MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Sometimes the game can shift with one swing.
Carlos Beltran took a big cut, sent a fastball soaring into the seats in right field and snapped the foundering New York Yankees out of their funk.
Beltran’s three-run homer Thursday night lifted Masahiro Tanaka to his majors-leading 12th win and helped the Yankees stop a season-worst five-game losing streak with a 7-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
"We have to find a way to score more runs. There’s no doubt about that. We played very poor at home," Beltran said.
Zelous Wheeler homered in his big-league debut after nearly eight years in the minors. David Robertson notched his 19th save by striking out the side in a hitless ninth inning, and the Yankees started an 11-game road trip with a sigh-of-relief performance that put their record back at the .500 mark.
"It felt great. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, and hopefully I can take advantage of it," Wheeler said.
Phil Hughes (8-5) was rolling along against his former team, leading 2-0 until Beltran cleared the tall wall in right following consecutive singles to start the fifth. Wheeler went deep two batters later.
"Not knowing much about him, in a 3-1 count, I’m going to challenge him," Hughes said. "He put a good swing on it."
Wheeler had a big smile on his face afterward.
"Every time you see a story like that, a guy that’s spent a lot of time in the minor leagues and all of a sudden comes to the big leagues and being able to do what he did today, it’s just special," Beltran said.
So was Beltran’s big hit, considering the slump the Yankees brought with them on the road.
"Those are the type of things we need to be successful in the American League," manager Joe Girardi said.
Tanaka (12-3) allowed a season-high four runs. He finished seven innings with nine hits and no walks while striking out a season-low three.
"They’re not going to be perfect every time. He’s been about as consistent as you can be as a starting pitcher. He just wasn’t quite as sharp," Girardi said.
Through his interpreter, Tanaka said this was one of his worst starts of the season. Throwing only 85 pitches, at least, allowed the star Japanese rookie to maintain some freshness for the next turn.
"Not too much pressure, but I obviously understood where the team was," Tanaka said.
With Eduardo Escobar on first after an RBI single in the seventh, Tanaka dodged serious trouble. Sam Fuld’s screaming line drive went straight to Mark Teixeira, who easily stepped on first base for the double play to preserve the three-run lead.
Chris Parmelee drove in a run with a double in the first and Kurt Suzuki and Kendrys Morales had RBI groundouts, but the sputtering Twins missed their opportunities to put bigger numbers on the board like the Yankees did against Hughes.
The Twins have lost eight of 10 and fell a season-worst eight games under .500.
Wheeler had a single to help spark the three-run rally in the seventh, too, scoring on Brett Gardner’s single after a one-out RBI double by Brendan Ryan chased Hughes. Derek Jeter drove in a run with a groundout.
The Yankees haven’t been nearly as potent at the plate as they are paid to be, ranking 12th in runs and 10th in homers in the American League. They totaled one run over Tanaka’s last two starts, both losses, but this was the breakout they needed.
"He’s very competitive. He’s in control of the game," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
NOTES: Beltran passed Lance Berkman for fourth place on the career list for home runs by switch hitters. With 367, he’s behind Mickey Mantle (536), Eddie Murray (504) and Chipper Jones (468). … Parmelee stretched his hitting streak to 13 games. He’s hitting .440 (22 for 50) during the run. … Yankees assistant GM for pro personnel Billy Eppler interviewed Thursday for San Diego’s vacant GM spot. … The Yankees will send Chase Whitley (3-2, 4.70 ERA) to the mound Friday afternoon for the 10th start of his rookie season, and Kyle Gibson (7-6, 3.77 ERA) will pitch for the Twins. The Yankees are 5-1 in Whitley’s six turns on the road. Gibson’s 1.54 ERA at home is the best among qualifying AL pitchers.