'Little Piranhas' down White Sox
Castillo, Punto, Bartlett and Tyner spark offense
MINNEAPOLIS -- Some teams root for big home runs to help them pull off victories against their fiercest division rivals.And then, there's the Twins who root for the types of hits other teams try to avoid. "A lot of teams, I'm sure, go, 'Man, I hope this guy hits a home run,' but we're rooting for a 20-hopper up the middle and a blooper," catcher Mike Redmond said with a laugh. "It's pretty funny, but that's Twins ball." The Twins certainly displayed their type of baseball in a 10-4 victory over the White Sox on Monday at the Metrodome. The kind of play that earned them the moniker of "Little Piranhas" by Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen just one year ago. The Twins knew they had a difficult task at hand while facing White Sox ace Jose Contreras. In his 17 previous career innings at the Metrodome, Contreras had allowed just one earned run. This time would be a far different story as Contreras gave up seven runs on 10 hits over 5 1/3 innings. The Twins drove up Contreras' pitch count with the right-hander tossing 114 pitches in his short outing. And it was the club's ability to do the little things like stealing bases, laying down bunts and delivering chop hits that seemed to frustrate Contreras. "We try to stay aggressive," said Nick Punto, who was given the title of the club's lead piranha. "When you're facing a dominant pitcher like Contreras, you're not going to hit a lot of doubles and home runs. If you get that bunt base hit or chopper off the plate, you've got to take that next base by stealing a base." The Twins weren't able to produce this type of victory early in the season, when hits and offense were hard to come by. But in a game fueled by an intense rivalry that's always sparked by some sort of controversy, it seemed that the Twins were finally able to get back to their version of small ball. The Little Piranhas provided much of the offense against Chicago as Luis Castillo, Jason Bartlett, Jason Tyner and Punto combined for eight hits and five runs on the day. Choppers off the plate have now become a regular tool in the Twins hitting repertoire and not just for the piranhas. Just one day after Justin Morneau displayed his version of a chop and slide into first base, Hunter delivered yet another chopper off home plate in a critical situation. "I just joked with [Twins manager Ron Gardenhire] like, 'Are you teaching that over there now?'" White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "Torii and I had a good laugh when he hit his, and I saw the one Morneau hit yesterday. They got the ground in front of home plate nice and hard, and Castillo's one of the best I've ever seen at it." Pierzynski might have gotten a laugh about the choppers but it was a play earlier that inning, involving the always controversial catcher, which seemed to spark the Twins' comeback after falling behind, 4-3. In the top of the sixth inning with a runner on first and one out, Pierzynski hit into a routine double play. Well, not so routine after Pierzynski stepped on the inside of the first-base bag and clipped a piece of Morneau's foot with his spikes. Pierzynski's intent aside, the Twins reacted quickly to the play. A ruckus erupted inside the Twins dugout and even sent Gardenhire into his own little tirade with the umpires. And it clearly sparked a change in the Twins offense, as the club put together a five-run sixth inning that helped end Contreras' day and gave them the lead for good. "I guess he woke up a sleeping dog," Hunter said. "And you don't want to do that." That's because the Twins offense took the newfound momentum and translated it into their fair share of runs. The five-run inning began with two big hits from the club's Nos. 8 and 9 hitters. More small ball followed to knot the game up after Hunter's chopper scored one run and loaded the bases. That's when Redmond delivered a two-out, bases-clearing double that pretty much sealed the victory for Minnesota. Just what Guillen would call piranha-type baseball. "Those guys chipped away," Guillen said. "The last couple of innings, the bottom of the lineup did its job. They got big hits and they never give up. They play good baseball and we didn't." It was the type of victory the Twins have been waiting to put together, one where things clicked with hitting, defense and pitching. Besides just the piranhas' play, the Twins also got a strong start by Johan Santana, who went eight innings and allowed four runs on seven hits. And no typical game featuring the Twins style of play would be complete without a signature catch by Hunter. That's what happened in the eighth inning, when Hunter went above the left-center-field wall to rob Jim Thome of a solo home run. Picking up a win like the one Monday was a good sign for the club that now sits in fourth place in the American League Central, seven games back of the division-leading Indians. "It was definitely good to see everything going like that," Santana said. "We're pitching; we're hitting and we've had good defense, so that's always good. Now, we have to take advantage of that, and hopefully, keep doing it that way." With two more games still to play in the intense series, there will no doubt be many more chances for the Twins to build upon their small-ball persona. But right now, the team seems satisfied just to get wins any way it can. "No matter what happens in the game, anytime you beat Chicago it's a good day," Monreau said.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.