The smoke machines were dusted off Saturday because the Twins clubhouse was full of life and energy after a game again.
And it had been awhile.
Eduardo Nunez capped a five-run eighth inning with a three-run homer that propelled the Twins to a 5-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays that ended a five-game losing streak as well as an eight-game home losing streak. Kevin Jepsen gave up a home run to Michael Saunders in the ninth but held on for his third save — the Twins’ first since April 16.
Nunez, one of the few bright spots in a dismal season, was 2-for-4 on Saturday and gladly joined in the postgame dance celebration the Twins have following Target Field victories.
“We’re struggling,” Nunez said as smoke continued to float through the clubhouse. “We’re battling to find hits and runs. It’s no secret, but we’re pushing.”
Toronto played most of the game without reigning American League MVP Josh Donaldson, who was ejected in the first inning when plate umpire Toby Basner thought the third baseman was yelling at him as he was trotting back after a groundout, when Donaldson actually was yelling at the Twins dugout. Perhaps it was a sign things would be different for the Twins on Saturday.
“To have his bat out of the lineup certainly doesn’t hurt our causes,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
Lefthander Pat Dean, making his first major league start, held Toronto to two runs — coming on a Jose Bautista home run in the third inning, the Toronto star’s 13th career homer in 20 games at Target Field — through six innings. Dean kept the game within reach as the Twins figured out Blue Jays lefthander J.A. Happ, who didn’t give up a hit until Nunez’s double in the fourth.
That was the Twins’ only hit going into the eighth, when newest Twin Robbie Grossman slapped a single to left and Darin Mastroianni, without a hit in 11 plate appearances since being called up from Class AAA Rochester, drew his second walk of the game to put two men on.
Kurt Suzuki, a hit shy of 1,000 for his career, tried to bunt the runners over but popped out to Happ. Twins fans, who were outcheered for most of the game by the large contingent of Blue Jays fans in attendance, unleashed boos as Suzuki went back to the dugout.
But Danny Santana changed the mood on the next pitch, doubling into the right field corner to score two runs and tie the score at 2-2. It was only the switch-hitting Santana’s second hit off a lefthanded pitcher this season.
Happ was replaced by righthander Gavin Floyd, who plunked Brian Dozier to put two runners on for Nunez. Molitor praised Nunez for having good game plans against the pitchers he faces each day. Nunez went even deeper than that on Saturday — he was teammates on the Yankees with Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin, so Nunez tried to think along with him.
“On the second pitch I checked my swing, and [Martin] thought I wasn’t ready,” said Nunez, batting .331 with a team-high eight doubles. “But I was looking for a slider. Maybe he thought I was not ready for that pitch. So I prepared for that pitch.”
Martin asked for another fastball, and Nunez was on it, driving it an estimated 417 feet and into the seats in left. Of the Twins’ 40 homers this season, only 10 have come with men on base.
“They were trying to go in on him, but they left one out [over the plate] and he got it,” Molitor said. “We haven’t had a lot of big hits to put us over the hump, but today we got one.”