CLEVELAND – A March 19 spring training game against Pittsburgh in Bradenton, Fla., was rained out. Tommy Milone needed to get his work in, and Juan Centeno volunteered to catch him in a simulated game back at Fort Myers while other Twins players left for home.
“It was 5:30 in the afternoon and he stepped up and wanted to catch it,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “You notice little things like that.”
Molitor remembered that as the Twins called up Centeno on May 6. And Centeno has taken advantage of the playing time he has received as the backup catcher, like hitting his first major league home run Saturday, which gave the Twins the lead for good in a 6-3 victory over Cleveland that ended an eight-game losing streak.
The Twins won on the road for only the third time all season as Centeno went 2-for-3 with two RBI and two runs. His two-run homer in the fifth came off 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and gave the Twins life in a season that has seen few such moments.
After the game, the 26-year-old Centeno held up the home run ball, which was retrieved for him, and the Puerto Rico native said he is going to put it next to the ball he used to throw out his first runner.
“It means a lot,” said Centeno, hitting .455 in four games with the Twins. “We’re a team, and every time I get a chance to help the team I do it proudly.”
Kluber left a 0-1 fastball over the plate, and the lefthanded-hitting Centeno drove it to right. Right fielder Marlon Byrd went to the warning track, turned and looked up as the ball landed in the second row of seats.
What was equally impressive was that the Twins continued to add runs off Kluber and the Indians bullpen after Centeno’s home run. Eddie Rosario beat out a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded in the sixth to score Trevor Plouffe and make it 3-1. Danny Santana led off the seventh with a double to right, moved to third on Joe Mauer’s grounder and scored on a sacrifice fly by Eduardo Nunez.
Cleveland scored a run off Ryan Pressly in the eighth, but he struck out Mike Napoli with runners on the corners to escape a jam, and Centeno led off the ninth with double and scored the first of two runs that made it 6-2.
Kevin Jepsen gave up a two-out homer to Yan Gomes in the bottom of the inning, but the Twins were able to enjoy only their second victory of the month while praising Centeno, a minor league free-agent acquisition last offseason who has had brief major league stints with the Mets and Brewers.
“To have Kluber as your first [home run], it’s something to brag about for a long time,” Molitor said. “I’ve really been pleased the couple times we have put him in there. He doesn’t seem overwhelmed by being in the batter’s box or handling the pitching staff.”
Twins righthander Ervin Santana, went six innings, holding Cleveland to one run on five hits and one walk with five strikeouts. Kluber was charged with four runs over 6⅓ innings. He allowed seven hits and three walks, with seven strikeouts.
And the Twins have a chance on Sunday to do something they haven’t done since April 25-27, also against the Indians: win a series. And it would be their first series victory on the road.
“I feel a little relieved,” Molitor said. “It’s one of those things where we’re trying to continue to find ways where we’re trying to re-instill some confidence here. Even when we have days where we might be showing some signs of life, we find ways to lose.
“So discouragement has been there, and so at some point you have to find a way to win and get one on the board and see where it goes. There’s no guarantees about tomorrow, but I think everyone will rest a little easier tonight.”