CLEVELAND – The Twins had not scored more than three runs in any of J.A. Happ's first three starts with his new team, so this was a different feeling. By the time the veteran lefthander took the mound Wednesday, he owned a 4-0 lead.
"That was huge. That got us going, and got us up. Obviously, we're fired up," Happ said of the Twins' three-homer first inning in their 10-2 victory over Cleveland. "We're fighting, man, and it hasn't been going our way. So it was huge to jump out to that lead and get some quality energy in the dugout."
Happ fed that energy, too, turning in only the Twins' third seven-inning start of the season thus far — he's had two of them, in back-to-back starts now — and surrendering only two runs on four hits.
Nobody was more impressed, and grateful, than his catcher.
"That guy's been doing it forever. I think he's the most steady pitcher that we have," Mitch Garver said after Happ lowered his ERA to 1.96, fifth-best in the American League. "He's pitched for some big teams in some big moments. I mean, he's been there, he knows how to control his emotions when he gets out there, and he's a real competitor. I really enjoy working with him."
Happ held the Pirates hitless into the eighth inning Friday, but the Twins hadn't won since then. That fact made Happ's seven strong innings even more important, because it meant only Randy Dobnak was needed to pitch in relief.
"That's always in the back of your mind a little bit," said Happ, who needed 96 pitches to record those 21 outs. "I knew I was going to be close to 100 [pitches] and I just wanted to maximize those and make those [innings] as quality as I could."
The Twins hit six home runs Wednesday, the 20th time in their history they have hit at least a half-dozen, half of which have occurred in the past six seasons. And they nearly made it seven.
After Alex Kirilloff singled, Byron Buxton doubled and Josh Donaldson walked, Nelson Cruz came up in the second inning with the bases loaded. He fouled off a slider from reliever Trevor Stephan, then whistled a 106 mph line drive over Josh Naylor's head and toward the seats in right field.
Cruz's blast didn't have enough height, though, and it hit the top of the wall, missing a grand slam by about 18 inches. Kirilloff jogged home, Buxton nearly caught him by the time they arrived at the plate, and Donaldson slid into third base.
Cruz? He stopped at first base, content with a two-RBI, 360-foot single.
And he immediately heard about it. Cruz could be seen laughing and yelling toward his dugout 50 feet away.
"I think Nellie made the right decision on the play," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "I also think he's the kind of guy that has such a good time with his teammates … he likes that back-and-forth and the banter. I'm sure there were a few people yelling at him about it."
Still, six homers were plenty. The Twins are 19-1 when they connect on six or more.
Hentges taken deep by Garver
Seven years since being drafted shortly after graduating from Mounds View High, Sam Hentges has now been in the major leagues for just over a week. He made his MLB debut on April 20, earned his first big-league victory Sunday, and Wednesday got to pitch against his hometown team.
Hentges, a 6-6 lefthander, pitched three innings, and if not for Garver, they would have been shutout innings. But Hentges gave up both of Garver's two home runs on errant fastballs.
Still, it might turn out to be an important day in the Minnesotan's career. Cleveland cut another lefthander, veteran Oliver Perez, before the game, and after it was over, optioned Logan Allen to their alternate site. That could keep Hentges in the majors, and even get him promoted to Cleveland's starting rotation.