MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Hideki Matsui wasn’t the only one getting a little anxious for his first home run in an Athletics uniform.
The Oakland pitching staff was just as excited to see the veteran send one soaring into the Target Field stands.
Matsui homered to help the Athletics break out of a season-long offensive slump and Brandon McCarthy pitched into the eighth inning in Oakland’s 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday.
“I’m just happy to get one,” Matsui said through an interpreter. “And we won the game, as well.”
Matsui was signed in the offseason to provide another veteran bat to complement a young, talented pitching corps. But he entered the game Sunday hitting just .160 with no homers and three RBIs.
He led off the fourth inning with a solo shot that bounced off a scoreboard in deep right-center field to get the A’s on the board. Josh Willingham added another one in a four-run sixth inning.
“You know it’s going to come,” A’s manager Bob Geren said of Matsui, who also had a single and two runs scored. “To see that performance, that ball jumped out of here in a hurry. He got the whole bench really excited.”
McCarthy (1-0) allowed two runs and nine hits with five strikeouts in 7 1-3 innings for his first win since 2009 after not pitching in the majors last year because of shoulder problems. Brian Fuentes earned his third save.
Justin Morneau had three hits and an RBI for the Twins, and Jim Thome hit his first homer of the season. But their three-run eighth was too little, too late on another slow day for the offense.
Scott Baker (0-2) gave up four runs and seven hits with two walks and five strikeouts in five innings.
Landon Powell had two hits and an RBI, and the A’s scored four runs in the sixth inning—they scored four total in their previous four games—to take a 5-0 lead. Oakland has given McCarthy five runs of support in both starts, but is averaging just 2.7 runs in its other seven games.
“I think they like me more than the other guys,” McCarthy joked. “I think it’s because I have a better personality.”
The way the Twins had been swinging the bats, that lead seemed insurmountable. But McCarthy gave up a single to Denard Span and a double to Joe Mauer to start the eighth. After Morneau drove in Span with a groundout, Thome launched his two-run homer off lefty Jeremy Blevins over the 36-foot high wall behind the center-field fence to make it 5-3.
Fuentes, who hasn’t allowed a run to the Twins in seven career appearances, slammed the door in the ninth to close it out.
Oakland entered the game with just 24 runs in eight games, the third-fewest in the American League. Yet even they were ahead of the Twins, who had 21.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire pulled out all the stops to try to jump-start his struggling lineup, moving Michael Cuddyer from right field to second base and giving Mauer a rare day game behind the plate.
“We just got to get swinging better,” Gardenhire said. “It’s frustrating for the guys, but at least we kept battling.”
On paper it looked quite formidable with Mauer hitting second followed by Morneau, Thome, Delmon Young, Jason Kubel and Cuddyer against a right-handed pitcher, ideal for Minnesota’s lefty-heavy lineup.
But McCarthy chewed them up all game, pounding the strike zone and recording 11 groundouts.
The series featured good pitching and anemic offenses, with the teams combining to score 12 runs in the three games. Runs were at such a premium that when Matsui’s homer slammed off the scoreboard on the facing of the second deck in right-center, the hometown fans let out a groan as if the game had ended right there.
Willingham led off the sixth with a towering home run to left field that traveled an estimated 427 feet. Kevin Kouzmanoff and Cliff Pennington added sacrifice flies, and Powell had an RBI double to make it 5-0.
“It was good that the offense came together,” Matsui said. “The starting pitching has been pitching well, but they weren’t quite getting the offensive support.”
NOTES: Thome’s two RBIs gave him 1,629, moving him past Harold Baines for 29th on the career list. … Mauer received his 2010 Gold Glove before the game. … The Twins also honored the University of Minnesota-Duluth men’s hockey team, which won the national championship Saturday night with an overtime victory against Michigan. … Ryan Sweeney got his first start of the season for the A’s in right field, going 1 for 3 with a double.
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