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Tornonto's Jose Bautista, center was congratulated by teammates after he hit his third home run of the game in the sixth inning.

Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

TORONTO 11, TWINS 3

Up next: Two-game series at Seattle, beginning 9:10 tonight • Safeco Field • TV: FSN (1500ESPN)

Bautista terrorizes Twins with three homers

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN
  • Star Tribune
  • May 16, 2011 - 8:45 PM

With the Twins season spiraling into the abyss, at least a different race has taken shape to spark their fans' waning interest.

Here's an updated look at the season home run totals: Twins 18, Jose Bautista 16.

Bautista has been baseball's most prolific home run hitter by a wide margin for the past 21 months, but the challenge will be maintaining this pace now that the Blue Jays are done playing the Twins.

Bautista smashed seven homers in six games against Minnesota this year, including three in Sunday's 11-3 victory at Target Field.

"It's ridiculous," Bautista said. "It feels like a dream right now. Sometimes I can't really believe it myself, but I keep seeing good pitches."

Bautista hit five home runs in Toronto's three-game sweep, which stretched the Twins' latest losing streak to eight games and lowered their major league-worst record to 12-26.

Throw in the two home runs Bautista hit at Target Field last Sept. 30, and he's making all the talk about the place being a tough hitter's park look silly.

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have combined to play 129 games at Target Field, amassing a combined five home runs. Bautista, a late-blooming 30-year-old right fielder from the Dominican Republic, has seven home runs in seven games in their little bandbox.

"He's turned himself into the best hitter in the game, as far as I'm concerned," said Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer, who has watched Bautista hit 14 home runs in his past 20 games against Minnesota.

Since Sept. 1, 2009, Bautista leads the majors with 80 home runs. The next highest total is 55, by Albert Pujols.

"Every single ball [Bautista] hits, whether it's a foul ball or whatever, everything's on the barrel," Cuddyer said. "I mean to me it looks like he's used one bat the whole season. It's unbelievable."

The Twins made no secret of their game plan against Bautista. They didn't want him to beat them with pitches on the inner half of home plate. Their pitchers were told to throw hard stuff several inches inside, and then try to get him to chase soft stuff in the dirt.

"We sure missed a lot of balls on the inner half of the plate," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "In this series, every time we made a mistake, he put it in the seats, and he [homered to right field] in this park twice, which is hard [for a righthanded hitter] to do."

That's hard, even for Bautista. Last year, of his major league-leading 54 home runs, only one went to the opposite field -- the shot he hit over Target Field's right field wall off Jose Mijares.

This weekend, the wind was blowing in from left field for every game. Bautista still pulled a shot into the second deck in left against Joe Nathan on Friday. On Saturday, his two-run, tiebreaking homer off Jim Hoey in the 11th inning went to right field.

On Sunday, he hit another ball into the second deck in left off Brian Duensing, before hitting two homers against Kevin Slowey -- a liner into the left field seats, and another ball over the right field wall.

"I'm just up there doing the same things I've been doing," said Bautista, who is batting .415 with 13 homers and 21 RBI in his past 19 games. "Trying to see the ball well and look for something over the plate, and trying to hit it hard. I got plenty of pitches to do that this series, I felt."

Ouch. Those are fighting words. Of course, the Twins haven't been mad enough to hit Bautista with a pitch. They haven't done that since May 18, 2010.

But in the end, he'll be sorry. He might be on pace to hit 64 home runs, but the Twins are on pace for 76.

Joe Christensen jchristensen@startribune.com

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