a family publication.

“Unbelievable,” Thorpe said in a celebratory Minnesota Twins clubhouse after an 8-6 victory at Target Field. “I may have chucked in a couple swear words. But that’s my culture. I apologize for that. In the moment you can’t help yourself, so you just get it going and scream it and it pumps yourself up.”

The culture is Australian, as confirmed by the accent Thorpe exhibited before a gaggle of reporters. How Australian is the 23-year-old rookie left-hander? He has a 3-year-old pet kangaroo named Skippy back home in Melbourne.

On a crazy night that included the Twins turning a 5-4-3 triple play, Minnesota scoring a run on catcher’s interference and the teams combining for eight home runs, the craziest thing might’ve been that Minnesota’s embattled bullpen didn’t implode against the powerful Yankees.

“I think we can point to our bullpen as doing a beyond fantastic job tonight,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.

With both teams counter-punching one another with home runs and big plays, the Twins desperately needed its relievers to hold a lead in the late innings. They did.

Hallelujah.

Thorpe was part of the quartet of Tyler Duffey, Ryne Harper and Taylor Rogers that helped the Twins get five productive innings in relief of starter Martin Perez. He threw 2 2/3 innings, allowing one run on four hits while strike out two to pick up his first major-league victory.

An unlikely hero against the American League East-leading Yankees (64-35) In more ways than one.

The Twins recalled Thorpe from Triple-A Rochester on Monday, along with Red Wings pitcher Cody Stashak. They replaced first baseman C.J. Cron (injured list) and pitcher Zack Littell (optioned to Rochester) on the roster. Thorpe’s been mostly a starter in his seven years in the Twins organization, including 16 starts in 17 appearances for the Red Wings this season. There was also a spot start Thorpe made for the Twins on June 30 against the White Sox in a brief call-up.

So when he was told to get ready during the fifth inning against the Yankees, it wasn’t what Thorpe expected.

“No, not really,” he chuckled. “But I’m glad they did it. I didn’t look at it as facing the Yankees, I just went out there and just acted like it was any other game that I pitched. To do that against that type of team is unbelievable.”

The Twins signed Thorpe in 2012 as a 16-year-old in Melbourne, the eighth Australian to play for the organization. He spent 2013 in Fort Myers of the Gulf Coast League and 2014 in Single-A Cedar Rapids, climbing the prospect rankings as a starter known for strikeouts.

But that came to a halt in 2015 and 2016, when Thorpe missed two seasons after having Tommy John surgery on his elbow. He began 2017 on the disabled list because of the elbow, then spent most of the year back in Fort Myers where he was again viewed as a rising starter.

Thorpe earned an invitation to spring training in 2018 before beginning the season at Double-A Chattanooga. He was later promoted to Rochester. It was the first full season of his professional career and he struck out 157 batters in 129 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Thorpe began 2019 ranked as the No. 3 pitching prospect in Minnesota’s organization.

The Twins are hoping Thorpe can provide help for the bullpen in the short-term — perhaps until they complete some sort of deal before the July 31 trading deadline. His chance came in the sixth inning, with the Twins leading 7-5 and a whole lot of Yankees thunder awaiting.

After giving up a double to Gleyber Torres, getting Gio Urshela to ground out, allowing an RBI single to Mike Tauchmann and then a single to leadoff batter DJ LeMahieu, this strategy was in doubt. The Yanks trailed only 7-6 with one out and runners on first and second.

“There were some nerves. When I first got in there, just hearing some of the names that were being called … It gets your adrenaline going so much. It was just amazing,” Thorpe said.

The jam required pitching coach Wes Johnson to make a trip to the mound, particularly since the next batter was the 6-foot-7, one-time Rookie of the Year and perennial MVP candidate Judge.

“He said ‘Have some fun, just have some fun,'” Thorpe said when asked the content of Johnson’s talk. “Then I smiled and I threw him a first-pitch slider and he grounded into a double play. That’s big-league defense behind me. Those guys picked me up.”

Judge bounced a ball to shortstop Jorge Polanco, who retired LeMahieu with a flip to second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who fired a strike to Miguel Sano to complete the double play.

That’s when Thorpe got R-rated as the 34,000-plus in attendance went nuts.

Considering the playoff atmosphere at Target Field and the “whirlwind” day Thorpe had, it was forgivable.

“For him to make his first relief appearance in the major leagues and to go about it the way he did, I know he started off a little shaky, that’s totally natural. I can only imagine what was going through his head, facing the Yankees,” Twins catcher Mitch Garver said. “He pitched incredibly well. He was able to locate his breaking ball, threw a few change-ups … his fastball was exploding at the top of the zone. We’re really happy for him that he was able to step into that role.”

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