[Ed.'s Note: This column was originally posted on the Twins Blog at WCCO.com which can be found here.]
To say that Aaron Hicks' first month-plus in the big leagues has been a trial is more than a tepid understatement.
Coming into Monday night the rookie had a slash-line of .137/.239/.216. As bad as those numbers look, considering that they were numbers on the rise, they look even worse.
He'd struck out 35 times in 102 at-bats, and had only 14 hits – though five of those were for extra bases. He'd managed to up his on-base percentage by virtue of drawing 14 walks, but was still struggling mightily to put the ball in play.
But for as long of a haul as a baseball season can be, it's funny how often one night can change the course of a player's season.
Hicks may very well have had one of those nights on Monday.
It started out innocently enough with a routine fly ball out to right in the second inning.
But after the Twins had grabbed the lead from the White Sox in the third, Hicks came to the plate to lead off the fourth. He worked himself into a 1-2 count, and then hammered a Hector Santiago pitch to center for only the second home run of his young career.
It's impressive enough to hit a ball 416 feet into a spot at Target Field where Twins fly balls usually go to die. It turned out to be all the more impressive given what happened in the sixth inning.
The White Sox had just closed to within two runs of the Twins when Adam Dunn – he of 412 career home runs – hit one to nearly the same spot that Hicks had hit his home run.
The difference? Aaron Hicks got a better jump than Alejandro De Aza – the Chicago center fielder – did. Hicks raced to the wall and made a leaping grab reminiscent of the kind of catch that earned Torii Hunter the nickname of “Spiderman”.
“When a ball's struck like that, you don't kind of know, you just have to break back and do the best you can,” Hicks said, “It hung up for me and I made the catch.”
A home run and the highway-robbery of a long-ball would be enough to earn the hearty cheers of any fan base, and Twins fans greeted Hicks loudly as he returned to the dugout.
But he wasn't done.
After Oswaldo Arcia struck out to lead off the bottom half of the sixth, Hicks took Santiago deep again, this time 412 feet to left-center. The two no-doubters not only constituted the first multi-hit and multi-homer game of Hicks' career, but also the first multi-home-run game by any Twin in 2013.
“I think the second one was more fun,” said Hicks, “Right after the catch I just felt amazing, I felt loose, and for that one to come right after, just capped it off.”
This time the cheers from the Twins faithful were so loud and sustained, they prompted another first for the first-year center fielder... his first curtain call.
Hicks had one more at-bat in the 8th. This time after a bloop-double by Arcia and with first base open, Chicago reliever Deunte Heath decided that discretion was the better part of valor and issued Aaron a 5-pitch walk.
As the old Metrodome scoreboard saying goes, “Walks Will Haunt”, and haunt Heath they did as Hicks came around to score on a bases-loaded walk.
Of course, one game does not a career make. Heck, it doesn't even make a season.
Manager Ron Gardenhire just hopes a night like tonight helps build Hicks confidence, “That's kind of what we're all waiting for. You know, you get a couple of big hits like that, you have a moment out there and hopefully that can maybe get him past some of these things.”
If Hicks begins to establish himself as a legit starter in the Major Leagues, he'll be able to point to May 13th as the night were things started to click.
In his words, “I've just been battling, you know, every day and that's the thing you gotta do in this league. I just made some plays today and had fun.”