The Minnesota Twins hosted the AL West-leading Houston Astros this weekend in what was arguably the biggest series of the year for Minnesota. First-year manager Paul Molitor wound up putting scarcely-used utility man Eduardo Nunez‘s name on the lineup card as a starter in both the first and third games of the series after designated hitter Miguel Sano and third baseman Trevor Plouffe respectably needed days off.
Nunez had started just once in the nine games before the series opened, so to see him starting twice in a span of three huge games was an odd sight, but the 28-year-old showed up on the big stage and helped lead the Twins to victory in each of his two starts. He went 2-for-7 in the series but both hits found a new home in the left field bleachers at Target Field. The first home run opened up the bottom of the third inning, counting as the first hit of the ballgame for either club and giving Minnesota a 1-0 lead. An inning later, he notched his second RBI of the game on a run-scoring groundout. His second home run of the series was a two-run blast in the sixth inning of Sunday’s rubber match, extending his team’s lead to 3-0.
Minnesota has a number of bats in their lineup who would be likely heroes; All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier has already put his stamp on multiple walk-off home runs this season, emerging Rookie of the Year candidate Sano has been tearing it up since making his Major League debut in early July, and former MVP Joe Mauer has been nothing but clutch in 2015, batting a stellar .360 with runners in scoring position and .500 with the bases loaded.
Nunez is the last guy on the team who fans would expect to provide a major spark in a major moment, but there he was this weekend, doubling his home run total from two to four as the Twins won their third series in a row and crept to just a game and a half behind the Texas Rangers for the second wild card spot in the American League.
The Twins have just three bench players available on each night and roll with an eight-man bullpen, so it’s almost crucial that each reserve is able to step up when called upon, because Molitor doesn’t have many other options to turn to. Commonly used as just a pinch-runner in late-game situations, Nunez doesn’t get his name called as often as fourth outfielder Shane Robinson or backup catcher Chris Herrmann, but Minnesota needed him this weekend in an important role and now the team is flying into their mid-week series with the Chicago White Sox.