Twins 6, Athletics 5

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The Minnesota Twins have been aching for a true cleanup hitter for more than a decade.

They have eyed Justin Morneau for that role practically since drafting him in 1999. Now he’s finally starting to swing like it.

Morneau hit his second homer in two nights and Torii Hunter had two hits and a home run to lead the Minnesota Twins to a 6-5 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday night.

“I’m still striking out more than I’d like to, but we’ve got some real hitters in this lineup,” said Morneau, who has four home runs and is on track to be the first Twin to hit 30 homers in a season since 1987. “It’s a lot easier when there’s other hitters teams are afraid of.”

Tony Batista added three hits and an RBI for the Twins, who have snapped out of an offensive funk that led to a 1-5 start with two big nights in a row at home. Carlos Silva (1-1) worked seven innings to get the win.

The Twins started their first homestand with a .225 batting average and averaged 2.8 runs in their five losses. But in two victories over the Athletics, they have scored 13 runs on 23 hits.

Joe Nathan pitched a perfect ninth inning for his second save.

“Everybody’s taking a part in this thing and getting some swings, and I think everybody’s feeling a little bit better about themselves,” manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Nick Swisher went 3-for-4 with two home runs and tied a career high with four RBIs for the A’s, who are now guaranteed of losing their first series of the season after a 7-6 loss in the opener on Tuesday night.

“One-run losses are frustrating,” Swisher said. “You get so close and just don’t get it done. But it’s early, we’ll be all right.”

One night after squandering a 4-0 lead, the A’s spotted starter Esteban Loaiza (0-2) three runs on Wednesday night, but he couldn’t hold it.

“Not a good outing again for Esteban,” A’s manager Ken Macha said. “We need more out of him. … We need him to get us (deeper) into games. That’s what we need and that’s why we signed him.”

Swisher hit a two-run double off the baggie in right in the second inning and scored on a single up the middle from Adam Melhuse to give Oakland a 3-0 lead.

Batista doubled home Hunter in the bottom of the inning before the Twins broke through in the third.

After Joe Mauer and Hunter walked, Morneau just missed a homer when he lined an 0-1 pitch foul down the first-base line. He worked the count to 2-2, then knocked an offspeed pitch from Loaiza off the press box in right center for a 4-3 lead.

Morneau is batting sixth, and Gardenhire is resisting the tempation to move him up—for now.

“We’re doing fine. I’m not going to start messing around with guys’ brains,” Gardenhire said. “In time, he’ll hit cleanup. We’ve said that before.”

Swisher tied it in the fourth with a leadoff homer, which just barely reached the seats in left. He hit another solo shot in the sixth for his third career multihomer game to cut Minnesota’s lead to 6-5.

Hunter came into the game hitting .214 on the season, but he had to be happy to see Loaiza. Hunter had 19 hits in his previous 42 at-bats (.452) against Loaiza, and went 2-for-2 against him with a walk, and 2-for-4 on the night.

Loaiza traditionally gets off to fast starts—he entered the night 18-5 with a 3.13 ERA for his career in April. But he has been dreadful to start this season, giving up six runs on eight hits with four walks in four-plus innings, ballooning his ERA to 11.42.

“I’ve only pitched eight innings and I’ve given up so many runs, so many home runs and so many walks,” Loaiza said. “This is the first time in my career I’ve done this in two starts.”

Silva wasn’t exactly razor sharp either. He gave up five runs on eight hits and hit a batter. In addition to Swisher’s two homers, the A’s had 10 flyouts, a sign that Silva’s trademark sinker ball wasn’t doing a whole lot of sinking.

The Twins have gone eight straight games to start the season without a quality start, the longest streak to open a season in franchise history.

Notes

After nearly 49,000 attended the home opener on Tuesday night, the Twins announced a crowd of 22,603 on Wednesday. … Gardenhire argued with 2B umpire Alfonso Marquez in the fifth after it appeared that 2B Mark Ellis was not on the bag when he turned a double play on Batista. Replays agreed with Gardenhire. … A’s 1B Dan Johnson went 0-for-4 and is 0-for-23 to start the season.

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