MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -Small ball is out. Knocking the ball over the fence and outscoring the opposition is the new order of business for the Minnesota Twins.
For much of the past decade, the Twins were successful when they got quality starts and played good defense. Anything less and Minnesota usually didn't have the firepower to outscore another team. Saturday's 6-5 victory over Kansas City, however, is an indication that Target Field might not be the only new thing for the Twins this season.
Key offseason acquisitions Orlando Hudson, Jim Thome and J.J. Hardy combined for four hits, two homers, three runs and three RBI against the Royals. Already leading the American League in runs scored this season going into Saturday's action, the Twins are now averaging 5.33 runs per game.
``With these guys, the way we swing the bat, if one guy misses, the next guy might get it,' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. ``We kind of sat back and let them take their whacks a little bit.'
One of those came off the bat of Hudson to lead off the seventh inning. With the game tied 5-5, he hit a fastball from Kansas City reliever John Parrish (1-1) for a game-winning home run off the facing of the second level of seats in left field at Target Field.
``I was trying to get the ball in play and get on base for the big boys behind me,' said Hudson, who nearly sprinted around the bases after his first home run for the Twins.
That shot and four scoreless innings from the Twins' bullpen allowed Minnesota to stretch its winning streak to three games. In addition, the Twins now have won four consecutive series for the first time in franchise history.
And they did it despite an average performance from starter Nick Blackburn. Fighting through soreness behind his right arm that could push back his next start, Blackburn gave up five runs on seven hits in five innings. After his shortest outing of the season, Blackburn acknowledged just how important the offense has become.
``Those guys are going to put it in play, they're going to hit the ball out of the park and it's great,' Blackburn said. ``Who knows where we'd be if we didn't have the offense that we do have right now.'
Thome hit his second home run with the Twins in the second inning to get the Minnesota offense going. With a runner on, there was little question that Thome's shot to center field was leaving the park as soon as he hit it.
``We've seen them against us, just like that' Gardenhire said. ``I'm glad it was for us.'
Later in the inning, Denard Span's single down the first-base line went off the glove of Kansas City's Billy Butler, allowing Hardy to score from second. Hudson walked to bring defending AL batting champion Joe Mauer came to the plate with the bases loaded. His two-out single off of Royals starter Gil Meche scored a pair of runs and gave the Twins a 5-2 lead.
Meche settled down from there, holding the Twins scoreless over the next four innings. He pitched six innings, giving up five runs on seven hits. While he didn't get a decision, it was an improvement over his first start, when he lasted only 3 1-3 innings in a loss to Boston.
``Two games in a row where I can't get away from the big inning, both happening early in the ballgame,' Meche said. ``You've got to make better pitches, especially against lineups like Boston and these guys. If you don't do that, you're going to pay for it.'
The Royals, who also got two home runs from Rick Ankiel, tied the game with a pair of runs in the fifth inning. Yuniesky Betancourt led off with a single off Blackburn. Willie Bloomquist knocked him in with a double to left and scored on Scott Podsednik's single.
That would be all the offense Kansas City would generate. Brian Duensing (2-0) pitched two innings of scoreless relief to pick up the win. After Matt Guerrier pitched a scoreless eighth and Hudson gave the Twins the lead, Jon Rauch held on to secure his sixth save of the season.
Rauch had to work for the save after Alberto Callaspo led off the ninth with a single to right. A pair of sacrifices moved Callaspo to third and Rauch walked Alex Gordon to put runners at the corners. He then struck out Kansas City leadoff hitter David DeJesus looking to end the game.
NOTES: Mauer, who was presented with his 2009 MVP and batting title awards before the game, was back in the lineup for a day game after a night game. Gardenhire said that would not have happened if his team were still playing on the artificial turf of the Metrodome. ... Ankiel became the first player to hit two home runs in one game in the Twins new stadium ... Minnesota 3B Nick Punto is showing improvement after suffering a groin strain. Gardenhire said that Punto was available Saturday in an emergency.
The Associated Press News Service
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