CLEVELAND – Two-strike hits and two-out runs. Almost as promising as the Twins’ 8-1 record in May is this: Even the team’s youngest players are learning how to come through in the clutch.
Kennys Vargas, Eduardo Escobar and Eddie Rosario — average age: 24 — smacked back-to-back-to-back two-out, run-scoring singles Saturday, helping the Twins keep their May magic alive with a 7-4 victory over the Indians.
“Kids. Yeah,” manager Paul Molitor said after his team moved — who would have thought this possible? — within 1½ games of first place in the AL Central. “We talk a lot about how [confidence] plays with a young team. Confidence is the way you get the best results. It’s a matter of finding a way to sustain it.”
The trio of Vargas, Escobar and Rosario found a way to sustain an inning that was on the verge of fizzling, and “it really changed the complexion of the game,” Molitor said. After a Dozier double and a Torii Hunter single got the third inning started against Cleveland starter Bruce Chen, Joe Mauer and Kurt Suzuki struck out. That brought up the kids — and the rally was alive once more.
Vargas smashed a single to left, scoring Dozier. Escobar got down 0-and-2, then hit a grounder up the middle for an infield hit that scored Hunter. Rosario, in his fourth major league game, got behind 0-2 as well but then punched another single into left field that scored Vargas from second.
“Rosario, he’s learning, but he’s up there with an idea and a plan. To get a hit in that situation was big,” Molitor said. “You go from potentially squandering an opportunity to putting three on the board there,” and those runs gave Phil Hughes a cushion as he worked his way toward his second consecutive victory.
Of course, not everyone on the team is so young. Matter of fact, Torii Hunter is just two months short of turning 40, yet he now leads the Twins with a .295 average, five home runs (tying him with Trevor Plouffe) and 19 RBI. Hunter followed up his 4-for-4 night on Friday with hits in his first three at-bats Saturday, including a first-inning home run.
“It was a good run. I had a good swing going,” Hunter said. “Nobody can be perfect for long. You keep the same rhythm, the same swing — I tried to keep it as long as I could.”
That’s the Twins’ plan for this streak of offense, too, especially now that they are closer to first place this late in the season than any point since winning the division in 2010. The relentless hitting has made them the majors’ top-scoring team this month. The Twins have collected 10 or more hits in six of their nine games in May, and they have scored six or more runs six times, too. Saturday, everyone in the lineup except No. 9 hitter Danny Santana provided a base hit, and six players had more than one.
“We’re playing good baseball,” Molitor said, “and we’re getting rewarded in the win column.”
Even Hughes was, though it turned out more difficult than he had planned. He gave up only three singles through five innings, then surrendered a run on three singles in the sixth. And in the seventh, two doubles and a pinch-hit home run by David Murphy abruptly ended his day.
The Indians loaded the bases off Hughes (2-4) and reliever Brian Duensing, but Molitor turned to his best setup man, lefty Aaron Thompson, to get out of trouble. He did on four pitches, getting Lonnie Chisenhall to fly out to shallow center.
“It’s been an incredible story [over] the first fifth of the season. I don’t know where exactly our bullpen would stand without [Thompson’s] contributions,” Molitor said. “Today, with Brian having a little trouble with the command, to come in there and bail us out from the precipice of disaster, that was just another indication of the value he’s had to our team.”