By Dave Campbell
AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Having fallen into a funk for the last three years, the Minnesota Twins have produced another unpromising start to the season.
The fans have noticed.
Dan Straily scattered three hits over seven innings and Sam Fuld hit a rare home run to help the Oakland Athletics complete a three-game sweep of the Twins with a 6-1 victory on Thursday afternoon in front of the smallest crowd since Target Field opened in 2010.
The paid attendance was announced at 20,650. Weekday matinees while school is still in session can be tough draws, but the weather couldn’t have been much better for an early-April series finale with a high of 61 degrees and bright sun backlighting the blue sky.
“People are working. I don’t know. We’ll see. Still decent crowds,” left fielder Jason Kubel said.
The ballpark has consistently drawn rave reviews, but in year five the drop in demand is natural given how badly the Twins have struggled. After winning the AL Central in their first season here, they lost at least 96 games the last three years. Their home record of 96-147 from 2011-2013 was better than only Houston. Now they’ve started 2014 by being swept in their first home series for the first time since 2003.
“That’s not fun. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s not like the guys aren’t trying. It’s just not working right now,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “You’ve got to throw out those other years. You can’t bring all those back. That’s over with. We won in here the first year we were here. It’s not about the ballpark itself. It’s about our players. We have to get it done.”
Straily (1-1) gave up one run and struck out five. The two-time defending AL West champion Athletics have gone nine straight games to start the season without their starter allowing more than three runs. They beat the Twins for the ninth straight time and have outscored them 86-27 during the streak.
“Just a tough team. Hopefully we just keep playing hard and it starts going our way,” Kubel said.
The Twins were at least counting on sturdier starting pitching this season, but that hasn’t been any better. Mike Pelfrey (0-2) gave up six runs on nine hits and four walks in five innings. The Twins have had only one quality start in their first nine games.
Fuld hit just his sixth homer in 738 career plate appearances and singled. Josh Donaldson also hit a two-run homer.
“Well, it’s three games. Yeah, you never want to get swept at home. It’s not off to a good start here at home, but we’ve got another one tomorrow,” first baseman Joe Mauer said.
The problem with Pelfrey was missing on too many pitches early in the count and then being forced to throw them in more hittable locations. He used the word “terrible” three different times to describe his performance during his postgame interview.
“Not too many people in baseball can be successful throwing the ball belt-high down the middle,” Pelfrey said.
Gardenhire was concerned about the pace at which Pelfrey worked, which became a problem last season.
“We can’t throw the ball for him,” Gardenhire said. “We can run to the mound as many times as you want to and tell him to throw the ball over the plate and make him swing the bat, but ultimately it gets to the guy with the ball in his hand.”
NOTES: Brian Dozier hit his third home run for the Twins and has gone deep 21 times since the start of last season. The next closest for the Twins in that span is Oswaldo Arcia with 14. ... Kubel has been a bright spot since returning this year to his original team. He leads the Twins with a .448 average in 29 at-bats and has a whopping 1.174 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. ... Twins assistant GM Rob Antony said prized CF prospect Byron Buxton likely will not start playing until May because of a wrist injury. ... The Twins start a series against Kansas City on Friday, their first home night game, with RHP Kyle Gibson (1-0, 1.80 ERA) pitching against Royals LHP Bruce Chen (0-0, 1.42 ERA).