Athletics 9, Twins 4
It was early in the season and the Oakland Athletics were flailing away at the plate while manager Bob Melvin watched batting averages, slugging and on-base percentages plummet along the way.
The level-headed skipper said all along his young, powerful hitters would eventually put things together. Whether that was wishful thinking or well-placed confidence, Melvin was right.
Yoenis Cespedes had his first career four-hit game, including a homer and three RBIs, and the Athletics beat the Minnesota Twins 9-4 on Sunday to complete a three-game series sweep.
Jonny Gomes, Chris Carter and Seth Smith also homered for the A's, who have won nine of 11 to climb back into the wild-card conversation in the American League. Jarrod Parker (6-4) gave up four runs and nine hits in six innings.
''I think at times when you hit homers they actually play better than just the runs that are put up on the board,'' Melvin said. ''On the other side, it can get you down a little bit when the guys start hitting the ball out of the ballpark. It just has a different effect than say maybe a single with a guy on second base.''
The Athletics look like a completely different team these days, one that is finally giving a very good pitching staff the kind of run support it deserves. They scored 24 runs and hit nine homers in earning their first road sweep since taking three games in Colorado from June 12-14.
Gomes finished with three hits and two RBIs.
''It's fun to watch and I think it's coming together,'' Parker said. ''Throughout this lineup anybody can hit the ball out. There are so many threats now, it's fun to watch.''
Brian Duensing (1-6) gave the Twins another dreadful start, lasting just two innings and getting tagged for six runs and seven hits.
Duensing got off to an ominous start when he needed 41 pitches to get through the first inning on a steamy afternoon. Cespedes singled in a run and Carter walked with the bases loaded to give the A's a 2-0 lead.
''Very strong, shooting the ball all over the field, opposite field,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Cespedes. ''A big strong kid and hits your mistakes very hard.''
Laboring through the inning clearly sapped Duensing, who was making his fourth start after moving from the bullpen. Without much juice on his offerings, the Athletics pounced in the second.
Gomes hit a two-run shot to left field, Cespedes went deep to straightaway center and Carter's solo drive hit off the facing of the second deck in right-center to give the A's a 6-1 lead and draw boos from the home crowd. Duensing needed 67 pitches to get through the two innings and didn't have enough left to come out for the third.
The Twins had to be surprised by an Oakland offense that was perhaps the worst in the league when the Athletics last came to town in May. The A's scored just six runs in the three-game sweep, helping struggling Twins starter Francisco Liriano get some confidence back and giving the Twins a reprieve after hitting a season-worst 17 games under .500.
Not this time.
With a pitching staff that leads the AL in earned-run average, the Athletics could be a formidable contender for a playoff spot. Veteran Bartolo Colon could be swapped for another bat before the deadline to bolster those chances.
Parker was solid on Sunday, giving up just two runs in the first five innings while the A's built a 9-2 lead. The right-hander has allowed two runs or fewer in 12 of his 15 starts. He gave up a run in the first when Darin Mastroianni scored when the pitcher's throwing error ended any chance at an inning-ending double play.
''You can word it however you want, but the bottom line is winning is fun,'' Gomes said. ''You can have as much confidence as you want but when you're not winning it's not fun.''
NOTES: Athletics OF Coco Crisp rested for the second day in a row because of a sore left shoulder he aggravated on Friday night. He's listed as day to day. ... The last time the A's hit three HRs in one inning was June 17, 2008, at Arizona when Bobby Crosby, Rajai Davis and Mark Ellis went deep during the ninth in a 15-1 win. ... Twins DH Justin Morneau extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a single in the sixth. ... Newly signed Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise threw out the first pitch before the game. The Minnesota native recently signed a 13-year, $98 million contract to play for his hometown team. ... The Twins will open a series against Baltimore on Monday night, with LHP Scott Diamond (7-3, 2.62 ERA) facing Orioles RHP Chris Tillman (1-0, 0.00). ... The A's head home to face Texas. Colon (6-7, 3.80 ERA) will face Rangers RHP Roy Oswalt (2-1, 6.26).