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07/31/07 1:45 AM ET
Twins on a mission after trade
Baker, Mauer lead Minnesota past Kansas City
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- The morale in the Twins clubhouse just prior to Monday night's game against the Royals was decidedly somber. Despite having just won the last two games of their road trip and feeling like they were back on the upswing, the club was greeted with news about an hour before game time that one of its most consistent hitters and a clubhouse favorite, Luis Castillo, had been traded to the Mets. Not exactly the kind of encouraging news to get a team pumped for a run at the division race. But rather than lying down and taking the news as defeat, the Twins instead used it to spark themselves to a 3-1 victory over the Royals at the Metrodome. "When you lose a guy like that, it's kind of a tough message sent to us," closer Joe Nathan said. "It really wakes us up." The Twins certainly looked like a team on a mission on Monday night as they got off to a hot start against Royals starter Gil Meche in the first inning. Even with their everyday leadoff hitter gone, the Twins found a way to get production out of the top of the order. A leadoff single by Jason Tyner to center field got things rolling. Jason Bartlett followed it with a single to right, and then Joe Mauer doubled to left field to drive in two runs. Suddenly the Twins had a 2-0 lead and felt like a fire possibly had been lit underneath them. "It was a good start for us, to get a few runs and take a little pressure off," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It helped to kind of lighten up the dugout a little bit after what had been an emotional day. We didn't add much on after that, but it was probably due to their pitcher more than anything else." Meche settled down and held the Twins scoreless over his next six innings. Jimmy Gobble gave up one more run on a Mauer RBI single in the eighth inning. Yet the Twins' early scoring helped give Scott Baker the little bit of breathing room he needed. Baker was nothing short of dominant. He allowed a career-low two hits over eight innings, with both coming in the fourth inning and accounting for the only run he allowed. Moving his fastball in and over the plate with great effectiveness, Baker (5-4) shut down a young Royals lineup that has been having success against some tough pitchers. He pitched eight innings for the third time this season and delivered his fourth straight quality start at the Metrodome. "He's been probably the biggest surprise this season," Tyner said of Baker. "Those are young hitters over there, and they hit fastballs well. But in the sixth and seventh innings, he's still throwing fastballs past those guys. It says how deceptive his fastball is and how far he's come from last year." The ascent of Tyner isn't something to be ignored, either. Just two days after belting his first career homer, Tyner emerged as a sort of hero once again on Monday night. Taking over for Castillo in the leadoff spot, Tyner went 3-for-4 and finished just a home run short of the cycle. Not like he didn't try for the power, as his triple in the fifth inning hit just a few inches short of the top of the baggie in right-center field. Just another one of those homers that Tyner claims he's been robbed of due to the Metrodome's dimensions. "There shouldn't be a baggie that high there," Tyner said with a laugh. "Down the line, I guess it's a little short, but in right-center they should definitely take it down." Despite the loss of Castillo earlier in the day, the signs are there that things might be starting to turn around for the Twins. The club has won three straight, and in those contests, the starters have allowed just four earned runs over 21 innings. Minnesota sits seven games back in the American League Central race behind Detroit and six games back in the Wild Card. However, there still are plenty of question marks. The offense has yet to show consistency, and there is a feeling amongst the players that something is still missing. But while the club made some enlightened pleas to the general manager before the final day of the deadline requesting some help -- possibly in the form of another big bat -- the consensus is that the players need to be more focused on what they can do on the field. "We're just going to try to step up with what we've got," Nathan said. "I don't know what their decision making was upstairs, what the thought process was going into trading Luis away, but we can't pay attention to that. We've got to do what we can to win as many games and see if we can get to the playoffs with what we've got. "If they decide to bring somebody in, then great, but for right now we're just going to concentrate on tomorrow and try to get win No. 2 against these guys."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.