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Mauer muscles Minnesota to opening win

Mauer muscles Minnesota to opening win

TORONTO -- After watching his club muster just three hits in a loss at Cleveland on Sunday, in a continuation of its recent offensive skid, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire decided to switch things up a little in his lineup for the series opener against the Blue Jays.

On Monday, he gave Orlando Cabrera and Brendan Harris the day off and started Nick Punto at shortstop and Brian Buscher at third. It was just an attempt to "mix it up," the skipper said.

"Some really slow bats yesterday and some guys looked a little worn out, so you just try to shake it up," Gardenhire said before the contest.

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For at least one inning on Monday, it seemed to provide his club with a spark.

The Twins' bats came alive in the first inning on Monday afternoon at the Rogers Centre, scoring five runs and providing enough of a cushion to help carry the club to a 6-3 win over the Blue Jays and snap Minnesota's seven-game losing streak in Toronto.

With the win, the Twins gained slight ground in the American League Central race, moving to 6 1/2 games behind idle first-place Detroit. Minnesota still has seven games left with Detroit. The Twins are well aware it's a steep climb to get back in the race, but Gardenhire's message to his club before Monday's contest was not to look too far ahead.

"It's the old cliché: one game at a time, that we're not going to be able to make up seven games all at once," Justin Morneau said. "It was the message of go out and do our jobs, worry about that day and if we don't win, come back the next day. We're not going to go undefeated the rest of the year, but you want to put yourself in a position to at least have the games matter."

The Twins sure looked focused on that task in the first inning, with their offense emerging once again, lacing singles and belting doubles off the wall as 10 batters came to the plate against Blue Jays starter Scott Richmond. The Twins had six straight batters reach base before recording an out in the inning.

Hits were a big part of the inning but so was the Twins' ability to take advantage of some poor fielding decisions by Jays left fielder Travis Snider. The Twins took extra bases twice when Snider threw to the wrong base, trying to make a play on the lead runner rather than keeping the hitter at first base.

Snider's mistakes allowed Joe Mauer's single to score two runs rather than just one, and put Mauer in scoring position at second base, just in time as Morneau snapped his 0-for-19 hitless streak with an RBI single to right field.

"It feels like my first hit in a month," Morneau said, while donning a smile that hasn't been seen much during his recent struggles. "It was nice to get a hit in that first at-bat and nice [to be] a part of it rather than being the rally-killer. And the last at-bat, I hit a ball hard. So I feel like I'm so close."

Morneau wasn't the only Twins' player to get himself out of a slump in the inning. Michael Cuddyer snapped a long hitless streak of his own in that productive first inning with an RBI single to center, ending his 0-for-16 drought.

But while the Twins got some relief from that big first inning, their offensive outburst was short lived.

After throwing 46 pitches in the first inning, Richmond settled down to get through the sixth inning in his start. Richmond gave up a ground-rule double to Mauer with one out in the second inning, but then retired 13 straight batters.

"He started attacking the strike zone a little more," Morneau said of Richmond. "I don't think he had the command that first inning like he did the rest of the game. ... He settled down after that first inning, a little too late fortunately for us."

While Richmond was turning things around, Twins rookie starter Jeff Manship was battling to keep the five-run lead his club had provided. With his club leading 5-1 at the start of the fifth, Manship started to find trouble.

Jose Bautista hit a solo home run with one out in the fifth. Manship then gave up a single to Adam Lind before facing Lyle Overbay. Although Manship's pitch count was at 100, Gardenhire left him in to face the left-hander, who then doubled to put runners at second and third.

"Honestly, I should have taken him out the hitter before," Gardenhire said. " I wanted to take him out for Overbay and honestly should have. But he was using his breaking ball so well against the lefties. I thought maybe he could spin it in there but he got it up."

"I was throwing way too many pitches, trying to be too fine at times and then rushing myself," said Manship, who lasted 4 1/3 innings while giving up three runs on seven hits. "I just think I was getting behind way too much."

Bobby Keppel took over for Manship and while he allowed one inherited run to score on a Vernon Wells' liner that ricocheted off his glove, it was the only run that scored while the Twins bullpen was in the game and the last hit tallied by Toronto in the contest. Keppel, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan combined to toss 4 2/3 scoreless innings, as Crain picked up his fifth win and Nathan earned save No. 37 on the season.

The Twins added one more run to their lead in the sixth. Buscher drew a two-out walk and Span tallied an RBI single to center to make it a 6-3 contest.

The six runs were the most the Twins have scored since a 7-6 win over Baltimore on Aug. 25. In that span of 10 games between the contests, the Twins averaged just 2.6 runs a game.

"For a team that's scored runs all year, it's tough when you go through stretches like that," Morneau said. "If the pitchers keep throwing the ball great and we swing like we know we're capable of, hopefully we can make this thing interesting down the stretch."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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