HANNAH FOSLIEN / AP Enlarge
MINNEAPOLIS - Delmon Young and Nick Punto are starting to get comfortable in their roles.
Young hit a three-run home run and had a season-high four RBIs, Punto homered and also had four RBIs, and the surging Minnesota Twins beat the free-falling Cleveland Indians 12-3 last night.
Young got off to a slow start after coming over in a trade from Tampa Bay, and Punto has battled injuries and hasn't been able to get at-bats when healthy. It now looks like both players are starting to heat up and fit in.
"It's nice to see different guys contribute," Punto said. "Tonight it was me and Delmon, and Delmon's starting to swing the bat real well. That's the key to this team winning."
Paul Byrd (3-10) hung a breaking ball to Young in the third inning and the second-year outfielder lined it over the left-field wall for his third home run, giving Minnesota a 5-2 lead and helping the Twins win for the 14th time in their last 16 games.
"I was looking for a good pitch to hit to drive in a run," said Young, who entered June hitting .264 and now stands at .289.
Young's blast, combined with Punto's solo homer in the first inning - his first since June 6 of last season - provided enough run support for Livan Hernandez (9-5) and the Minnesota bullpen.
Punto added a three-run double in the eighth for the finishing blow.
Hernandez allowed home runs to Kelly Shoppach and Ben Francisco, but held the Indians to three runs on five hits over six innings.
Hernandez's outing continued a trend of strong starting pitching for Minnesota. Twins starters have 16 quality starts over their last 19 games and are 13-1 during that stretch.
The Indians, losers of six straight and last in the AL Central, cut closer Joe Borowski yesterday.
"There are so many different things that happen over the course of a season that you have to handle, whether it be personally or on this ballclub, and you've got to be able to separate from that," Indians manager Eric Wedge said.
"You have to regain your focus and go out and play."
Several key players remain on the disabled list and rumors continue to swirl that Cleveland will trade Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia rather than re-sign him to a multiyear deal.
All signs point to the 2008 season being lost for the Indians.
"We know where we are at right now, we're deep in the trenches and we have to dig out," Wedge said. "Each individual out there has to do their part to help up us be a little bit better tomorrow."
Not even a trip to the Metrodome could snap Byrd out of his recent slide. The righty with the funky windup entered Friday's game 6-1 with a 2.03 ERA in 10 starts in Minneapolis, but lost his fifth straight.
"Frustrated, this has been as tough a month, month and a half, that I have ever had in the big leagues," Byrd said.
"My arm feels great. I feel like I have the good fastball. I am just not able to get through the game without giving up a lot of runs."
Byrd allowed six runs and eight hits over 51/3 innings.
Brian Buscher, Brendan Harris and Justin Morneau drove in Minnesota's other runs.
If Punto continues to heat up, it would give the Twins another option at third base, shortstop and second base.
Punto was a key member of the 2006 team that won the AL Central. He dropped back last season, hitting .210.
"Some great swings for Punto tonight. It's good to see him get on a roll," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Last year was a nightmare for him. He's been putting a lot of good swings in and let's hope he can keep it up."
Shoppach had three hits for Cleveland, including a two-run homer in the third that temporarily tied the game at 2-2.44.97903 -93.26493