Josmil Pinto gives Twins fans a reason to cheer

MINNEAPOLIS — As the Minnesota Twins march toward the end of another losing season, there haven’t been too many bright spots to speak of lately.

Josmil Pinto, however, has been one of them.

The Twins’ rookie catcher has already impressed with his bat during his limited time in the major leagues, but he had his biggest hit of his young career Sunday against Tampa Bay. With Minnesota trailing in the eighth inning, Pinto hit a go-ahead 3-run home run to propel the Twins to a 6-4 victory as they avoided a three-game sweep.

“When I hit the ball, I really wasn’t sure whether it was going to go,” Pinto said, with the help of teammate Chris Colabello to translate. “I made pretty good contact. I looked up and was running hard. When I saw it go out, I was really happy for the team and immediately started thinking about how we were going to go out and get three outs.”

Twins right fielder Ryan Doumit hit a solo home run with two outs in the eighth to cut the Rays’ lead to 4-3. Trevor Plouffe then hit a single to right and designated hitter Josh Willingham drew a walk to bring Pinto to the plate with two on, two out and Minnesota trailing by a run.

After taking a curveball for a called first strike, Pinto didn’t let the next pitch from Rays reliever Joel Peralta get passed him. Pinto swung and crushed an 80 mph breaking ball an estimated 418 feet into the Twins’ bullpen in left-center field.

The 27,988 fans on hand for Sunday’s series finale were brought to their feet. Minnesota’s scoreless innings streak was snapped earlier in the game, and now Pinto helped stop the Twins’ losing skid as well.

“It’s a pretty good pitcher out there, Mr. Peralta, who can do a lot of things with the baseball. For him to hang in there and click on that ball was pretty special,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “We had some pretty good at-bats before that, too. That was huge, Doumit getting the big home run and getting that run back, and then you go from there.

After Pinto hit the home run, Minnesota fans continued to stand and cheer. After all, their team hadn’t give them much to cheer for this weekend after the Twins were shut out in both Friday’s and Saturday’s games.

After some prodding from his Twins teammates in the dugout, Pinto sheepishly stepped out to acknowledge the curtain call from the fans.

“I was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t really hear the crowd or see anybody doing anything,” Pinto said. “There were a bunch of (teammates) that were egging me on.”

Sunday marked the 24-year-old Pinto’s 11th game in the major leagues since he was called up at the beginning of September. He ascended the minor league ladder in the Twins’ organization, playing just 19 games at Triple-A Rochester after spending the majority of the year with Double-A New Britain.

The homer was Pinto’s second in the majors after hitting 15 combined homers in the majors at Double A and Triple A. He now has hits in eight of the 11 games he’s played in with Minnesota. After going 1-for-3 with a walk in Sunday’s win, Pinto is now batting .405 to start his career. His defense still needs work, but Minnesota’s staff has been impressed with Pinto’s willingness to learn and his ability to absorb those teachings. Earlier this series, he spent time in the clubhouse with bench coach and former catcher Terry Steinbach after a game to talk about Pinto’s defense. The Twins believe Pinto can develop into a solid defensive catcher, and they already know he can do with the bat.

September is an important time for plenty of young players to show the Twins organization what they have as Minnesota looks ahead to building its 2014 roster. It’s hard not to think Pinto may somehow factor into the plans next year, especially if he keeps hitting the way he did Sunday.

Pinto, however, may not be thinking quite that far ahead.

“The only thing I’ve really ever tried to do is learn every day the things people taught me and go out and play the game hard,” Pinto said. “Those are the things I can control.”

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