Minnesota had not faced Carmona since unsuccessfully battling the Indians' right-hander in four contests last season. This season, Carmona missed two months after suffering a left hip strain in a game against the Rangers on May 23.
Saturday marked Carmona's return to the Indians, who rode him and the recently traded CC Sabathia all the way to an appearance in the 2007 American League Championship Series. During the 2007 campaign, the 24-year-old Carmona dominated, going 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA in his first full Major League season.
The Twins, who struggled against the Tribe in 2007 (four wins in 18 games), were not exempt from Carmona's dominance a year ago. In their four against the sinkerballer, they scratched out just five runs over 31 innings while batting just .213 and slugging .250. But that was a different Carmona.
That Carmona exhibited pinpoint control, walking just 61 batters and striking out 137 in 215 innings of work. The version the Twins faced Saturday night in Cleveland was an entirely different story.
If the Minnesota offense had been off-key in its previous five games (11 runs, .277 on-base percentage), the sound of bat-on-ball at Cleveland's Progressive Field on Saturday night was music to Gardenhire's ears. And the first inning is where the music started.
Carmona struggled with his control in the early going, and three of Minnesota's first four batters in the opening frame drew walks. The Twins parlayed those free passes into runs -- all three would score on an RBI single by Jason Kubel and a two-run single by Delmon Young. Both Kubel and Young were plated one out later on third baseman Buscher's third home run of the season, a shot to right field.
"We really did what you have to do in that situation," said Gardenhire. "[With] a pitcher coming off the DL like that, you have to be patient, work the count, and make scoring chances for yourself."
Two innings later, it was Buscher who chased Carmona from the game, this time on a bullet single down the right-field line. The Buscher hit, the Twins' fourth of the inning, pushed across two runs. The hit came on an ill-fated sinker, Carmona's last of the night, and was the Minnesota's sixth hit of the game with runners in scoring position -- meaning the Twins accomplished more in seven outs than they had in their previous 93 against Carmona.
Minnesota starter Scott Baker, for his part, cruised through the early innings. The Twins right-hander didn't allow a baserunner to reach second base until the fourth, when a looping liner to right fielder Kubel extinguished a two-out Cleveland rally. The Indians didn't register on the scoreboard until the fifth, when third baseman Andy Marte hit a leadoff home run that cut the Minnesota lead to 9-1.
The Indians did knock Baker out of the game when they collected three straight hits to open the sixth stanza. The third of those hits was a two-run single by Jhonny Peralta. Brian Bass, the first of four Minnesota relievers, replaced Baker. The bullpen quartet of Bass, Craig Breslow, Jesse Crain, and Matt Guerrier combined to allow just one run on three hits over four frames.
The Twins plated two in the eighth, answered by a lone Tribe run in the home half of the inning, to close out the scoring at 11-4.
Baker (7-3) picked up the win for Minnesota, going five innings and allowing three runs on five hits. He has allowed three earned runs or less in 23 of his 25 starts.
Offensively, the Twins broke out for 15 hits in notching their 10th double-digit run output of the season. The resurgent Minnesota offense has now collected 15 or more hits five times in the month of July. Much of that production Saturday came in the clutch, something that was lacking during the five-game skid. The Twins went 8-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
"Up and down the lineup, we executed tonight," said Gardenhire. "We had a plan to work the count. [Carmona] struggled a bit with his command, with this being his first game back. But I'm happy with the way we took advantage of opportunities."
Much of that came courtesy the bat of Buscher, who went 3-for-5 with a home run and a career-high five RBIs. Young also banged out three hits for the Twins. He was 3-for-5 with two runs scored and two RBIs.
The victory puts an end to what was the Twins' second-longest losing streak of the season. Minnesota dropped six straight from June 5-10.
"Streaks are part of baseball," said Gardenhire. "You can't get too high or low. An even keel gets the job done."