The triple was the easy part. After Ryan Doumit laced a pitch to the warning track in right-center, driving home two runs and delivering the Twins a thrilling 5-4 victory over Seattle in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday, he had some baseball rituals to observe — the uniform shredding, the Gatorade bucket and the shaving-cream pie.
No wonder the cleanup-hitter-for-a-day looked a little weatherworn in the clubhouse.
“You can’t describe it,” he said of the abuse, shaving cream still smeared on his neck. “It’s awesome.”
After a difficult and disappointing May, the Twins entered June with a jolt, staging a three-run rally in a light rain at Target Field off sturdy Seattle closer Tom Wilhelmsen. And if the comeback from a 4-2 deficit was as much Wilhelmsen’s fault as the Twins’ own doing — he walked the first three hitters he faced, loading the bases for the middle of the Twins order — certainly the final blow was more evidence that one of the Twins’ most reliable run producers from last year is chugging into form.
“He scuffled a little bit early, trying to find his swing, getting a better feel for it, and I think you’re seeing the guy we had last year,” manager Ron Gardenhire said of Doumit, who ended the day batting .230, the highest his average has been since April 6, and with 27 RBI, more than any teammate save Justin Morneau.
Suddenly, Doumit’s 2012 production — a .275 average and 75 RBI — looks like a good benchmark for 2013, too.
“He’s just squaring the bat up a lot better,” Gardenhire said. “A lot of times when you’re scuffling, you get a pitch and you foul it off. And right now his confidence is really high, and he’s seeing the ball really good, and he’s squaring it up.”
He’s been doing it for a week now; Saturday’s victory was the fifth time in six games Doumit has collected two RBI, a streak so encouraging that when Morneau reported to work with flulike symptoms Saturday morning, Gardenhire simply appointed the backup catcher his new cleanup hitter.
And if you hit in the cleanup spot, Doumit said, you better act like a cleanup hitter.
“I was up there to do some damage,” he said after his third career walk-off hit (his first since 2010) and seventh career triple. “I was looking for one spot and a pitch I could drive, and I got it.”
Wilhelmsen had little choice. He converted his first 11 save attempts but has blown three of his past four, all in a 10-day stretch, and walks have been the biggest reason. So after loading the bases, and giving up one run on Josh Willingham’s sacrifice fly, Wilhelmsen didn’t want to put Doumit aboard too.
When the count got to 2-2, Wilhelmsen tried a fastball, “the only strike I threw,” he fumed. “It was right down the middle. … He knew it was coming.”
The only question was whether Joe Mauer, who was on first base, could get to the plate before right fielder Endy Chavez could retrieve the ball. Eduardo Escobar tied the score ahead of him, but, “ ‘Run Joe run’ — that’s what we were saying in the dugout,” Gardenhire said.
Mauer slid home as the relay throw sailed high, and the Twins had improved to 3-1 on this five-game homestand.
“It’s tough to score from first base in wet conditions like that. It’s a testament to Joe,” Doumit said. “A lot of things had to go right, and they did.”
That includes Kevin Correia’s day, which actually went better than it looked on paper. He gave up four runs, three of them on home runs, all solo shots. He surrendered homers to Jason Bay and Kyle Seager in the first inning, then was virtually unscathed until the seventh, when Bay connected again to break a 2-2 tie.
And if the trend is alarming — after giving up two home runs in 36⅓ innings in April, Correia has given up 11 in 34 innings ever since — the effect Saturday wasn’t.
“As far as I’m concerned, he made three mistakes today,” Doumit said, “and that’s good pitching.”