CHICAGO – Byron Buxton and Marwin Gonzalez returned from the injured list on Saturday, so the Twins’ lineup mostly looked like the Twins again.
Boy, did it.
On a sunny, breezy day at Guaranteed Rate Field, the Twins sent baseballs flying over outfield walls — long ones and short ones, and all over the park — the way they did in April and May.
Nelson Cruz crushed a first-inning home run just inside the right-field foul pole. Max Kepler lifted a ball into the Twins bullpen in right, then snuck another into the White Sox bullpen in left. Miguel Sano bashed a ball more than 410 feet to center field, his third home run in less than 24 hours. And Cruz capped it off by hitting the Twins’ longest home run of the season, a 469-foot ninth-inning blast to straightaway center field.
The five home runs delivered a 10-3 victory over the White Sox, and an end to their two-game losing streak. The Twins still have not lost three games in a row this season, going 7-0 immediately following back-to-back losses.
“These home runs matter. They’re not just talking points — they actually change the game very quickly,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And when you have a lineup full of guys that can do it, it just becomes a very dangerous proposition, up and down the lineup.”
Especially if the guy on the mound is good, too.
Michael Pineda allowed the first three batters he faced to reach base, worked out of the jam by giving up only one run, and then cruised to his first victory since May 16, shutting out Chicago for the next five innings. Pineda gave up four hits over six innings, walked one and struck out eight.
“It’s a big pick-me-up. We go out and score early, and they mount some kind of rally,” Baldelli said. “Big Mike found a way go get through it and navigate it.”
The Twins offense hadn’t had a day like this in awhile. They hit five or more homers in four April games, and then twice more in May. But not since May 23 against the Angels in Anaheim had the Twins’ bats exploded like this. In fact, the Twins hit as many home runs Saturday as they had during the rest of the week combined.
“Homers are homers,” said Cruz, in what may be a mantra for this team: It leads the majors with 156 home runs, already among the top 15 slugging seasons in franchise history. “We’ve been able to have good at-bats, find good pitches, and just battle, one through nine, and make sure we get the right pitch to hit. That approach, that mentality has taken us where we are.”
Not many baseballs get to where Cruz put one in the ninth inning off Jose Ruiz — though it may have brought back unpleasant memories for Twins fans who watched the team’s tie-breaking Game 163 loss here in 2008. (Think: Jim Thome.) The ball landed atop the three-tier storage area beyond the center field fence.
Even his manager was amazed, leading to a dugout discussion about “whether [bench coach Derek Shelton], with a fungo [bat] in his hand, if he could hit a ball twice and get it that far,” Baldelli joked. “We’re still not sure if he can, or if any of us can.”
Two homers, a double and a single produced five RBI for Cruz, the 17th time he’s had that many, but first with the Twins.
Kepler hadn’t homered in 10 days, but broke that drought against Chicago reliever Josh Osich in the fifth inning, driving a pitch that landed right in front of the Twins’ bench in their right-field bullpen. Two innings later, he hit a pop fly that carried just over the wall next to the left-field foul pole. The 333-foot home run is the shortest ever hit by a Twin since MLB began tracking distance by radar in 2008.
But it also gave Kepler 21 home runs this season, a new career high, and made him the Twins’ new home run leader, passing Eddie Rosario, the lone regular still injured.