Twins 7, Athletics 6

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The Minnesota Twins must have left their good bats at home.

After a discouraging start that stuck them with the AL’s worst record, the Twins fed off the crowd’s home-opener energy and began the season’s second week in much better fashion.

Tony Batista woke up the offense with a three-run homer, Brad Radke got some rare run support and Minnesota beat the Oakland Athletics 7-6 Tuesday night.

“The first week is only a test,” Batista said. “Now we’re back in business.”

Eric Chavez hit a two-run shot, his second homer of the game and fifth of the year, in the eighth inning against Jesse Crain to pull Oakland within one. Joe Nathan pitched a hitless ninth for his first save, and the customers went home happy.

“This hasn’t righted the ship. We’re still an under-.500 team,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “But it’s a good feeling.”

Bobby Crosby also homered for the A’s, who saw their run of strong starting pitching end with a bad night for Dan Haren (0-1). After his teammates tossed a pair of shutouts against the Mariners during the weekend and stretched their scoreless innings streak to 27, Haren lost a 4-0 lead in a six-run third.

Justin Morneau also homered and Joe Mauer had two RBIs for Minnesota, which had nine hits, seven runs and one walk in six innings against Haren. He struck out four.

“It seems like about half my runs I’ve given up this year have come on two meatballs over the plate,” said Haren, who allowed a three-run homer to Gary Sheffield in his first start against Yankees.

“They were a lot more aggressive than I thought they were going to be,” he said. “They were swinging at a lot of stuff.”

That was a welcome sight for Radke (2-0), who started his team-record ninth home opener. The Twins’ typical hard-luck loser has been on the mound the only two times the Twins have hit much this year—and the only two times they’ve won.

“He deserves it,” Gardenhire said. “I think he’s about two years due here for some of these ballgames.”

The usual home opener hoopla plus a final ceremony for the late Kirby Puckett pushed the start back 20 minutes. Video from Puckett’s career and last month’s memorial service was shown, and former teammate Jack Morris read a tribute to his fellow star in the 1991 World Series.

Puckett’s children, Catherine and Kirby Jr., threw ceremonial first pitches to Twins center fielder Torii Hunter and A’s third base coach Ron Washington— both close friends of the Hall of Famer, who died on March 6 following a stroke.

A large, red No. 34 has been painted in center for the team’s first homestand, and players are wearing a patch with Puckett’s old uniform number on their sleeves all season. The crowd of 48,911—the sixth straight sellout for Minnesota’s first home game—cheered loudly during the periodic shots of Puckett on the scoreboard.

Chavez started the second with a home run that Hunter just missed making a Puckett-like catch on over the wall in center. A close, full-count walk to Frank Thomas and a pitch that grazed Jason Kendall’s arm helped load the bases for Nick Swisher, who hit a two-run double. Crosby’s line drive cleared the wall in left leading off the third to give Oakland a 4-0 lead.

But the Twins played good defense behind Radke, including a couple of smooth pickups by second baseman Luis Castillo and a diving catch in right field by Michael Cuddyer, and Radke persevered. He gave up six hits, four runs and one walk in seven innings while striking out five.

“That’s two in a row,” Radke said. “Hopefully we can spread ‘em out and get the bats going at home.”

Taking away their 13-4 victory over Toronto last week, Minnesota was averaging just 2.8 runs per game after going 1-5 on a road trip to start the season.

Mauer hit a two-run single to spark the rally in the third, and Hunter added an RBI single. Batista came through with the big drive, on a 1-0 pitch near his neck, to put Minnesota up 6-4.

Morneau hit his third home run of the season, a shot to the first row of the upper deck that was caught on the fly by a fan with a glove to make it 7-4 in the fifth.

All three of the A’s losses have come in the first game of a series. Chavez’s power stroke is a promising early development, though, especially since the third baseman didn’t hit his fifth homer last year until June 2. He finished with 27.

“I’m probably physically as strong as I’ve ever been,” Chavez said. “Mentally, going into the season, I was prepared.”

Notes

The Twins thought about keeping ace Johan Santana on his regular schedule this week, but he told them he didn’t mind a fifth day between starts. So the rotation will stay the same, with Scott Baker pitching Friday against the Yankees and Santana going Saturday. … Chavez is 11-for-37 (.297) with three homers and seven RBIs against Radke. This was Chavez’s 15th multihomer game.

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