MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Nelson Cruz homered and drove in three runs on four hits for Minnesota in his second game back from a wrist injury, yet another powerful performance at the plate by the 39-year-old designated hitter for the Twins in a 14-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday.
Max Kepler hit a two-run homer to stay one ahead of Cruz for the team lead, starting pitcher Michael Pineda (9-5) stayed strong for seven innings, and the Twins raised their lead on Cleveland in the AL Central race to three games. That’s the biggest it’s been in two weeks.
Cruz, who gave the Twins a scare by rupturing a tendon in his left wrist during a swing in a game against the Indians on Aug. 8, returned from the minimum stay on the injured list on Monday. He’s 6 for 11 with four RBIs after his reinstatement, pushing his age-defiant season totals to 33 home runs and 80 RBIs in just 89 games.
Cruz, who signed with the Twins for $14 million this year with a club option for 2020 at a market-bargain $12 million, has 15 homers in his last 20 games. He hit a career-high three doubles in this one and became the first Twins player since Michael Cuddyer in 2005 with four extra-base hits in a game.
Jose Abreu, whose three-run home run the game before lifted the White Sox to a 6-4 win, took Pineda deep for a two-run shot after Tim Anderson’s RBI double for a 3-0 lead in the third. Anderson homered in the sixth inning, too, but the damage against Reynaldo Lopez (7-11) was already done by then.
Cruz tied the game with his home run in the fourth. Then he drilled a two-run double off the wall in right field with the bases loaded in the fifth, and Eddie Rosario followed with a two-run single for a 7-3 lead. Lopez got the first two outs of that inning on groundballs, too, but Kepler reached on an error when Lopez fielded his comebacker and watched Abreu drop his toss to first base. Then he hit Jorge Polanco with a pitch, a drawn-out at-bat extended by a loose squirrel on the field.
Polanco hit a two-run homer in a seven-run eighth, one of six extra-base hits in the inning alone and 10 in the game for the Twins, who lead the major leagues in home runs and are third in doubles. The Twins have at least one extra-base hit in 80 straight games, their fourth-longest streak in team history.
Twins starters have put them in early holes far too frequently since the All-Star break, but Pineda deftly recovered from his deficit. He threw 70 of 88 pitches for strikes, a season-best percentage (79.5).
For the second consecutive night, play was halted for a moment by a squirrel that scampered onto the field. This time, the squirrel ran from right field straight through Kepler’s legs while he took a lead at first base and into Chicago’s dugout during the fifth inning. The escape route wound through foul territory along the third-base line and eventually through a tiny opening at the base of the wall in left-center.
Cruz was at bat on Monday when a squirrel scurried into Minnesota’s dugout.
Twins CF Byron Buxton, who missed his 18th straight game because of a separated left shoulder, went through workouts on the field again in the afternoon. He’s not expected back for at least another week.
White Sox RHP Lucas Giolito (13-6, 3.41 ERA) and Twins RHP Jake Odorizzi (13-5, 3.50 ERA) each take the mound on Wednesday afternoon for the series finale in a matchup of All-Stars.
More AP MLB coverage: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports