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Cuddyer sets up Nathan to save Twins’ win

July 16, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — As he ran out Saturday from the bullpen, Joe Nathan entered his first ninth-inning save situation since April. Thrilled to see Nathan back in the closer’s role, the Twins crowd gave him a huge ovation with music blaring in the background.

Entering in the ninth inning with a lead provided a distinct difference for Nathan, who admitted he had to calm himself down a bit.

“Yeah, especially running in, it got a little louder than normal,” Nathan said. “Usually, it’s like advertisements going on in the eighth inning. So yeah, you’ve got to calm down a little bit more.”

Nathan pitched a scoreless ninth, giving up just one hit as he picked up his first save since April 8, and the Twins came away with the 4-3 victory over the Royals.

Getting a save in his first day back in the closer’s role since mid-April was a big moment for Nathan, who has been excellent since returning from the disabled list in June.

“I’ve been through that Tommy John surgery, and he came back really well,” said Twins starter Carl Pavano. “He had a little bit of a hiccup, which we all have in that surgery and now he looks like he’s returning to himself. And I think he’s feeling pretty good about it.”

Nathan’s save was the 250th of his career in a Twins uniform, putting him four saves away from tying Rick Aguilera for first on the Twins’ all-time list.

Facing the middle of the Royals’ order, Nathan only made one bad pitch, which resulted in a single to right by Eric Hosmer. Nathan got the other three batters he faced to pop out.

“He had a good slider,” said Royals manager Ned Yost. “His fastball’s down from what it used to be, but it still looks crisp. His breaking ball looks a lot sharper to me, but I hadn’t seen him for a long time.”

Nathan got the save opportunity thanks to a big hit in the eighth inning by Twins All-Star Michael Cuddyer.

Following a pair of singles by Alexi Casilla and Joe Mauer, Cuddyer stepped to the plate with two on and one out, facing All-Star reliever Aaron Crow. Cuddyer delivered with a single of his own into the gap in right field, scoring Casilla easily from third to put the Twins on top for good.

After the game, Cuddyer was asked if it ever gets old to come up in those situations.

“Never, from the time I was six in my driveway envisioning it ’til now, it never gets old,” Cuddyer said. “Especially when you succeed.”

Cuddyer fell behind Crow after chasing a slider out of the zone, but connected with the 1-2 pitch for the RBI single.

“Yeah, I was looking for the slider,” Cuddyer said. “Sometimes when you’re looking for the pitch you chase it no matter where it is, and that’s what I did on the 1-1. The two-strike one, I was able to get it up a little bit and fortunately was able to throw it out in the outfield.”

With the win, the Twins climbed back to within six games of first place in the American League Central and just six games under .500.

Ben Revere got things started for the Minnesota offense, leading off the first with a single and stealing third base before scoring on a groundout to second. Delmon Young then followed with an RBI double, scoring Cuddyer from first base.

Catcher Drew Butera also homered in the fourth for the Twins, his second of the year.

Pavano delivered a solid start for the Twins, allowing three runs on six hits over seven innings. The right-hander held the Royals scoreless until giving up a two-run home run to Alcides Escobar with two out in the fifth.

The Royals also added a third run off Pavano in the sixth to tie the game.

“I thought my stuff was alright tonight,” Pavano said. “I thought I made some good pitches, I thought I second-guessed myself a little bit. Me and Drew talked after the game, I definitely beat myself a couple times, that cost me some runs.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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