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Valencia’s go-ahead hit spurs Twins

July 20, 2011 Comments off

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.

Twins notebook, 6/25

June 25, 2011 Comments off

Gardenhire holds team meeting to clear air

By Jordan Schelling / MLB.com

MILWAUKEE — If he did not want to throw a 3-2 fastball to Prince Fielder, then all Jose Mijares had to do was shake Joe Mauer off, or call him out to the mound.But once he threw that pitch, Mijares should have taken responsibility for it after Fielder ripped it to right field for a go-ahead double, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

“Every player’s got to be accountable, and Mija knows that,” Gardenhire said. “If you have the ball in your hand as a pitcher, and a catcher’s calling something you don’t want to throw, the one rule of this game is that you don’t have to throw it, because you have the ball.”

Gardenhire met with Mijares and Mauer before Saturday’s game, and the Twins also had a team meeting three hours before the first pitch to “clear the air.”

While the lefty reliever did not say anything his manager had not already said Friday night, Gardenhire noted that there was a difference between the manager questioning the pitch selection and the pitcher doing the same.”I can say those things, and I would’ve liked to see a breaking ball, but a pitcher can’t,” Gardenhire said. “If he doesn’t want to throw something, don’t throw it. That’s totally on your own shoulders and that’s being accountable.”

Regardless of who was at fault in the at-bat, Gardenhire made it clear that he did not want the issue to linger within the Twins’ clubhouse.

For that reason, he called the quick pregame meeting.

Though he also would have preferred to see a slider in that situation, Gardenhire said that if Mijares had better executed the pitch and put it where Mauer wanted it, the whole situation may have been avoided.

“I think Joe said it best,” Gardenhire said. “Yes he did call for a fastball, but he did not call a fastball down the middle.”

Gardenhire talks out struggles with Nishioka

MILWAUKEE — Not wanting his shortstop to get frustrated over his struggles at the plate, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire called Tsuyoshi Nishioka into his office after Friday night’s 4-3 loss to talk.

“He needs to keep swinging and get more at-bats,” Gardenhire said. “He’ll get better as we go along. I just don’t want him to get too frustrated, bottle it all up, and start worrying about things that he doesn’t need to worry about.”

Nishioka has batted just .160 with two doubles and two RBIs in eight games since returning from the disabled list.

He’s also struck out eight times in 25 at-bats over that stretch, after missing 60 games due to a fractured left fibula.

“He’s back here, he’s been hurt a long time, and I want him to get out there and relax, get some swings in, and I told him that last night,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t want him to get too emotionally caught up, worrying about not doing his job.”

Valencia, Braun recall time at Miami

MILWAUKEE — As teammates at the University of Miami, Danny Valencia and Ryan Braun once each hit three-run home runs in the same game.

On Friday night, it was Valencia who put a three-run homer into the seats at Miller Park, giving the Twins a 3-2 lead at the time. Braun said that he wasn’t too thrilled about watching Valencia’s home-run ball go over the left-field fence.

“That’s never fun, you never want to see guys have success against us, but against everybody else I definitely root for him,” Braun said. “I obviously wish him the best, and not just him, but everybody else that we played with as well. It’s pretty cool to see quite a few guys in the Major Leagues and having a lot of success.”

In 2005, Valencia and Braun manned the corner infield spots for the Miami Hurricanes during their sophomore and junior seasons, respectively. They were part of a Miami team that also featured Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay and Indians closer Chris Perez.

During that season, Valencia and Braun combined for 153 hits, 24 home runs and 139 RBIs for Miami, which lost in the Super Regional round to a Nebraska team that featured Alex Gordon at third base and Brian Duensing out of the bullpen.

The two still remain in touch with each other and many other Miami teammates.

“Yeah, of course, man,” Braun said. “I follow everybody, keep in touch with everybody. He’s doing well, I’m happy for him and it’s good to see. Especially because obviously he wasn’t a high Draft pick, so the fact that he’s made it is that much more impressive. And he’s gotten an opportunity, really taken advantage of it, and done really well.”

During batting practice on Friday before the series kicked off, the two took a few minutes to catch up.

They only spent the one season together before Braun was drafted fifth overall by the Brewers, but Valencia said he enjoyed playing with Braun and all the talented players on that Miami team.

“I looked up to him because he was just a really, really talented player,” Valencia said. “He was a good guy, he’s hilarious and he’s fun to be around. He keeps everything loose, makes you feel comfortable.”

Slowey tosses two frames in Class A

MILWAUKEE — Twins head trainer Rick McWane gave quick updates on Saturday on right-hander Kevin Slowey and outfielders Denard Span and Jason Kubel.

Slowey threw two innings on Saturday night in Class A Advanced, allowing two runs on three hits with four strikeouts.

Kubel ran the bases on Saturday and will do the same on Sunday before joining the Twins for a full workout on Monday at Target Field.

Span had another good day on Saturday and will be reevaluated when the Twins return home.

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

Baker strikes out 10 Padres in shutout win

June 18, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Scott Baker started it with a complete game in his last start. With an eight-inning outing on Saturday, he kept the Twins rolling on their winning streak.

For the third time in his career, Baker struck out 10 batters as the Twins won their season-high sixth straight game, 1-0, over the Padres.

Closer Matt Capps also pitched a perfect ninth inning for his 11th save of the season and his third in as many games, as the Twins secured their fifth straight series victory.

“If you like that kind of thing, 1-0 ballgames [are] very exciting,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Baker delivered yet another dominant start, tossing eight scoreless innings while allowing just four hits. He struck out eight of the first 13 batters he faced, reaching double-digit strikeouts for the first time since June 16, 2010, when he had a career-high 12 strikeouts against the Rockies.

After a season-high 112 pitches in a complete game last time out, Baker surpassed that with 115 pitches on Saturday, his most since July 19, 2009 against the White Sox. With the win, Baker improved to 5-4 with a 3.24 ERA.

Baker had a lot of success up in the strike zone, while also getting the Padres hitters to swing and miss 18 times out of 80 strikes.

“I’ve seen him before,” said Padres manager Bud Black, who was the Angels pitching coach through the 2006 season. “The fastball has a little bit of life at the end. He was pitching at the top of the [strike] zone. It takes a lot of discipline for a hitter to lay off that.

“He didn’t throw many pitches down the heart of the plate tonight.”

Things didn’t look good for Baker after he gave up a triple to Chris Denorfia to lead off the game. But that quickly changed, as Baker retired 23 of the next 27 batters he faced.

Baker struck out two batters in the first and followed that by striking out the side in the second. He added a strikeout in the third and two more in both the fourth and seventh innings.

But he insisted he was not trying to strike guys out.

“You make a good two-strike pitch,” Baker said. “When you strike guys out, that’s never good, at least it isn’t for me. It’s not a good idea. I tend to overthrow. So it’s just a matter of picking a good two-strike location, whether it’s an elevated fastball or breaking ball in the dirt or a fastball off the plate a little bit.”

Twins starters have posted a 1.73 ERA since June 2, giving up just 20 earned runs in 104 1/3 innings. Baker also helped lower the Twins’ ERA to a Major League-best 1.89.

Over the course of the Twins’ six-game winning streak, the starters have averaged eight innings with just five runs allowed in 48 innings for a 0.93 ERA.

Baker didn’t need much offense, and the Twins gave him just enough. Third baseman Danny Valencia homered for the second straight night, a second-inning shot that held up as the deciding run. It was Valencia’s seventh home run, and his team-leading 32nd RBI.

For the second time in three games, the Twins picked up the victory with a home run providing the only run in the game.

“It was nice to get that one. And it held up, which is great,” Valencia said. “Being able to come up with a hit like that helps you win the game, especially with the way things are going right now, is huge.”

Valencia has shown signs over the last few games of breaking out of his slump. After homering on May 21 in Arizona, Valencia batted .183 with five doubles and four RBIs in 22 games between home runs.

Over the last two nights, Valencia is 2-for-7 with a pair of long home runs and four RBIs.

Padres starter Tim Stauffer was impressive in his own right, limiting the Twins to just one run on six hits over seven innings. Valencia’s home run snapped Stauffer’s 16-inning scoreless streak, and dealt him his fifth loss.

His last run allowed came in the fifth inning on June 2 against the Astros. Despite his performance, he has received just 19 runs of support from the Padres offense, with Saturday marking the fifth game in which the offense did not score with Stauffer on the mound.

“I thought that Stauffer threw very well tonight,” Baker said. “It was just a matter of one pitch.”

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

Waiting game may have affected Liriano

June 12, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — On average, each half-inning on Sunday at Target Field lasted just under eight minutes. The bottom of the seventh took 29 minutes, 48 seconds.

Whether it played a part in breaking up Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter is up for debate, but it certainly didn’t seem to help.

“It didn’t bother me physically, but I started thinking too much about that no-hitter,” Liriano said after the Twins’ 6-1 win over the Rangers. “I tried to overthrow that inning and was trying to be too perfect. And I then [gave up] a hit when I got behind in the count.”

After an error by third baseman Luke Hughes broke up Liriano’s perfect game in the top of the seventh, the Twins lefty headed to the dugout needing six outs to complete his second no-hitter in 40 days.

Then the Twins’ offense came alive.

Leading off the seventh, Danny Valencia lined a single off the arm of Rangers starter Matt Harrison, knocking him out of the game. After the pitching change delayed the inning, reliever Mark Lowe was not quite as effective or efficient as Harrison had been.

As a result, Liriano sat in the dugout for nearly 30 minutes between pitches.

“It’s tough when you have one big long inning,” Valencia said. “It keeps him in, and it keeps him cooled off for a while. So I’m sure it’s frustrating, but no pitcher is obviously going to get mad about getting run support. At the same time, with what’s on the line for him from a personal standpoint, it’s probably something that’s not ideal in that situation.”

Lowe got Jason Repko to ground out, but an error on shortstop Elvis Andrus put Rene Rivera on first and brought Valencia home from second. Two batters later, Ben Revere struck out, but reached first on a wild pitch.

Alexi Casilla followed with a single to drive in Rivera, and Michael Cuddyer drove a three-run blast into the seats in right, putting the Twins up, 6-1, over the Rangers.

As the rally kept building, did the thought of getting Liriano back on the mound cross Cuddyer’s mind?

“[Heck] no. No, you score as many runs as you can, especially against a team like that,” Cuddyer said. “First and foremost you want to win. Obviously everyone wanted to see a no-hitter, everybody wanted to have that happen, but bottom line is, you want to win the game.”

After Cuddyer’s home run, the Twins kept hitting, though they did not plate anymore runs. Delmon Young and Hughes followed with singles before Valencia finally flied out to center field to get Liriano back on the mound.

When he got back out there, Liriano got to 3-0 on Adrian Beltre before giving up a single. A wild pitch and another single two batters later plated the Rangers’ only run.

“It’s almost like a rain delay there when you’re at 70-something pitches and you have to sit out for 30 minutes,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “We kept telling him he had to get up and move around. And not only did he have 70 pitches, he had a no-hitter, too.

“So we told him to move around, because it was a long inning. So we were worried when he went out there. His first few warmup pitches weren’t pretty. And his first few pitches were rushed out there.”

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

Defense hurts Twins in loss to Angels

May 30, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Some games this year, it’s been the Twins offense. In others, the pitching has been to blame. In their series finale with the Angels on Sunday, defense was the problem.

Only two errors went down in the box score, on throws by Danny Valencia and Trevor Plouffe in the third inning, but defensive miscues seemed to come far too often as the Twins lost to the Angels, 6-5, at Target Field.

Plouffe opened the third inning with a throw that got past Justin Morneau at first base, but it was ruled an infield single for Mark Trumbo. Two batters later, Valencia also threw one past Morneau, which went down as another single. Valencia was credited for the error when the runner advanced to third base.

Capping things off was Plouffe, who sailed a throw past first base with two outs, allowing the run to score from third for the Angels’ third run of the inning.

“I sailed ’em,” Plouffe said of the throws. “That’s all that is.”

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has been on Plouffe about his defense, and Sunday’s performance was not exactly what he had in mind.

Earlier in the week, Plouffe misplayed a couple balls in the infield by not being aggressive and getting to them quickly enough, allowing the runners to beat his throws. On his poor throws Sunday, Plouffe also seemed to lack some aggression, appearing tentative as he tossed the ball over to first.

“It kind of looked like he didn’t let ’em fly, just kind of lobbed ’em over there,” Gardenhire said. “That’s what we’re talking about. Be aggressive.

“We worked really hard at it yesterday and he did a good job throwing the ball.”

Gardenhire talked before the game about how Plouffe had been unhappy the other day after having to answer questions from a number of reporters about his defensive struggles. It motivated Plouffe to work on his play at shortstop, leading him to put in extra work.

Whatever the problem is, the work Plouffe is putting in, and the focus he’s put on being aggressive have not translated into positive results on the field.

“I’ve got to look at some video, see what I’m doing, and make an adjustment,” Plouffe said. “That’s all I can do. I can’t go back in time and fix anything right now. Just move forward.”

One tough defensive inning behind him was enough to keep Carl Pavano in pursuit of his 100th career win for at least one more start. Pavano battled well against Angels starter Dan Haren, but the three-run third inning was the difference.

Making his sixth attempt at getting that elusive career mark, Pavano remained winless for the month of May. He went eight innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 10 hits. Pavano struck out three batters and did not allow a walk.

While the third inning was tough, Pavano was bothered most by the run he allowed in the fifth, which made it a two-run game when Jeff Mathis scored on an Erick Aybar single.

“The thing that stands out the most for me is allowing [Mathis] to get a walking lead and steal second,” Pavano said. “That run right there really makes it a tight ball game, it changes the order, how the order comes up. I gave him no credit at all and he ends up stealing that bag and scoring on a bloop to center.”

Haren did not appear to have his best stuff against the Twins, giving up three runs on 10 hits and exiting after six innings with just two strikeouts.

But he still picked up the win, as the Angels offense picked him up.

“I didn’t really have any out pitches,” Haren said. “I needed runs today. I didn’t have much.”

A three-hit game for Denard Span highlighted the Twins offensive output. Span scored after doubling in the first, drove in Plouffe with his seventh-inning double, singled home Matt Tolbert to spark a ninth-inning rally and later scored on Justin Morneau’s single to bring the Twins within a run.

The Twins’ ninth-inning rally came up short, as they plated a pair of runs on two singles and two walks. Right fielder Michael Cuddyer drove a ball deep to center field, but Peter Bourjos was right there to make the out to end the game.

While they came up short and dropped to 17-34 overall with a 6-15 home record, the Twins were encouraged by the late rally after a tough game.

“We kept fighting,” Cuddyer said. “We never gave up, and we haven’t given up yet. We’ve got to keep playing hard.”

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

Indians beat, 4/24

April 24, 2011 Comments off

Carrasco will have elbow checked on Monday

By Jordan Schelling / MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS — Right-hander Carlos Carrasco left Sunday’s start after just three innings with right elbow tightness.Carrasco, who first felt the tightness during his warm up in the bullpen, was removed after the third when it started to get worse. He will be evaluated on Monday after the Indians return to Cleveland.

“He said he couldn’t get it loose at all,” manager Manny Acta said. “We kind of sensed some of that because the velocity wasn’t where he was in the past, but he kept saying he was fine, just couldn’t get it loose.”

Carrasco said the tightness most affected him on the fastball, which caused his velocity to drop about five miles per hour on average from his last start. Finally, in the third inning, it became an issue.

After holding the Twins to just one hit over the first two frames, Carrasco got hit hard in the third, but some mistakes on the basepaths allowed him to escape with minimal damage.

Alexi Casilla and Denard Span led off the inning with a pair of singles and Jason Kubel added another with one out.

Following Kubel, first baseman Justin Morneau crushed a two-run double to center field that would have plated three runs, had Casilla not been thrown out at the plate by Shin-Soo Choo on Kubel’s single.

Carrasco was replaced by right-hander Jeanmar Gomez, who was available after the Indians decided to push him back until Saturday after Friday’s rainout and Monday’s off-day forced them to alter their rotation.

“[Carrasco]’s going to be evaluated when he comes in, and then we’ll schedule something,” Acta said. “Now, with Carrasco [potentially] down, he can just slide right into Carrasco’s spot. We’ll have to see. We’ll have to evaluate him tomorrow and see how he is.”

Carmona, Santana getting on the job training

MINNEAPOLIS — After the Indians’ 10-3 loss on Saturday night, manager Manny Acta talked about the ongoing learning process for catcher Carlos Santana and ace Fausto Carmona.

In particular, Acta referenced a double-play situation in which he would have preferred Carmona throw a sinker, but the right-hander delivered a changeup that was hit for a two-run single. While he would have liked to see a different pitch, the decision was up to Santana and Carmona.

“We don’t call pitches from the dugout,” Acta said. “We call throw overs, pitchouts, stuff like that.”

When asked about the situation on Saturday night, Carmona seemed to have the same approach to the at-bat as his manager. The only difference came in the execution and pitch selection.

“I was thinking if we could make a good pitch down, we could get a double play,” Carmona said. “But you see what happened.”

Interestingly enough, Morneau’s single was one of only two hits all day off Carmona’s changeup. Every other hit came on a sinker or fastball.

Carmona was confident in his changeup, and had gotten most of his strikeouts with the changeup in his previous start. Could that have led to Carmona using his changeup too much? Acta said pitch selection usually depends on the lineup and how the pitcher feels on any given day.

“You’re not going to have every one of your pitches be the same every five days,” Acta said. “It’s like life, you adjust, adapt, improvise. That’s what it is.”

Perez hoping to face good buddy Valencia

MINNEAPOLIS — If closer Chris Perez gets an opportunity to pitch on Sunday, he’ll be hoping to see Twins third baseman Danny Valencia in the batter’s box.

“I own him,” Perez said.

But would Valencia say the same?

“No he wouldn’t, but I do,” Perez said. “I know I do. I got proof last year, I struck him out on four pitches last year up here. But during intrasquads, he says he’s hit home runs off me. There’s no chance. He’s got no hits off me ever.

“He can’t hit sliders. You can tell him I said that, too.”

Perez and Valencia, who had dinner Saturday night at Tryg’s in uptown Minneapolis, have been friends since they were teenagers. The two played together in a summer league in high school before they were roommates for two years at the University of Miami.

It’s during that time that they developed a rivalry that includes plenty of good-natured ribbing. While he had no trouble talking about his dominance of his former roommate, Perez declined to share any stories about Valencia.

“Nothing that you can print,” Perez said. “He’s a character, really self-confident. I don’t have any real specific stories, but we had good times in Miami.”

Acta says experience paying off for Tribe

MINNEAPOLIS — Everyone wants to know how the Indians have gone from the fourth-worst record in the American League last season to its best through 20 games in 2011.

Manager Manny Acta says it has a lot to do with the experience gained last year.

“It’s a fact that we do have a better ballclub, more experienced guys,” Acta said. “Last year we started the season with three guys that were going to play for the first time in the big leagues. And they struggled offensively, the three of them.

“Then once injuries hurt us with Grady [Sizemore] and [Asdrubal] Cabrera, the number went to five. That’s pretty much it, we were playing a lot of kids up here that were just getting their feet wet. Offensively, they struggled.”

That experience has translated into a much-improved run differential so far this season. Through 20 games, the Indians have scored 102 runs and allowed 76. In 2010, they gave up 106 more runs than they scored.

It’s not hard to figure out why that has changed when you see the Indians excelling both at the plate and on the mound. For the pitching staff in particular, Acta sees at least one significant difference that was learned through last year’s experience.

“In the second half, they threw the ball very well,” Acta said. “They threw a lot of first-pitch strikes, and that’s the same thing they’ve been doing so far. Those guys are at the right age, and we’re expecting them to continue to make progress.”

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

Twins walk off on Valencia’s single in 10th

April 13, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Off the bat, there was no doubt that it was gone. Jason Kubel had crushed a 3-1 pitch deep into the seats in right field for the Twins walk-off victory.

“I thought Kubel’s was going to be in the upper deck,” said Twins third baseman Danny Valencia, who eventually beat the Royals, 4-3, with a walk-off single in the 10th inning on Tuesday. “Honestly, he crushed it.”

But this is Target Field, and the wind was blowing in. So a sure upper-deck home run turned into a long fly out to the warning track. That is, until Royals right fielder Jeff Francoeur dropped it. Then it was a race to second and third base to avoid a forceout.

Baseball can be crazy like that sometimes.

“I thought it was going to be a home run off the bat, so I get halfway out there and I see Francoeur’s about to catch it, and he does catch it, so then we run back to the bag,” said right fielder Michael Cuddyer, who was on first with Kubel at the plate.

“Then he drops it, so then you’ve got to go, and it was just a crazy play. Fortunately, I was able to beat the throw by a half a step.”

The question is, what part of the play is craziest?

Is it that Kubel hit the ball hard enough to reach the upper deck and ended up with a single due to the wind and size of the ballpark, or is that Francoeur caught what should have been a home run, only to drop it and complicate things even further?

“I caught it. It was in my glove,” Francoeur said. “I didn’t think I had a chance and I started running it down and kept going. I caught it and it was in my glove and then I hit the wall and it just kind of popped out. I just couldn’t hang on. That was the frustrating part.”

Once everything had been sorted out with that play, the game was still tied, and Valencia was at the plate. Behind 1-2 in the count, the third baseman drove a fastball away to the opposite field, driving in the run for the victory.

Valencia nearly cost the Twins the game an inning earlier after not being aggressive enough on the basepaths. On first after drawing a walk, Valencia advanced only one base on Jim Thome’s pinch-hit single with one out.

One batter later, Denard Span flew out deep to center field, and had Valencia advanced to third, he could have scored on a sacrifice fly for the win.

“He’s got to be on third base,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “There’s no doubt. He’s not the kind of guy I’ve got to start pinch-running for, he’s got to run for himself.

“He has to be aggressive on the bases, and he needed to get to third base on that play, there’s no doubt. And he knows that, I told him.”

Of course, none of that would have mattered had it not been for the impressive performance of the Twins’ bullpen.

In the offseason, one of the Twins’ biggest question marks was whether the bullpen would be deep enough after several relievers left Minnesota through free agency. That answer, through 10 games, has been a resounding ‘yes.’

After an ugly start to the seventh inning had the Twins on the verge of letting the game get out of hand quickly, the bullpen came in and slammed the door shut long enough for the offense to pull out the win.

“Our bullpen did a great job tonight,” Valencia said. “An unbelievable job.”

Everything was going well early on for the Twins. They had a lead, they had scored runs early in the ballgame, and one of their best hitters, Cuddyer, finally broke out of his season-opening slump with a 4-for-4 night.

Then the seventh inning happened. Things went wrong in a hurry for Minnesota in the frame, but some impressive pitching from Jose Mijares and Matt Capps kept things from getting out of control.

“The bottom line is, I’ve got to get the guy at the plate out,” Capps said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

A seemingly harmless grounder to third turned into an infield single after Valencia’s throw went wide of first base. The sacrifice bunt that followed became a two-base error as left-hander Brian Duensing airmailed Justin Morneau at first base.

Then, a hard grounder up the middle, which glanced off the hand and leg of Duensing, tied the game. As he left, the starter was more worried about his poor throw to first than the pain from the hard grounder back to the mound.

“I was really upset with myself because of the airmail that I did to first base,” Duensing said. “But I put the team in a situation that could’ve cost us the ballgame, and for Mijares and Capps to come in and shut the door like they did, it does nothing but fire you up.”

With the game tied, runners on the corners and none out, Duensing was pulled in favor of Mijares, who promptly struck out left fielder Alex Gordon. That was all for Mijares, as Capps entered and got Billy Butler to pop out to short before striking out Francoeur looking.

Capps pitched 1 2/3 innings and did not allow a hit, Joe Nathan pitched a perfect ninth, and Dusty Hughes finished things off with a clean 10th for the win over his former club. Twins relievers retired the last 12 batters of the game.

“A hard-fought game,” Gardenhire said. “Our bullpen did a super job coming in and getting us out of it.”

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