Two more blasts produced a win, but clutch hitting remains a worry.
CHICAGO – It’s a little disconcerting, the way the Twins won three out of four games here this weekend. The home runs are great, the shutdown pitching is wonderful, and finishing a road trip with a winning record is divine.
But this doesn’t seem like a formula designed to win in Target Field, where not every fly ball becomes a keepsake for a youngster in the bleachers.
“Unfortunately, we’ve still got some work to do,” manager Ron Gardenhire said after the Twins rode Kevin Correia’s longest start since mid-May and home runs from Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer to a 5-2 victory over the White Sox. “We’ve got to start driving in runners. These games should be a little easier than that.”
Actually, the script the Twins followed here this weekend was remarkably simple — bash home run. And don’t do much else.
Minnesota, which still doesn’t have a player with more than 14 home runs on its roster, scored 19 runs during the four games in this Cape Canaveral of a ballpark — and every one of them trotted home after a rocket into the seats, 11 in all. The long-ball fireworks helped cover up a distressing habit that has held the offense back all year: the lack of clutch hitting.
The Twins were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position Sunday, the lone exception being Dozier’s fifth-inning blast into Chicago’s bullpen with runners on first and second. That brings their total in the series to 3-for-37, and all three were home runs, an appallingly bad .081 success rate with runners on second or third. And counting their three games in Kansas City, they come home with a .113 batting average in clutch situations, 7-for-62 on the road trip.
As remarkable as it was that the Twins kept limiting their scoring to home runs, Gardenhire couldn’t help fretting over the underlying problem. “You look at our runners in scoring position this series, I don’t think Major League Baseball thought you could do that, either,” he said. “We sure missed a lot of opportunities. ... If we’d get a few more hits in between, those add-on runs, you give your starter a chance to breathe.”
Fortunately, Correia was breathing just fine Sunday, having recovered from a bout with the flu a week ago that he said severely weakened him a couple of days before his disastrous, seven-runs-in-two-innings start at Kansas City. “I didn’t even get to play catch for a couple of days” last weekend, said Correia, the Twins’ first eight-game winner of the season. “I felt 100 times better. I knew I’d feel a lot better today, and I did. It was one of my better starts.”
One of his longest, too; he pitched seven shutout innings, the first time he’s lasted that long since May 14. Correia was brilliant, limiting the White Sox to three singles and a double, just one walk, and never allowing a baserunner to reach third. He struck out seven, tying his (and the Twins staff’s) season high.
“I talked to [plate umpire Dan Iassogna], he said Correia really located the ball, spot-on with his pitches,” Gardenhire said. “That’s why you see the big zero on the scoreboard.”
For Correia, the game changed when Dozier homered and Mauer, whose last home run came on June 22, connected in the fifth, giving him a 5-0 lead to work with. “If balls start going out, you have to maybe nibble a little more than you would like. But once we scored those five runs, my game plan was just to throw strikes.”
He could have pitched another inning, he said, but the final two outs in the seventh were sky-high shots that Clete Thomas caught just in front of the fence in center.
“I think I scared them off with those warning-track shots,” Correia said.
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