Whoever this guy wearing the No. 45 jersey is, he doesn’t pitch like Phil Hughes.
A first-inning grand slam? A 35-pitch inning? Two walks? None of that fits in with Hughes’ Minnesota résumé. And neither does this: He got the win.
“We told him we were going to fight to get back into the game,” manager Paul Molitor said, “so putting up those zeroes like he did, we responded.”
So did Hughes, who recovered from that first-inning torture session to keep his team in the game for six innings, and when the Twins finally cashed in against the Oakland bullpen, he earned his first victory of the season, 8-7 over the Athletics.
Brian Dozier doubled twice and drove in a pair of runs; Jordan Schafer collected three hits, two RBI and one diving catch so challenging that the umpire missed the call; and Torii Hunter blasted a three-run homer more than 400 feet deep in the sixth to put the Twins in front for good.
The Twins now own a five-game winning streak, their longest in more than two years, and at 14-12, they are two games above .500 for the first time since last May 21 (23-21). It also means they are closer to first place than last in the AL Central, a remarkable turnaround for a team that opened 1-6, and they have now scored exactly as many runs (113) as they’ve allowed.
For Hughes, it’s a long-awaited first win and comes complete with a couple of that’s-baseball ironies: It was probably his worst start in months, perhaps one of his worst as a Twin. And after the Twins provided him with only nine runs of support in his first five starts, they came up with eight in this one.
“My goal was just to eat some innings for us, keep us in the game, and hopefully the guys would score some runs,” said Hughes (1-4). “Not having very good stuff and command tonight, thankfully the guys backed me up with a lot of runs.”
And a little defense, too. Schafer had the highlight, racing in to swipe Billy Burns’ sinking liner to center just before it hit the ground in the eighth, ending the inning and saving a run. The odd part of the play: Schafer hopped to his feet and jogged in toward the dugout, passing umpire Todd Tichenor as he neared the baseline — as Tichenor was signaling that he trapped it.
“I knew I caught the ball, [so] they’re going to replay it regardless,” said Schafer, who also added 43 points to his batting average with a three-hit night. “I almost didn’t pay attention. If the ball had been live and the [baserunner] would have ran, I really wasn’t paying attention.”
Molitor quickly challenged Tichenor’s call, and once the replay was shown on the scoreboard, the Twins were already in their dugout when the umpires overturned the call. And Molitor gave Schafer a hug.
“I don’t want to be Tommy Lasorda,” Molitor joked, “but it was just one of those moments. It hasn’t been real smooth for that guy, but I see him out there working today on his swing, and his bunting, and his jumps on the bases. He’s always reading balls off the bat in batting practice, and today he got rewarded.”
As was Hunter, who has gotten hot during this homestand. With the score tied 5-5 in the sixth, he crushed a fastball from J.R. Alvarez to score three runs, then roared in celebration.
“I looked at the bench and said, ‘Hey! Let’s go!’ Screaming and yelling, just trying to pump my guys up,” Hunter said. “I’ve got a little fire sometimes. Nothing against Oakland or the pitcher, it’s just fire.”