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By season’s end, Twins’ Emilio Pagán says, he’ll be one of baseball’s best relievers

Demoted after a tough stretch against Cleveland, the right-hander played key role in Saturday’s walk-off victory over Orioles

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Emilio Pagan throws against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday during the ninth inning at Target Field.
Jeffrey Becker / USA Today Sports
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The idea, Emilio Pagán was told, was to get him into some low-leverage situations. It didn’t work out that way in the Twins right-hander’s first appearances since being shifted out of a late-inning leverage role.

Pagán came out for the ninth inning in a one-run game on Saturday, only this time the Twins were trailing. The veteran reliever struck out two in a 1-2-3 inning and earned the win after Jorge Polanco and Jose Miranda RBIs gave the Twins a 4-3 victory.

“I do really enjoy the late-inning role, and obviously going in in the ninth down one (run) is a little different,” said Pagan, the Twins’ saves leader with nine. “But I still got a ‘game finished’ and a win. I helped the team win yesterday and that’s my goal.”

Pagán , 31, was thriving in his late-inning role until running into a buzz saw against Cleveland. The top two teams in the American League Central met eight times in 11 games starting June 21 and the Guardians won five of them, in part because Pagán surrendered four leads in four appearances, charged with nine earned runs on seven hits and three walks in a total of 2⅓ innings.

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That prompted a sit-down with manager Rocco Baldelli, who told Pagán he was being moved to some lower-leverage innings for the time being.

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“He’s the manager, so I said, ‘OK, I’m not going to argue with you; whatever you decide, that’s fine,’ ” Pagán said Sunday. “But I don’t think I necessarily needed an outing like (Saturday’s) in a different role. Yesterday wasn’t too different, you know? One-run game in the ninth.”

Pagán insists his repertoire is sharp and that he’s missing in good spots but acknowledged that the Guardians have had his number so far this season.

In seven games this season, Cleveland is hitting .346 with a 1.106 OPS, .414 on-base average and 12 runs scored against Pagán. His earned-run average against the Guardians is 15.19 with one save. Against everyone else, Pagán has eight saves and a 2.55 ERA.

“That’s baseball. That’s the game that I love, and the reality is you’re not going to be perfect every time,” he said.

Pagán, Baldelli and president of baseball operations all have said this week that the right-hander’s pitches look good. His fastball is reaching 97 mph, and averaging 95. His strikeout rate puts him in the 89th percentile of MLB pitchers. Baldelli said Sunday there is no plan on when or if Pagán will be back in save situations.

“He’s going to be ready to pitch, period,” the manager said, “not ready to pitch in certain situations.”

In any case, Pagán remains confident.

“I truly believe that with the way I’m throwing it, when you look up at the end of the year I’m going to be one of the best relievers in baseball numbers-wise,” he said. “You hang your hat on that and you move forward.”

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History walk

After getting walked off in consecutive games to end a five-game series in Cleveland, the Twins earned consecutive walk-off victories against Baltimore on Friday and Saturday.

“I had never seen anything like that in my whole life,” Baldelli said.

No one had, not in the American League anyway.

With their ninth-inning rallies for a 3-2 win on Friday and 4-3 victory on Saturday, the Twins became the first AL team to follow back-to-back walk-off losses with back-to-back walk-off wins in a single season, according to sports tech company Stats Perform.

Briefly

The family that corralled Byron Buxton‘s game-winning home run in the left-field bleachers Friday night was invited to Target Field on Sunday by Twins bench coach Jayce Tingler. The Crets Family of Modesto, Calif., shared their experience with the team in a pregame meeting.

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