First place. It really doesn’t mean anything in late May.
Then again, it does.
By overcoming an early deficit to beat Boston 6-4 on Wednesday at Target Field — combined with the Royals losing to the Yankees in New York — the Twins moved into a tie for first place in the American League Central Division.
If only the season ended today.
But the lofty position is a result of how the Twins have been on a run of total baseball after looking overmatched during the first week of the season. They don’t give games away as they have in recent years, they are driving in runs with men in scoring position, and the unheralded bullpen has been a force. Because of that, they have a share of first place, a spot they have not occupied this late since the end of the 2010 season.
And they swept the Red Sox in a series for the first time since 2006.
So, yes, they feel good about where they are.
“There has to be [pride],” righthander Phil Hughes said. “The way we started this year, we were down and the guys battled and the guys have played some really good ball lately. So hopefully that continues.”
The Twins have won five in a row, six of seven and 19 of their past 25. Since the first week of the season, they have gone 27-12. On Wednesday, there were highlights from every area.
Aside from a pair of two-run homers by Boston’s Dustin Pedroia, Hughes shut down the Red Sox offense.
“That’s a big ‘besides,’ ” Hughes joked.
Hughes gave up four runs on six hits with three strikeouts in 6 ⅔ innings. He didn’t walk a batter for the fifth time this season. He hasn’t lost a start since April 24 in Seattle — and he pitched a complete game in that outing.
He benefited from some nice defense. Left fielder Eddie Rosario jumped at the wall to grab Blake Swihart’s drive with a runner on second to end the seventh. Then right fielder Torii Hunter made the catch of the day when he ran in and toward the foul line to make a sliding catch of Pedroia’s sinking fly in the eighth. The slide helped him avoid the wall and Joe Mauer — and the Twins avoided having Pedroia get a leadoff double in a close game.
“I saw Mauer,” Hunter said. “He’s 6-6 and you don’t want to run into a guy like that. So I kind of slid away from him, stuck my arm out, burned my knee a little bit. It’s OK. It’s a long way from the heart.”
Pedroia put the Red Sox up 2-0 in the third with his first two-run homer, which ended the Twins’ streak of scoring first in nine consecutive games. The Twins, who entered Wednesday third in baseball in batting average with runners in scoring position, responded with three runs in the bottom of the inning.
Two runs scored when Hunter fought off a sinker on his hands from righthander Rick Porcello to dump a two-run single down the right-field line.
“Torii stayed inside that two-seamer,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “He didn’t hit it hard but he knew he wanted to keep from rolling over, and that’s what a veteran professional hitter will do.”
Mauer lined a single to left to drive in Brian Dozier and make it 3-2. Aaron Hicks blasted a two-run homer to right in the fourth before Pedroia’s second homer of the game in the fifth made it 5-4. Rosario ended the scoring with a 433-foot homer in the sixth.
Reliever Blaine Boyer, a revelation to this point, got the day off. So Ryan Pressly, Aaron Thompson and Michael Tonkin worked the eighth. Then Glen Perkins remained perfect as a closer, pitching a 1-2-3 ninth to go 18-for-18 in save situations.
About 15 minutes after the final out, the Royals were beaten by the Yankees. And the Twins, after a lengthy absence, returned to first place.
“There’s a lot of things to be optimistic about,” Molitor said. “We keep preaching, all you have is the next game.”