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07/04/07 6:37 PM ET
Twins bust out to boost Santana
Hunter hits two clutch doubles; Kubel, Rodriguez homer
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- One show of emotion was all it took to see the toll the Twins' offensive struggles were having on the club. That glimpse came in Torii Hunter's ejection late in Tuesday night's loss. The frustration shown by Hunter seemed to be the culmination of three games where the Twins tallied only one run and hit just a combined .166. Considering just how fired up Hunter was in the dispute, it came as no surprise that the Twins center fielder brought some of that residual anger into the club's Fourth of July showdown with the Yankees on Wednesday afternoon. And what that frustration amounted to was Hunter breaking out of a 1-for-15 slump to deliver two clutch doubles and help the Twins end their three-game slide with a 6-2 victory over New York at Yankee Stadium. So maybe a little frustration was really all the Twins needed. "I was still kind of upset about yesterday," Hunter said after the win. "This morning I had to calm myself down after that first at-bat. I came back in the clubhouse and drank some coffee, said a prayer and was ready to go." After Hunter's strikeout in the first inning, he emerged as a different player. Though only two of his three liners turned into hits, Hunter provided the big spark that the Twins needed to turn things around. A home run by a teammate followed up each of his doubles to score four runs in a game that had been knotted at 2. "Torii was pretty fired up today, put it that way," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He was on a mission. He had a couple of big hits for us late in the ballgame. And he's the straw that stirs the drink for us, as they say in this city." Hunter might be the catalyst for the Twins, but he wasn't the only one to break out of a slump. Jason Kubel emerged from a rough stretch himself to provide the clutch home run that helped seal the victory. In a game that had been a back-and-forth battle for much of the early going, it was Kubel's two-run shot in the seventh off Yankees starter Mike Mussina that snapped a 2-2 tie. The homer came after the first of Hunter's two doubles, and Kubel said his goal was just to get a pitch he could pull to move Hunter over to third. On a day where the wind was blowing strong into the park, it was difficult for any balls to make it very far into the outfield. But somehow Kubel's did. And though it barely carried over the wall, it certainly accomplished his goal -- and more. "That was a big home run by Kubel," Gardenhire said. "He was just trying to jerk the ball and it ended up in the seats." Kubel has not quite been able to provide the strong bat the Twins hoped for this season -- at least not yet. Kubel has hit just .242 on the season, with this homer his sixth of the year. So to be the one to come up with the hit at a critical time, it was a bit of sweet redemption. "That's Mussina in Yankee Stadium, so anything that I can do here against him is a plus," Kubel said. "The way things have been going, hopefully that's just going to help me out and get me going again." The Twins got another big two-run homer in the ninth inning, when Luis Rodriguez delivered a similar shot to right field. Knowing that Johan Santana was pitching certainly gave the Twins' offense a boost of confidence, but this year, having him on the mound hasn't always equated to success. The Twins lineup has had as much trouble producing for its ace as for any other pitcher -- as witnessed by Santana's record, which improved to 10-6. So it seemed to be no surprise that the Twins' ace had a little extra fire going into this start, as well. But early on, it appeared that it might be more of the same for Santana. After giving up two runs early in the contest, the southpaw had thrown 74 pitches through four innings, and he looked to be pitching like a man feeling the pressure of a lack of run support. Still, never underestimate a club's ace -- especially one that has won two Cy Young Awards in the last three seasons. All Santana did was settle down to retire nine straight batters after the end of the fourth, throwing just 33 pitches over the three innings. And during that time, he watched as his offense rallied to get him his fourth straight victory. "He was pretty fired up in the dugout," Gardenhire said of his ace. "Johan was ready to go even farther if he had to. He'd like to extend his pitches up, and we'd like to extend his career. But I wasn't too worried. It was Johan on a big stage in New York. And he likes it." Sure, it was great for the Twins to see Santana get on his usual roll that comes at this time of the year. But it seems right now that the biggest thing the Twins can do is get back in the swing of things offensively, and seeing his offense finally get jump-started was what pleased Santana most at the end of the day. "It's always good to see the guys swinging the bat like that," Santana said. "It was a tough game, but we never give up. We were just waiting for the big hit. It's all about a team effort, and that was a perfect example today. There are guys that we expect to do damage, and we saw them step up."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.