The Minnesota Twins have been struggling to score this month, with Joe Mauer and Kennys Vargas at the top of the slump list.
Well, guess who hit the home runs to tie and win the game in the last two innings?
Vargas hit a solo shot with two outs in the bottom of the ninth Thursday, lifting the Twins to a 2-1 victory and a two-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.
“It’s always fun to get out there and jump around,” said Mauer, who went deep in the eighth to answer Jason Heyward’s solo shot for the Cardinals in the seventh.
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Arriving at home on the first game-ending hit of his career at any level, Vargas was showered with water and a bucket of bubble gum in celebration. He grounded into two double plays, ruining a bases-loaded rally on one of those with one out in the seventh inning, and he’s only 5 for 27 since being recalled from Triple-A Rochester.
Before the game, Twins manager Paul Molitor pulled Vargas aside by the batting cage and encouraged him to refocus on having fun.
“You hope it takes some of the weight off that he’s been carrying,” Molitor said.
It sailed into the right-field seats on a slow 1-1 curveball from Carlos Villanueva (3-2).
“It’s, for me, something special that I’m going to remember all my life,” Vargas said.
Villanueva said he tried to throw the pitch on the outside of the plate so Vargas would chase it.
“The ball came back over the middle,” Villanueva said.
St. Louis lost for the first time in 35 games this year when leading after seven innings.
“It was just challenge time at that point, and their guy came out on top,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
Minnesota won for the first time in 25 games this season when trailing after seven innings. For Mauer, this was his third home run of the season, all of which have tied the game or given the Twins the lead. The three-time batting champion’s once-sparkling average had fallen to .250 before he took Kevin Siegrist deep.
“I try to make ‘em count when I do hit ‘em,” Mauer said.
The six-time All-Star said his swing hasn’t “felt that bad” the last couple of weeks. Hitting one into the left-field seats was one way to beat those shifts.
“Nobody can catch a ball out there,” Mauer said.
Blaine Boyer (2-2) pitched the ninth for the victory, after eight dominant innings by Mike Pelfrey in an old-fashioned duel with Jaime Garcia.
St. Louis still has baseball’s best record by a comfortable margin, but the lineup has slumped lately with only 11 runs in the last five games. The Cardinals were shut out in three of Garcia’s first five starts since returning from surgery last summer to alleviate numbness and tingling in his left arm and hand.
Garcia pitched into the seventh, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out four and lowering his ERA to 1.76. Seth Maness bailed him out in the seventh after a walk and a single to start the inning, getting Vargas to ground weakly to shortstop for the double play.
Pelfrey bounced back authoritatively from his worst start of the season, when he allowed 11 hits and eight runs over 3 2-3 innings at Texas. He gave up four hits and one walk while striking out three, the home run by Heyward the only blemish.
“For it to be 0-0 before that, it made it a little bit frustrating, but overall I thought it was a lot better,” Pelfrey said.
Pelfrey got Heyward to ground into a double play earlier on the same count and pitch as the home run, matching teammate Kyle Gibson for the major league lead in groundball double plays induced with 16. Pelfrey lowered his ERA to 2.97.
Cardinals: RHP Lance Lynn (strained forearm) has been playing catch, but Matheny hasn’t reached the point of seeking daily updates, a sign that Lynn still has a ways to go. “He’s just progressing nicely,” Matheny said.
Twins: RHP Ervin Santana, serving an 80-game suspension for a positive test for a performance-enhancing substance, will make three rehabilitation starts for Triple-A Rochester beginning on Saturday. “If all goes well, we'll have a decision to make,” general manager Terry Ryan said.
Cardinals: The Cardinals continue their road trip in Philadelphia on Friday, with Tyler Lyons starting opposite Cole Hamels of the Phillies.
Twins: The Twins host the Chicago Cubs on Friday, with Phil Hughes taking the mound against Kyle Hendricks.