Eduardo Nunez’s time in a Twins uniform has been brief, so it’s not much of a stretch to say Sunday’s game against Detroit was his biggest so far with Minnesota.
In just his fourth game of the year with the Twins, Nunez delivered the go-ahead base hit in the top of the eighth inning as Minnesota eventually hung on to win 4-3 in the series finale against the Tigers. Thanks in part to Nunez’s big hit, the Twins return home winners of two out of three games against the defending American League Central champs.
"A great comeback, a great win for us," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who was ejected in the fourth inning of Sunday’s game. "Some really good at-bats there. Nunez, a big hit for us to give us a lead."
Nunez got his chance to be the hero when Josmil Pinto singled to left with two outs to score Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer to tie the game at 3-3 against Tigers reliever Joba Chamberlain. As Pinto tied it, Nunez stepped into the box against his former Yankees teammate. After getting ahead in the count 3-0, Nunez took a called strike before lacing an 85 mph pitch back up the middle and into center field.
It was enough to score Pinto from second, even though the Twins catcher isn’t the fleetest of foot. As the throw from center fielder Austin Jackson came into the infield, Nunez got caught off second base. But he was able to avoid getting tagged until after Pinto crossed home play for the go-ahead run and a 4-3 Twins lead.
The RBI single marked Nunez’s first RBI in a Twins uniform, and his first hit with runners in scoring position this season. He picked a good time to do so, too.
Nunez also had a one-out single in the top of the fifth inning and stole his first base of the year. But Hicks flew out to center field to leave Nunez stranded in scoring position.
The Twins acquired Nunez on April 7 in a trade with the New York Yankees in exchange for pitcher Miguel Sulbaran. But an oblique injury meant Nunez’ 2014 season got off to a slow start. Aside from the four games he’s played with Minnesota, Nunez appeared in just 11 games with Triple-A Rochester, batting .282 with six RBI in 41 plate appearances.
Nunez, primarily an infielder, made his second start of the season in left field as the Twins’ outfield situation remains unsettled. It was just the fifth time in his career — 273 games — that he’s played in left field, but he had no problems Sunday. He was eventually joined in the outfield by fellow infielder Danny Santana, who pinch hit for Aaron Hicks and stayed in the game in the outfield.
"We had two infielders in the outfield, which is not the way you want to go in the ninth inning," Gardenhire said. "But some pretty good athletes."
It remains to be seen how the Twins will use Nunez in the near future. But with Minnesota’s outfield situation as it is — Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham both remain on the 15-day disabled list, and Sam Fuld is on the 7-day concussion DL — Nunez could get a few more chances in the outfield. His only start in the infield with the Twins came at third base, and he also played one game at third base. He’s spent the majority of his major league career at shortstop, but Santana appears in line to get a majority of the starts there for the time being.
The best defensive play Nunez made Sunday in left field came in the bottom of the ninth. Detroit catcher Alex Avila hit a drifting foul ball that approached the seats down the left field line, but Nunez made a running grab at the wall for the second out of the inning. One batter later, Twins closer Glen Perkins nailed down a four-out save to preserve Minnesota’s 4-3 win.
"We got it done and stole the win, and a series win, too," Perkins said. "That’s one of our best wins of the year, and a good one that we needed."
The Twins got a few big hits from some unexpected sources. Nunez’s first RBI of the season proved to be one of the biggest.
FOX Sports North’s Marney Gellner contributed to this report