CHICAGO Torii Hunter was told he might be pinch-hit for occasionally, and he responded with two hits and drove in the tying run. He was told he might be substituted for in the outfield, and he responded by throwing two White Sox baserunners out from right field. He was told he might be pinch-run for, and he responded by ...
Well, two out of three isn't bad.
Hunter, finally emerging from an eight-week slump, was thrown out trying to steal a base but otherwise had an encouraging resurgence on Friday in support of another veteran experiencing a late-season bounce-back, right-hander Ervin Santana. With Trevor Plouffe supplying a pair of solo home runs, Santana supplying seven strong but not flawless innings, and Hunter doing a little of everything, the Twins took the opener of a three-game series at U.S. Cellular Field, 6-2 over the White Sox.
The victory kept the Twins one game behind Texas, a 4-0 winner over Oakland, in the race for the final wild-card spot in the American League.
Plouffe had not hit a home run since Aug. 17, a 20-game drought that was his longest of the season and one of the longest of his career. He broke that skid and his .188 slump since that last homer by clubbing a 2-1 slider from White Sox starter Erik Johnson in the fourth inning.
Four innings later, Plouffe broke an even longer streak 454 games without hitting a pair of home runs, dating to July 2012 and this one, a 98-mph fastball from reliever Nate Jones that landed in nearly the same spot put the Twins ahead for good.
Eduardo Escobar also connected for the Twins, becoming the sixth Twins player with at least 10 home runs by lining a Zach Putnam splitter over the right-field fence in the ninth inning. The Twins added two more runs off Putnam to make it a four-run lead and send them to their 12th victory in 17 meetings with the White Sox this season.
While the Twins were smacking baseballs over the fence, Santana was limiting the White Sox to six hits over seven innings, and working out of trouble when he needed to thanks to Hunter's heroics.
A leadoff single to right by Mike Olt might have turned into a run in the third inning, for instance, since Micah Johnson followed with a double. But Olt had already been erased by an unfortunate impulse to test Hunter's arm and stretch his single into a double. The throw beat Olt by several feet, and even his awkward around-the-bag slide couldn't save him.
An inning later, it appeared Santana had surrendered his early lead for sure, when with two on and two outs, catcher Rob Brantly lined a single in Hunter's direction. Avilsail Garcia rounded third but couldn't beat the throw, and Kurt Suzuki tagged him out to end the inning.
It was Hunter's fifth two-assist game as a Twin, but his first in almost exactly 13 years, since Sept. 10, 2002.
Santana pitched his third consecutive strong game his ERA is 1.23 in his past three starts but did make one major blunder, a slider to Adam Eaton in the fifth inning that was blasted over the center-field wall for a two-run home run.
But Hunter tied the game again quickly, doubling to the wall in right-center in the sixth, scoring Eddie Rosario from first base.
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