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Valencia’s go-ahead hit spurs Twins

July 20, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — When it comes to hitting with the bases loaded, Danny Valencia is well aware of the success he’s had in his career. Rather than let the pressure of the situation get to him, Valencia has shown a flair for the dramatic in his career, coming up with big hits in those moments.

Valencia did it on Tuesday night with a walk-off single, and he did it again on Wednesday with another go-ahead single as the Twins rode a three-run eighth to a 7-5 victory over the Indians. With the win, the Twins got back to five games under .500 and five games behind the Indians, right where they were when the series began.

After losing both games of Monday’s doubleheader, the Twins looked to be on the verge of falling back into a big hole in the American League Central. Instead, they split the series with the Indians and will look to gain ground with a big series starting on Thursday against the first-place Tigers.

The Twins have yet to beat the Tigers this season. And the last time that they were in Detroit, the Twins left at their lowest point, with a 17-37 record, 16 1/2 games out of first.

“It wasn’t fun leaving Detroit and flying wherever we went to next after that,” Valencia said. “But a lot’s changed since then, our team’s really clicked a little bit, we’re playing good baseball and I still don’t think we’re playing our best baseball.

“Eventually when we do click on all cylinders like we can, I think we’re going to be a really, really tough team to beat.”

With his single, Valencia improved to 10-for-18 with 22 RBIs in his career with the bases loaded. He also has 21 RBIs this season in the seventh inning or later, a category in which he ranked sixth in the American League entering the game.

After falling behind 1-2, Valencia got just enough of a fastball from Vinnie Pestano, slapping a soft liner to right field that just got over the glove of Orlando Cabrera at second base.

“It’s fun,” Valencia said. “You know what’s on the line and it makes you kind of relax a little bit, even though it’s hard to really believe that. You don’t try to do too much in those situations. One run, like I’ve always said, is enough. Anything else after that is a bonus. Being able today to get another hit with the bases loaded is just huge.”

Alexi Casilla scored easily from third, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka singled home a pair of runs two batters later for some breathing room.

Nishioka’s hit proved crucial in the ninth, when Twins closer Joe Nathan surrendered a one-out homer to Lonnie Chisenhall.

“Today was about Nishioka, I think,” Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer said. “If Nishioka doesn’t get that hit, we’re still out there playing.”

Casilla, who scored the go-ahead run, celebrated his 27th birthday — and said he was getting ‘old’ after the game — by going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles, the second of which sparked the Twins’ big eighth inning.

Leading off the eighth, Casilla drove an 0-1 changeup from Pestano into the gap in left. The ball fell between Indians left fielder Luis Valbuena and center fielder Ezequiel Carrera and bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double.

The bounce over the wall was a tough break for the Twins and Casilla, who would have had at least a triple if the ball remained in play.

“I thought it was a homer,” Casilla said. “I thought it hit the glove and got over. I thought it was gone. And then I look, and they were on the ball, and I said, “Oh my god.'”

For the Indians, the play was another crucial situation that could have gone differently if they weren’t playing Valbuena — an infielder — in left field.

In addition to Casilla’s double that could have been caught for an out, Valbuena also had the two biggest hits of Tuesday’s game fall in front of him.

“If you have an everyday outfielder, I’m sure that it probably could have been caught,” said Indians manager Manny Acta. “We know what we’re dealing with. Luis is playing out of position. He played a lot of left field at Triple-A, but it’s a different ballgame up here.”

But the Indians were not the only ones that made crucial mistakes in the game on defense.

Twins starter Nick Blackburn pitched well, but a few mistakes — by him as well as the Twins’ defense — allowed the Indians to push four runs across against the right-hander. Only one of the four was earned, and Blackburn allowed just four hits and two walks, while striking out seven.

The Indians plated three runs in the fourth, two of which were unearned as center fielder Ben Revere dropped a long fly ball. In the sixth, Cleveland added another unearned run as Travis Hafner scored on a passed ball.

“There were a couple things that happened behind me, but we still ended up winning the game,” Blackburn said. “That’s all we need right now. All the wins, especially against teams that are ahead of us, is what’s important. I’ll take that outing every time.”

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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