Twins came from out of nowhere to set home run record

Published 7:25 am Tuesday, September 3, 2019

It’s no surprise that someone set a home run record this year.

What’s remarkable is who did it.

The Minnesota Twins — who haven’t led the majors in homers since the days of Harmon Killebrew — are now at 268 and counting. They surpassed the record set by last year’s New York Yankees on Saturday night, when they hit six in a loss to the Detroit Tigers.

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Those Tigers are managed by Ron Gardenhire, who managed the Twins back when they had a much different reputation offensively. In 2006, for example, Gardenhire managed Minnesota to 96 victories and a division title. The Twins finished 28th in the majors in home runs that year.

Minnesota was led by the pitching of Johan Santana and the all-around excellence of Joe Mauer. The Twins had power hitters like Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter, but they weren’t a team you expected to outslug the Yankees and Red Sox.

“When I first took over as manager, we had speed,” Gardenhire said. “We didn’t have much power, but we had a lot of speed, so we ran all over the place.”

The Twins haven’t led the majors in home runs since 1964, and they haven’t even finished in the top 10 since 1991, when they won the second of two World Series titles in five years.

Minnesota’s home run binge this year came after the Twins finished 23rd in the category a season ago. Yes, the Twins have Nelson Cruz — who has 34 homers this year and is closing in on 400 for his career — but this power surge was unexpected from this roster.

Quick, name the other seven Minnesota players with 20 home runs. The answer is a few paragraphs below.

“Guys get hot and teams get hot for a game or a week, or a couple of weeks,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “But to do it for five straight months at that pace is — it’s special.”

The Twins have a chance to break up an AL East monopoly on the home run lead. The Yankees, Orioles and Blue Jays are the only teams to lead the majors over the past 10 years.

The Yankees are in second place now, a dozen homers behind Minnesota.

Elsewhere around the majors:

The Oakland Athletics are a half-game out of the second wild card in the American League — and that’s after a 16-game stretch that included 10 against the Astros and Yankees. Oakland went 7-3 in those games against the AL’s top two teams.

The A’s play four more against Houston, but other than that, the schedule eases up in September. Oakland’s other 22 remaining games are against the Angels, Tigers, Rangers, Royals and Mariners.