Like so many Twins defeats this season, a rocky first inning appeared to be putting them away before two-thirds of their lineup had even picked up a bat. Three straight walks from starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey in the opening inning, and Toronto was already on the way to extending a painful Minnesota losing skid, not to mention the Twin Cities franchise’s dreadful fortunes north of the border.
But Saturday’s 6-0 Twins win at the Rogers Centre wasn’t like their usual early-innings snafus. Nor did it resemble most of their outings on the Blue Jays’ famed, carpet-style turf.
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Pelfrey zeroed in and coaxed a two-out ground-out to second base off Rajai Davis’ bat, and the Twins’ second-longest futility streak of 2013 began to meet its demise.
The difference, in manager Ron Gardenhire’s eyes, was simple.
His team smiled more.
He implored them to Friday night during a much-discussed team meeting in the visitors’ clubhouse following a 4-0 loss, Minnesota’s sixth in a row. With a group of grown men that entered the last week of June with an apparent chance to climb back toward .500 floundering once again, some simplistic, youthful boyishness was in order.
For one early afternoon outside the United States, it worked.
“I told them we’re gonna have some fun and we’re gonna play the game,” Gardenhire said. “Today, we come out and everyone’s running around, the dugout was hooting and hollering.
“Little more fun.”
Pelfrey was certainly enthused to be back from his stint on the 15-day disabled list with a back strain. Despite throwing nearly 50 pitches in the first two innings, he settled down and earned his first and Minnesota’s fourth shutout of the year.
With the help of two double plays and a prevented theft courtesy of catcher Joe Mauer, Pelfrey didn’t allow a runner past first following the opening frame.
“That was big, a big performance,” Gardenhire said. “I’m looking at his pitch count in the first place; he throws 50 or 48 pitches thru the second inning and I’m going, ‘Oh, goodness gracious.’ We need him to get deep.”
Pelfrey — who made his first start since June 18 — also received a big-time lift from the guy manning the base directly behind him.
In addition to retiring Davis in the first and helping turn both of Minnesota’s double plays, second baseman Brian Dozier batted 2-for-4 with a career-high four RBI, including three on a home run to left field that made it 6-0 in the seventh.
Dozier and the Twins lineup were able to figure out knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey by patiently waiting for pitches that hung up in the strike zone. More importantly, a team that entered the Toronto series batting just .252 with runners on base produced six runs on seven hits.
“First, people have to get on, then you have to knock them in,” Gardenhire said. “It’s pretty interesting to try and figure out a game plan against (Dickey). I said, ‘High, let it fly; low let it go.’ I don’t know if that was our theory today, but we won.”
In doing so, Minnesota beat an American League Eastern Division team for the first time in nine tries and handled the Blue Jays for just the sixth time in the teams’ last 24 meetings. The Twins can snag their first series win in Toronto since 2005 when Ontario native Scott Diamond starts on the mound Sunday.