MINNEAPOLIS Everything that had been missing for Minnesota during its 5-15 start, the Twins found it all on Sunday.
Hits with runners in scoring position. A quality start by the starting pitcher. And, most importantly, a win. With a 7-3 victory Sunday over the visiting Kansas City Royals, the Twins snapped the six-game losing streak that dropped them to the worst record in baseball.
During the previous five games of the homestand, Minnesota's clubhouse was quiet and empty after each loss. Even before Sunday's game, Tony Oliva remarked about how quiet the locker room was, telling the players they needed to make some noise.
Following Sunday's win, the hip-hop music was blaring and the bass was thumping in Minnesota's clubhouse. The Twins shook hands on the field and cracked a few smiles before heading to the airport for their upcoming West Coast road trip.
It's just one win, but after feeling like they were playing good baseball without the results to show for it, the Twins could enjoy the moment after Sunday's game.
"Any time you win is a sigh of relief," said shortstop Jamey Carroll, who was 1-for-3 with two walks and a run Sunday. "Today was a good job of everybody all the way around and the type of game that we are expecting."
Prior to Sunday, the Twins felt as if they were on the edge of a turnaround. All that was missing was one or two key hits, they said. Sunday, they got those hits off Royals soft-tossing lefty Bruce Chen. The Twins tagged Chen for six runs on six hits in 2-23 innings, building a nice cushion early for starting pitcher Jason Marquis.
With Minnesota jumping out to a quick 4-0 lead in the first inning, Marquis settled in and went six innings, allowing three runs on six hits for just the fourth quality start by a Twins pitcher this season, the fewest in baseball. For comparison, the Nationals, Phillies, Cardinals and Marlins each have a Major League-best 16 quality starts.
As the Twins' starting staff has been exiting games early as of late, Minnesota's bullpen was getting taxed. But after Marquis' six-inning performance, the Twins used three relievers for an inning each to secure the win.
"You treat each game as the most important game because it's the only game," Marquis. "... It's definitely nice to get on the plane with smiles on our face to end a little skid we had and go into the Angels series playing good baseball."
While the starting pitching had been lacking recently for the Twins prior to Sunday, the offense was not. Minnesota hasn't had a problem scoring runs, but had been put in early deficits by its starting pitching.
One thing that had plagued the Twins, however, was hitting with runners in scoring position. They were just 5-for-14 in that situation Sunday, but came up with big hits when they needed them. That included the first inning, when left fielder Josh Willingham drove in two runners with a triple. Danny Valencia's RBI triple in the third scored Willingham from second, and Doumit drove Valencia home with a sacrifice fly.
The Twins did leave the bases loaded in the fifth, but they got enough hits with runners in scoring position to put together a bit lead early.
"We thought we could score some runs and we've scored runs," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "We're still not clicking on all cylinders, especially with runners in scoring position, but we're scoring enough runs."
Minnesota wants to believe that it will, more often than not, have games like Sunday's in which the Twins score plenty of runs and get enough pitching to win. They'll have to keep playing defense like they did Sunday, too, as Minnesota's infielders turned a pair of nifty double plays.
The calendar still reads April, meaning the baseball season is relatively young. At 6-15, the Twins don't seem to be panicking just yet with May is quickly approaching.
"For the most part, we've been in every game. A pitch here, a play there and it's a different outcome," Marquis said. "I think if we just keep playing the way we know how, what Gardy preached in spring training ... I think we'll find ourselves in a better position."
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