Hunter homers Twins over Mets
Offense, defense, pitching come together in series finale
NEW YORK -- If there is one thing that has hurt the Twins more than anything this season, it's been their inconsistency.One night, it's good pitching but a lack of clutch hitting. The next, it's plenty of hits but a less-than-solid night on the mound. And even nights of uncharacteristically poor defense have hindered the Twins this season. So after watching his club put together two straight games featuring strong pitching, offense and defense against a tough Mets club, including a 6-2 victory on Wednesday night, manager Ron Gardenhire couldn't have been more pleased. "It was the whole package, and that's what we're looking for," Gardenhire said. "We're swinging the bats better, stealing some bases and getting hit-and-runs. It's a good feeling. You can tell guys are into it." Another strong offensive performance was key, but the big storyline heading into Wednesday's game was starter Scott Baker. With Baker coming off four straight subpar performances, the question had been raised as to whether Matt Garza might be called up from Triple-A Rochester to replace him. Gardenhire stressed that the club was not thinking negatively, but it was clear that Baker needed to show he deserved his spot. And when he needed a performance in the clutch, Baker delivered. It was more of a solid outing than a stellar one, but he limited the Mets to just two runs on seven hits over five innings. The difference between this outing and Baker's previous struggles? Well, he couldn't quite pinpoint the answer. "Nothing technically was different," Baker said. "I didn't try to make any adjustments mechanically or emotionally. It just worked out tonight." Baker (2-2) likely could have gone farther in the outing. He had thrown only 84 pitches before the Twins pinch-hit for him in the top of the sixth inning. But with the Twins leading, 3-2, and with one out in the inning, Gardenhire opted to use a pinch-hitter to try to drive in what appeared to be a crucial run from third base. The decision proved to be a good one, as Mike Redmond laced a single into left field to put the Twins up, 4-2. But the scoring in the inning wasn't done. Jason Tyner pinch-ran for Redmond and stole his fifth base of the season. Then, after Luis Castillo drew a walk to put runners at first and second, Joe Mauer belted a double to left, scoring two more runs.
Not only did the sixth-inning runs give the Twins a bigger lead, they allowed Baker to leave the game with a boost of confidence."You run him back out there and something happens, you kick yourself," Gardenhire said. "He did his job. And we wanted that run." Baker seemed to understand the situation pretty well, acknowledging that he didn't expect to be left in for that type of situation just yet. "I know that I technically haven't earned the right to go back out there in that point of the game," he said. "That's OK -- it's the way it is." Redmond's clutch hit and the rest of the sixth-inning action came after the Twins' offense had found a way to get to a Mets starter early in a contest for the second straight night. Left-hander Oliver Perez lasted just 5 1/3 innings after throwing 110 pitches. He gave up four runs on five hits and issued five walks. The biggest of those five hits came in the fifth inning, when the Twins took their first lead of the game. Shea Stadium has proved to be quite a difficult park for home run hitters, and no one knew that better than center fielder Torii Hunter, who had watched plenty of hard-hit balls knocked down in the wind over the course of the three-game series. But in the fifth inning, Hunter was able to take one of Perez's inside fastballs just over the left-field fence for a two-run homer. And suddenly, the Twins had the spark of energy they needed. "Man, when I hit it, I thought it was an out," Hunter said. "I hit it pretty good, but you know, with the way the balls fly here, I wasn't sure. But I got lucky." But more important than any individual performance was the fact that the victory gave the Twins their first road series win since May 21-23, when they took two of three at Texas. And the series win was made a little sweeter considering that it came against the club for which Gardenhire spent five seasons as a player. "Sure it's nice to come out here and knock their socks off for a couple of wins," he said. "It's good to win a series, a huge series here in New York, against a good baseball team."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.