MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Miguel Sano has embodied this season of disappointment for the Minnesota Twins, with his approach, health and performance all needing a reset.
Maybe all he needed was a haircut.
Jorge Polanco had two hits, scored twice and drove in two runs and Sano followed with a two-run homer, leading the Twins to a 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.
After sporting the dreadlocks look and letting his mane grow for three years, Sano had his head neatly shorn before the game.
“It’s a little bit of a struggle here for us, and I try to do something positive,” said Sano, who has nine home runs in 200 at-bats and is hitting .220 with 85 strikeouts this season. “But you know, we just hang in. Hair or no hair, we try to hit the ball and make a play.”
With his no-doubt, opposite-field drive off Richard Rodriguez in the eighth , Sano homered at Target Field for the first time since May 31. He missed 24 games with a strained left hamstring and was later sent to the minor leagues for more conditioning. Slowly upon his return, Sano has begun to look more like the slugger the Twins have been hoping to build their future around.
“I think he’s been real close to clicking on some balls,” manage Paul Molitor said. “My observation is that the swings and misses are a lot less frequent, his chases out of the zone are a lot more rare.”
Jake Odorizzi (5-7) won for the first time in six starts, striking out nine in 5 2/3 innings. Trevor Hildenberger, the fourth reliever of the game for the Twins, pitched a scoreless ninth for his second save since the trade of closer Fernando Rodney.
Polanco hit a two-run single in the fourth inning before Jake Cave’s RBI single put the Twins in front. The Twins, who began the day 12½ games behind AL Central-leading Cleveland, are 15-4 in their last 19 home games. That’s too little too late for a team that expected Sano and Polanco to help lead the charge. Polanco served an 80-game suspension for using a performance-enhancing substance.
“They’re key parts of this team, obviously this year but for years to come,” Odorizzi said. “You can build a team around a good left side of the infield, and we have two really good ones. You saw Sano’s power: It’s pretty unmatched. His arm at third is pretty unmatched as well.”
The Pirates, who started this series with a five-game deficit in the NL wild-card race with three teams between them and the second spot, lost for only the fourth time in 16 games against AL teams this year.
Pirates starter Jameson Taillon (9-9) finished six innings and allowed three earned runs, the 14th straight time he’s taken the mound and surrendered no more than that. Taillon has logged six innings in 10 of those starts, and he’s 4-2 with a 2.70 ERA in his last six turns.
David Freese, who three hits, singled and scored on Francisco Cervelli’s double as the Pirates went up 2-0 in the second. But Tyler Duffey struck out Cervelli with two on to end the sixth and Matt Magill retired Cervelli on a popup with the bases loaded in the eighth, both times with the Twins clinging to a 3-2 lead.
JOE WEST, NOT A YOUNG MAN
Home plate umpire Joe West worked his 5,163rd game, tying Bruce Froemming for the second-most of all time. Bill Klem is first with 5,375. West, whose 40-year career is the longest in major league history, did not go unnoticed, either. He called strike three in Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison’s first two at-bats, and Harrison argued the same pitches he was rung up went against the Pirates on defense.
“We all want a fair shake, man. That’s all it’s about, is being consistent,” Harrison said. “We know you’re not perfect, but at the end of the day, we work too hard for people to shut us down on pitches that we know are balls.”
Said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle: “Joe’s been around a long time. I know one thing, agitating him doesn’t work very well either. You just try and work with him.”
BUXTON’S BACK, SORT OF
Twins CF Byron Buxton returned to action with Triple-A Rochester on Tuesday, going 3 for 5 with four RBIs, including a three-run homer. He recently aggravated a left wrist injury, the latest in a series of setbacks this season. Buxton has played in only 28 games for Minnesota and 23 games for Rochester in 2018.
Pirates: SS Jordy Mercer left the game in the middle of the fifth inning with discomfort in his left calf and was replaced by Adeiny Hechavarria.
Twins: OF Robbie Grossman, who’s missed eight games with a strained right hamstring, could be reinstated from the DL on Thursday.
Pirates: Recently acquired RHP Chris Archer (4-5, 4.36 ERA) pitches on Wednesday afternoon.
Twins: All-Star RHP Jose Berrios (11-8, 3.66 ERA) takes the mound in the matinee finale of the two-game series.
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