You can’t beat these Twins outfielders for versatility. They’re showing new talents every day.
Take Aaron Hicks, for instance. His day included a horizontal dive of a catch, a bullet of a throw and, for the first time in his career, a base hit that wasn’t a single.
Or Josh Willingham. He Paul Bunyan-ed a slider about 350 feet up and 350 feet out, a historic two-run homer that helped deliver the Twins’ 7-2 victory over the Rangers. Not satisfied with merely passing Jim Thome as Target Field’s all-time leading slugger, he stole a base, then scored from second on an infield hit — not that either play was as kill-you-with-speed as it looks on paper. Truthfully, he looked a little like Thome on the bases, too.
But those contributions from the outfield, plus five solid innings from once-a-fortnight lefthander Pedro Hernandez, added up to an encouraging, streak-snapping, upbeat victory.
“A beautiful day,” Gardenhire said after the Twins returned to .500 by breaking their three-game skid, and he wasn’t just talking about the weather. “Our pitching was fantastic ... and we made some great defensive plays.”
One was a run-whirl-and-throw by Hicks that cut down Nelson Cruz at second, giving Hicks back-to-back games with an assist.
“A pellet to second base, early in the game when they’re trying to be aggressive,” Gardenhire said approvingly. “That set a nice tone.”
So did Hicks’ long run and acrobatic dive for A.J. Pierzynski’s sinking liner, probably the new center fielder’s finest catch yet. “There was a split second where I didn’t think I had it,” Hicks said, “but it hung up there just enough.”
The same could be said for the 83-mph slider that Rangers starter Derek Holland tried to sneak past Willingham in the sixth inning.
“I had in the back of my mind he might throw an off-speed pitch” with a 3-1 count, Willingham said. “He probably threw it where he didn’t want to.”
Yep. Right where Willingham could reach it and rocket it into the clouds, had there been any. “It was so high, we didn’t know if it would go,” Gardenhire said. “But he crushed it.”
He did, giving him 25 home runs in Target Field to pass Thome, and helping to deliver the infrequently-used Hernandez’s first career victory.
But Willingham and Hicks weren’t done. After an eighth-inning single, Willingham broke for second base as reliever Michael Kirkman tried a pickoff move. Willingham beat the relay, but with an awkward, tumbling slide that ended with him rolling on the ground. His left knee was wrapped in ice afterward, a result of a “tweak” on the play.
“I think he just wanted to fill something on his stat sheet,” Gardenhire joked. “Man on a mission out there.”
Even more so when Wilkin Ramirez hit a hard grounder that bounced off second baseman Ian Kinsler’s glove and bounced high in the air. Willingham heard the crowd roar and thought the ball had gotten through to the outfield, so he ran through coach Joe Vavra’s stop sign.
“I don’t know what I was thinking, to be honest,” Willingham said. “I just kept running, and looked up, and [Kinsler] was about to throw it. I was like, ‘Oh well.’ ” But Kinsler’s throw was off-line, and Willingham scored.
Two batters later, Hicks hit a sharp grounder down the third-base line and collected his first career extra-base hit, a double that drove in another run.