CHICAGO – What an ugly day for the Twins. They struck out 25 times, surrendered four home runs, and went 1-for-18 with runners in scoring position.
Oh, and swept a doubleheader for the first time since last September.
The normally power-challenged Twins launched seven home runs in two games, six of them solo shots and one grand slam by Justin Morneau, and rode the U.S. Cellular Field jet stream to 7-5 and 3-2 comeback victories over the last-place White Sox.
All 10 Twins runs over the two games were driven in by homers, just as five of Chicago’s seven runs were. Morneau bashed two homers, including his first grand slam since 2009, to win the first game, and Oswaldo Arcia cannoned a baseball into the seats in each game, the second one breaking a 2-2 tie in the 10th inning of the nightcap.
“This is a place where you know you don’t have to overswing,” Morneau deadpanned after connecting on the 13th and 14th home runs of his career in the homer-friendly home of the White Sox. “I was lucky enough to come up there with the bases loaded. I hit a two-strike pitch and put the barrel to it. It was a good feeling.”
Those happy feelings pervaded the entire team, even as the Twins were racking up the strikeouts once again, even as they were leaving runners stranded on base. They overcame those worries with heartening, perhaps corner-turning, pitching performances by young starters Kyle Gibson and Liam Hendriks, some amazing range by outfielders Arcia and Clete Thomas, and shutdown contributions from nearly every member of their bullpen.
Brian Duensing was the pitcher of record when the Twins rallied into the lead in both games, striking out the only batter he faced in the first game and pitching a 1-2-3 ninth in the second to become the first pitcher since Luis Vizcaino of the Yankees in 2007 to be credited with two victories in one day.
Duensing’s feat moved him into third place on the Twins in wins this year with six (trailing Sam Deduno and Kevin Correia, who have seven apiece). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the first time ever that a Twins pitcher recorded two victories in one day. The last pitcher in franchise history to do so was the Big Train himself, Walter Johnson, back on Sept. 17, 1923 with the old Washington Senators.
“That’s just being in the right place in the right time,” said Duensing (6-1). “It was a little crazy out there, with everyone hitting the ball out. I was just trying to execute my pitches. If you think about, ‘Don’t give up homers, don’t make mistakes,’ you’re probably going to.”
Gibson and Hendriks didn’t make many against a White Sox lineup lacking Alex Rios after the outfielder was traded to Texas before the start of Game 1. Gibson gave up three runs, including home runs to Paul Konerko and Alexei Ramirez, over 5⅔ innings, and he walked three. But he got through the first four innings having given up only one run, the best of his eight starts this year.
“I felt a whole lot better today,” he said. “I worked a lot on trying to stay relaxed. I threw a lot more quality strikes.”
Hendriks knew his start was more emergency than audition, since he was added to the roster as the 26th man, eligible only for a doubleheader. “When I checked into the hotel, they said I was checking out on the 10th,” he said with a smile. “I knew there was a very slim chance I would stay around,” and he was indeed sent back to Class AAA Rochester after the game.
But not until after Hendriks pitched 6⅓ strong innings, including four 1-2-3 innings. Ramirez — who had not homered since April 3, 451 at-bats ago, until connecting twice on Friday — and Blake Tekotte, who hit his first career homer, each victimized Hendriks, but the Aussie righthander mostly breezed through his start.
Part of that was thanks to some track-meet defense by outfielders Arcia and Clete Thomas, each of whom made outstanding running catches. Thomas ran down a Dayan Viciedo fly ball in the deepest part of the park to end the sixth inning, saving two certain Chicago runs.
“Without a doubt, those guys were unreal,” Hendriks said. “It’s a lot of fun watching those guys run, track balls down.”
The Twins, though, were putting baseballs where no outfielder could track them down. In addition to Morneau and Arcia’s two-homer days, they also received solo homers from Chris Colabello, Chris Herrmann and — connecting for the first time since June 2 — Josh Willingham, who was activated Friday morning after missing 33 games due to knee surgery.
“This place has never changed — the ball flies here in the summer, and that’s just the way it is,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’ve seen them do it to us too many times. You never feel like you’re safe here, I don’t care how many runs it is.”
For one day, at least, seven home runs was safe enough.