After hitting .373/.413/.686 in 27 games in July, Polanco is batting .360/.452/.600 in seven games in September, helping the Twins fill the void left by Miguel Sano's shin injury. So when Polanco came to the plate in a critical spot in the ninth, manager Paul Molitor had plenty of confidence in Polanco, an atypical No. 3 hitter on a club that moved to a one-game lead for the second American League Wild Card spot.
"Polanco has been taking really good at-bats for the last several weeks," Molitor said. "I was pretty confident he'd take a good at-bat. He took that first-pitch fastball to gauge where Herrera was with his velocity. [Polanco] got a good look at [Herrera] and he banged it up the middle. I had a good feeling if he got a strike, he was going to hit it hard somewhere."
Polanco took the first pitch -- a 97.4-mph fastball from Herrera on the outside corner -- but when Herrera threw the exact same pitch at 97.4 mph in a similar location, Polanco laced it back up the middle for the lead.
"When I went to the plate, the first thing I was thinking was he had to throw me a strike," Polanco said. "So I just waited for my pitch and he threw it in the zone, and I hit it."
Polanco's emergence has been critical for the Twins, and it hasn't been lost on his teammates, who have enjoyed watching him mature as a player after going 4-for-51 in July.
"A lot of times when young guys go through slumps like that, they really cower in and let it affect them," Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson said. "We knew what kind of player he was, and you have to keep giving him at-bats and get him in the game, and that's what Mollie has done, and it's paid off."
Polanco has maintained that cutting down on swinging at bad pitches is the reason for his recent success, as he worked hard with hitting coaches James Rowson and Rudy Hernandez to identify the pitches he can handle. Polanco has never been adept at drawing walks, but he's always had a good judgment of the strike zone and quick hands to create contact.
The results have led to sky-high confidence for Polanco, who is playing meaningful baseball in September for the first time in his career.
"It motivates me a lot and gives me confidence knowing these games matter," Polanco said. "If you do something good in a game, it just gives you more confidence to keep it going, and hopefully it ends with us going to the playoffs."