MINNEAPOLIS — After a break to mourn her death, Hector Santiago honored his grandmother with special shoes and a winning start upon his return to Minnesota.
Kennys Vargas and the rest of the Twins provided plenty of support.
Vargas tied his career high for Minnesota with five RBIs, including a three-run homer Wednesday night off Kendall Graveman that propelled the Twins to a 7-4 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
Santiago (3-1) finished six innings for the fourth time in six turns for the Twins, who have won seven of their last 10 games. He wore custom cleats showing an airbrushed picture of the late Nelly Rodriguez, before removing them halfway through his start to save them for family.
“I think they play a role,” said Santiago, who has allowed three runs or fewer in each start. “You want to go out there and do some good things.”
With six days off for the funeral, Santiago tried to stay sharp by playing catch with his brother at their old high school in New Jersey. The transition back to big-league ballpark was tough, but he dodged trouble far better than Graveman (2-2).
Graveman walked four batters, and three of them scored. He was pulled with one out in the fourth inning, by far his worst of five starts this season.
“That game is solely on me,” Graveman said, adding: “It’s tough when you’ve been on a pretty good roll.”
Yonder Alonso hit a two-run homer for the A’s, but they fell to 1-8 with only 21 runs in their last nine games. One came in the ninth against Brandon Kintzler, who loaded the bases with none out but retired former teammate Trevor Plouffe on a game-ending double-play grounder.
“If we could have finished off that inning, it would have done wonders for us,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said.
After loading the bases on walks in the first, Graveman jammed Vargas only to watch the bat-breaker land in center field for a two-run single. With the barrel halfway down the right-field line, Vargas kept the handle in his hand as he jogged toward first.
“It was a good bat,” Vargas said, smiling.
Sent to Triple-A after World Baseball Classic participation for Puerto Rico hindered his spring training that ended with foot injury, Vargas is 8 for 22 in six games since being recalled. He benefited in this one from the keen eyes of Miguel Sano and Joe Mauer in front of him. The WBC probably cost him the primary designated hitter role, but there’s still time to reclaim it.
“Just blending him in where we can. We know he’s another threat,” manager Paul Molitor said.
Twins center fielder Byron Buxton took an extra-base hit from Rajai Davis leading off the fourth with an almost fully horizontal catch . Alonso’s home run came later that inning. Then Buxton started the bottom of the frame with a standup triple and scored on a groundout to push the lead to 6-3.
“If he can go out there and play that kind of center field every day, man, you can hit .160,” Santiago said.
HITTING THE WAHL
Bobby Wahl, Oakland’s top relief prospect who had 205 strikeouts in 171 career minor league innings, made a messy major league debut in the sixth with three of four batters reaching base. Eddie Rosario, who had two hits to stretch his hitting streak to a career-long 13 straight games, tomahawked a high 3-2 fastball for an RBI single off the rookie. Rosario is batting .412 (21 for 51) during the run.
Athletics: After taking a ball off the mask, catcher Josh Phegley was removed in the seventh for Stephen Vogt. With a concussion history, Phegley will probably be placed on the disabled list Thursday. That’s where left-hander Sean Doolittle (shoulder) went before the game.
Twins: Sano’s appeal of the one-game suspension he received from MLB for aggressive actions that triggered shouts and shoves and cleared the benches against Detroit last month will be heard Friday. If denied, he’ll sit out that night against Boston.
Oakland will send RHP Jharel Cotton (2-3, 5.00 ERA) to the mound for Thursday’s matinee. He gave up a career-high 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings in his previous start.
For Minnesota in the series finale, RHP Kyle Gibson (0-3, 8.06 ERA) will take his sixth turn of the season with his spot in the rotation in a tenuous state.