OAKLAND, CALIF. – Manager Paul Molitor had the Twins out on the field early Friday afternoon for a refresher workout following the All-Star break. After four days off, it was time to resume their surprising season.
“They all realize that the time off goes by too fast,” Molitor said. “When they are back here they know what the task is at hand.”
How could they not? The Twins didn’t want an All-Star break after winning six of their previous seven games. They wanted to ride the wave.
Molitor had nothing to worry about Friday night. The Twins picked up where they left off with a 5-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum.
“We talked about putting the first half behind us,” third baseman Trevor Plouffe said. “It doesn’t mean anything now. We put ourselves in a good position, but you have to finish.”
Brian Dozier led off the game with a homer before Plouffe buried the A’s with a grand slam in the sixth, backing a strong start by Ervin Santana.
“To go from one to five with one swing, that’s a big differential,” Molitor said.
Both homers came off All-Star righthander Sonny Gray, who gave up two home runs in a game for the first time in his career and tied a season high with five earned runs allowed.
The Royals split a doubleheader with the White Sox, so the Twins picked up a half-game on Kansas City and trail the Royals by four games in the Central Division.
Santana threw everything he had at Oakland and found himself breezing into the late innings with a shutout in only his third start since serving an 80-game suspension for testing positive for an performance-enhancing drug. In 7⅔ innings, he gave up five hits with one walk and one strikeout. Brian Duensing retired the final four batters in the Twins’ eighth shutout of the season.
“He’s prideful,” Molitor said of Santana, who improved to 15-6 with a 2.03 ERA in his career against the A’s. “He knows what has transpired here the first half of the season and he might not say it, but after the first couple of games I think he was anxious to get a win and contribute.”
Dozier, who hit three home runs during last week’s homestand and another in Tuesday’s All-Star Game, hit a 2-2 pitch over the left-field wall for his 20th homer of the season. It also was his fifth leadoff homer of the season and 12th of his career.
Gray and Santana dueled for several innings after that, as Santana was crafty with his offspeed stuff and Gray unhittable at times.
But Gray couldn’t keep it up. In the sixth, he walked Dozier to lead off the 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 0-2 but battled back to draw a walk and load the bases. That brought up Plouffe, who promptly fell behind 0-2.
Plouffe then fouled off a pitch. On the next pitch, Gray tried to get a high slider past Plouffe, but the third baseman got it, sending a towering drive that barely got over the scoreboard in left-center for his second grand slam of the season and a 5-0 Twins lead.
“To be honest, I thought it was a sac fly, the way [Ben] Zobrist went after it,” Plouffe said. “I think it was a little wind-aided over there. I’ll take that.”