OAKLAND -- This is what the Twins envisioned as spring training wound down.

Ervin Santana pitching deep into games. Someone - in this case, Trevor Plouffe - providing a big hit. And the Twins sustaining momentum as they make an improbable run for the postseason.

Happy endings like the one on Friday, a 5-0 victory over the Athletics, were expected to occur frequently once the season started. And they actually did, just not by Santana because he had to serve a suspension for using a banned substance right as the season started.

Now with the team, Santana worked his way into the eighth inning as he won his first game as a Twin. Plouffe's grand slam put the game out of reach. And the Twins have won seven of their last eight and are four games back of the Royals in the AL Central but remain wild card leaders.

Santana held the A's to five hits with one walk and one strikeout. That strikeout didn't occur until the eighth inning, as Santana threw plenty of off speed pitches at Oakland hitters. After the game, Plouffe presented Santana with the game ball, and Santana proudly said it is going up in his house.

``My first win as a Twin,'' he said with a grin.

The Twins can now dream again of how Santana can join a rotation that posted a 3.86 starter's ERA before the All-Star break and see if it can lead the Twins into the postseason.

``I think it is big for him,'' Plouffe said of Santana. ``It is big for us. We know what kind of pitcher he is. He's got a track record. He's got everything we want in a pitcher. He works fast, throws strikes, holds runners well. He's going to be a big boost to our rotation.''

Twins manager Paul Molitor tabbed Santana to start the first game following the break because he was fresh. He also has good numbers against Oakland and it also put him in line to pitch next week in Anaheim, where he began his career.

Santana had to work his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the third inning, then he enjoyed run of nine straight retired batters. He threw one pitch at 91 miles an hour and threw a bevy of sliders and change ups at Oakland with fairly reliable command.

``He didn't have the velocity that we have seen him have at times,'' Molitor said, ``but it seemed like he was really focused on location. He was down, slider effective to lefties and righties and he threw enough fastballs to keep them honest. I thought his change up was the best of the first three games we have seen him.''

Santana was lifted in the eighth with two outs and runners on first and third, but Brian Duensing got out of the inning. In 27 career starts against the A's, Santana is 15-6 with a 2.03 ERA. Yeah, a no brainer to fire him out right after the break,

The Twins took a 1-0 lead five pitches into the game when Brian Dozier hit his 20th homer of the season. It was his fifth leadoff home run of the season and 12th of his career. Oakland righthander Sonny Gray was tough after that and dueled with Santana until the sixth inning.

Dozier walked to lead off the sixth inning. Torii Hunter, who turns 40 on Saturday, singled to left. Joe Mauer, at the end of an eight-pitch at bat, could not check his swing in time and struck out.

Miguel Sano fell behind Gray 1-2 but battled back to draw a walk. That brought up Plouffe, who promptly fell behind 0-2 but began fouling off pitches.

Gray tried to pump a high slider by Plouffe but the third baseman got it, sending a towering drive that barely got over the scoreboard in left for his second grad slam of the season and a 5-0 Twins lead. Plouffe's other grand slam came on May 3 off of White Sox lefthander John Danks.

``To be honest I thought it was a sacrifice fly, the way Zobrist went after it,'' Plouffe said. ``I think it was a little wind-aided over there. I'll take that.''

Nothing wrong with beginning the second half the way you ended the first half.

``We talked about putting the first half behind us,'' Plouffe said. ``It doesn't mean anything now. We put ourselves in a good position but you have to finish.''


 

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