Brian Dozier was going to go. He had his lead sized up, he got a subtle nod from his manager and he was trying not to draw any attention to himself as he tiptoed halfway down the third base line. Dozier had already stolen second and third base, and now he was going for the trifecta.
“I was going. But all of a sudden, I made eye contact with the pitcher. So I shut it down,” Dozier said. “It would have been pretty cool, though. I’ve never stole home.”
His manager thought that play, and lots of others like it during the Twins’ 5-2 victory over the Orioles on Sunday, was pretty cool. The Twins hustled, made smart plays, took good at-bats, got strong starting pitching and won the series from Baltimore in a way Ron Gardenhire had envisioned for his underdog team.
“That was exciting baseball. I would pay good money to come watch stuff like that,” Gardenhire said after the Twins salvaged a 3-5 homestand. “Guys are paying attention ... playing the game, learning the game, understanding what they’re doing. We like that.”
He liked how Phil Hughes, who won his third start in a row, kept the Orioles off balance by moving his fastball around. He liked how Pedro Florimon, though mired in an awful slump, hustled to beat out a double-play ball, keeping an inning alive that resulted in two runs. He liked how Caleb Thielbar rescued the Twins from a bases-loaded jam by getting Nick Markakis to tap back to the mound.
And he liked how the Twins keep getting enormous, league-leader-type contributions from unexpected sources. The trio of Chris Colabello, Trevor Plouffe and Kurt Suzuki don’t just lead the Twins in RBI, they are all among the top 10 run producers in the American League. Which is about as shocking as someone trying to steal home.
“Coming to a new team,” said Suzuki, who signed a one-year deal as a free agent last winter, “it’s nice to chip in.”
Sukuki went 3-for-3 with two doubles Sunday to raise his batting average to .325 — also among the top 10 in the league. When Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez (1-3) walked the bases full in the fifth inning, Suzuki accepted another free pass, forcing in a run. And when reliever Ryan Webb intentionally walked Jason Kubel in the seventh inning to face Suzuki, the veteran catcher responded with a two-run double to restore a three-run lead.
“When they walk someone in front of you, they think they can get you out,” Suzuki said. “I just try to go up and make them pay.”
Suzuki has 22 RBI, or twice as many as he has ever had on May 4 during his eight-year career. Last season, he collected his 22nd RBI on Aug. 13, in his 73rd game.
Plouffe doubled home two runs in the third inning to hand Hughes an early lead, giving him 22 RBI of his own, not to mention 14 doubles, most in the majors. And Colabello, a bit deflated despite his 27 RBI by a 4-for-30 homestand, doubled in the seventh, so Suzuki could drive him in.
Combine that with sturdy pitching, which Hughes and four relievers provided, and the Twins felt surprisingly upbeat three days after being swept by the Dodgers.
“It’s not unexpected, it’s part of what we’ve got going now — a patient team. We’re making pitchers work,” Gardenhire said. “If we keep doing that, we’re going to score runs.”
Hughes (3-1) gave up a single to start the game, then retired 14 consecutive hitters. His lone mistake in 6⅓ innings was centering a cut fastball for Nelson Cruz, who crushed it into the second deck in left field for a two-run homer.
“I certainly feel like I’m throwing the ball better than I was at the beginning of the year,” said Hughes, who knocked his ERA down to 4.72. “But I can still be better.”