Kennys Vargas pounded one home run after another during batting practice Monday, a Mark McGwire-esque show that pleased fans who arrived early but annoyed his manager. “He slows everybody down,” Paul Molitor complained, “because he’s got to watch every one of them.”
Nobody minded, though, when Vargas’ performance continued once the game actually started. The designated hitter singled three times and cannoned a 425-foot home run into the upper deck above the bullpens, one of Twins four home runs in a 13-2 pummeling of the White Sox.
Ah, the White Sox — how the Twins have missed you. After a month of averaging fewer than three runs a game, after a week of tense, low-scoring National League games, the Twins feasted on their favorite meal: White Sox pitching. The Twins have scored a dozen or more runs four times this season, and three of them came against Chicago; the Twins have outscored their AL Central “rivals” 70-28 in winning eight of their 11 games.
For Vargas and Byron Buxton, they couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Vargas was 6-for-26 since being recalled, with no walks and 13 strikeouts, and was beginning to fear a plane ticket to Rochester might be in his future. So for the past week, he has put in extra work with hitting coaches Tom Brunansky and Rudy Hernandez (and Twins legend Tony Oliva, too), trying to stop his ground-ball tendencies.
“I’ve just been trying to hit the ball hard and try to elevate it,” Vargas said. “It worked.”
It did in batting practice, where Molitor was impressed with his shorter stroke, and it did against the White Sox. The four hits were a career high, the four RBI were a nice bonus, and his spirits are noticeably higher.
“As much as that at-bat, I really like the base hit in his last at-bat,” Molitor said of a seventh-inning line drive. “He saw a couple lefthanders roll over on sinkers and he kind of stayed through that one and drove it out toward the gap. It’s amazing what a couple of hits can do in terms of how you feel at the plate.”
Buxton knows that, too. The rookie center fielder, a 3-for-25 “bust” batting ninth, returned to his normal spot atop the lineup Monday and immediately — like, on the third pitch — began fulfilling his much-hyped promise. Buxton lobbed a looper into right-center, a routine single that he turned into an electrifying double by going to the afterburners. When Brian Dozier followed with a single, Buxton was rounding third faster than coach Gene Glynn could wave his arm.
Joe Mauer and Eduardo Nunez hit missiles into the left-field stands in the Twins’ five-run fourth inning, and Vargas knocked Danks out in the sixth with his three-run shot. In the eighth, Dozier made it the Twins’ first four-homer game since last Aug. 22.
Buxton wasn’t done, however. When Melky Cabrera tried to score from second base on Adam LaRoche’s sharp single in the third inning, Buxton scooped up the ball and rifled a perfect throw, on the fly, to catcher Kurt Suzuki, who tagged Cabrera in plenty of time. “It was a tough play, too,” Molitor said. “He didn’t really get a smooth hop, it was almost like an in-between hop, and yet he somehow got centered on it enough to get in position to make the throw.”
Buxton collected another outfield assist on a strange play when Brian Dozier couldn’t make a running, back-to-the-plate catch of a Gordon Beckham popup; the rookie grabbed the ball and, noticing Beckham trying to surprise the defense by taking second base, ran the ball in and flipped it to Tommy Milone for an out.
“Fun night,” Torii Hunter said after the victory dance party. “We needed that.”