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Walk-off single nets Twins sweep of Padres

June 19, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — An unlikely trio sparked the Twins’ seventh straight win on Sunday.

Entering the game, outfielder Rene Tosoni and third baseman Matt Tolbert had a combined batting average of just .188 (30-for-160). But they delivered back-to-back two-out doubles in the seventh to plate the tying and go-ahead runs.

With the game tied again in the ninth, Drew Butera singled to left, scoring Delmon Young from second base for the 5-4 Twins victory and the three-game sweep of the Padres.

“That’s that ‘Never Die’ attitude,” Butera said. “That’s the way we feel right now. We feel any situation in a game we can come back from.”

Butera, who entered the game batting .169, delivered the walk-off single thanks in large part to Tosoni and Tolbert. If not for Tosoni pinch-hitting for Rene Rivera in the eighth, Butera would never even have been in the game.

With the way things have been going for the Twins lately, it was fitting that a trio with only 50 hits among them on the season would come through in the clutch. What makes it even more impressive is that they did it against Mike Adams and Chad Qualls, two of the toughest relievers in the National League.

Making it even more improbable was the fact that Tosoni would have struck out if Rob Johnson had held on to a foul tip earlier in the at-bat.

“That was a big inning for them … after the error they came up with two clutch hits from guys at the bottom of the order,” Padres manager Bud Black said. “Good things are happening for them, they’re catching breaks and playing well.”

Tosoni said he wanted to make the most of his opportunity, and he did just that as his double went down the line and into the right field corner, scoring Luke Hughes, who had reached on a throwing error two batters earlier.

That at-bat, with the way Tosoni battled Adams, inspired Tolbert to come through with a double of his own.

“Tosoni got me all fired up,” Tolbert said. “Once I saw him hit [that] double, get into scoring position and he tied it up, I was like, ‘OK, now I’ve got to do my part.’

“He came off the bench cold and just battled his butt off.”

But after the Twins had taken the lead in the seventh, lefty reliever Glen Perkins struggled through the eighth, giving up three singles and an intentional walk, with an infield hit tying the game at 4.

Fundamentals came into play on the game-tying hit, as a single between second and first was fielded by Hughes, and Perkins did not get to first in time.

“I think Hughesy didn’t know that Lexi [Alexi Casilla] was playing hard pull,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “He’s got to know that, in the first place. … But still, our pitcher’s got to cover first base, so a couple screwed up plays there.”

Alex Burnett relieved Perkins, tossing a perfect ninth for his second win of the season, and setting up the Twins for a walk-off victory.

Young got things started with an infield single deep in the hole between third and shortstop. After a sacrifice bunt and intentional walk, Butera delivered for the win.

After dishing out a number of shaving cream pies to the face following walk-off hits this season, Butera finally got one in return on Sunday from Hughes, his roommate.

“He got me good,” Butera said. “I had it coming to me, though. I kept getting everybody on the team, so I had it coming to me.”

After flirting with a no-hitter his last time out, Francisco Liriano started strong before a couple bad innings nearly dealt him a loss. Liriano gave up just three runs on eight hits over seven innings for his second straight quality start and his fourth in five starts.

But trouble came for the Twins lefty in the fourth and fifth, when the Padres strung together seven hits and plated three runs. All seven of the hits were singles. For the game, the Padres’ had 11 singles and zero hits for extra bases.

“It was a hard seven innings, the ball was kind of flying all over the place off him,” Gardenhire said. “But to his credit, he hung in there pretty damn good, and he battled.”

Minnesota won for the 14th time in 16 games for their sixth sweep of the season. It was the Twins’ fourth walk-off victory and the second of the homestand, which saw them go 8-1 against the Rangers, White Sox and Padres.

As they head to a pair of National League parks for the first time this season as the hottest team in baseball, the Twins are no longer in last place for the first time since May 8.

“When I was here earlier, I think I was here for two weeks and we won two games, and one of them was the no-hitter with Frankie,” Tosoni said. “It was my first call-up and it was kind of tough because we weren’t winning too many games.

“Now, it’s awesome, [everybody] carrying one another. Winning’s always better, everybody knows that, so it’s been pretty good.”

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

Butera’s dad prepared him for The Show

June 13, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins catcher Drew Butera has been around baseball all his life, and he has his father, Sal, to thank for that.

When the younger Butera was born on Aug. 9, 1983, his father was in the middle of his only year with the Tigers, spending most of the season at Triple-A Evansville.

On April 9, 2010, when Drew made his Major League debut nearly 30 years to the day after Sal’s debut, the Buteras became the first father-son combo in Twins history.

“It’s pretty special,” Drew said. “I guess we’ll be forever a trivia question. It’s pretty cool. I’m glad I could follow in his footsteps, and I’ll hopefully have a long career.”

Drew is in just the second season of his career, but if he follows a similar path to his father, he could have eight or more years left ahead of him. Sal made his big league debut with the Twins on April 10, 1980, spending three seasons in Minnesota before going to Detroit.

Sal then spent a year with the Tigers organization and two with the Expos. After spending the 1986 campaign in Cincinnati, the Reds released Sal during the 1987 season, and he quickly re-signed with the Twins, becoming a member of the ’87 World Series champions.

His career certainly had an impact on his son, but he didn’t force baseball on Drew.

“He kind of let me choose my own path,” Drew said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. He never really forced it on me. He was always there for me whenever I wanted to work on things or just go out and play catch. Same thing with my mom, but I think just being around him and being around his profession really made me want to become a professional baseball player and follow that path.”

Drew said his mother was a “stickler” for bedtimes and strict schedules, but he would spend time in the clubhouse with Sal whenever he could.

It was during those times that he really got to see what life in the Major Leagues — and Minor Leagues — was all about.

“Probably some of the best memories I had were when he was coaching in Toronto,” Butera said. “I’d wake up in the morning, do my school work for summer school and walk to the ballpark with him around 11 or 12 every time he went. He would hit me ground balls, throw me BP and I’d get to watch guys like Jose Canseco, Shannon Stewart, Roger Clemens, all those guys go to work. So for me, that was probably the best time I had, and probably the most influential time.”

Drew tries to make sure he calls both his mother and father every day. And when he talks to Sal, it’s not necessarily about baseball.

In fact, Drew said that though his father has given him plenty of advice, it only comes when he asks Sal for it.

“He’s made it really special for me, to be able to communicate about any situation because he’s been through it,” Drew said. “Whether it’s going 0-for-25 or getting four hits, he’s been there and done it, and he’s always had some congratulatory words or inspirational words.”

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

Duensing’s solid start wasted as Twins fall

May 25, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — In the early innings Wednesday, Twins lefty Brian Duensing struggled to get comfortable. Whether it was the cold or the wind, something was not quite right.

After he made a small adjustment with his “rocker step,” Duensing settled in nicely and delivered his best start since April 30. But the Twins’ offense couldn’t figure out Mariners lefty Erik Bedard as they lost, 3-0, Wednesday at Target Field.

Each of the first three hits Duensing allowed, along with a second-inning walk, came back to cost him in the end. After putting Franklin Gutierrez on to lead off the second, Adam Kennedy doubled and Brendan Ryan singled to put Seattle up, 2-0.

Two innings later, Gutierrez led off with a solo home run, his first of the season.

“There was only one that I’d want back, and that was the homer I gave up to Gutierrez, which was a changeup up,” Duensing said. “Other than that, I thought I threw the ball pretty well and walked a couple guys I didn’t really want to walk but at the same time made some good pitches when I needed to.”

Tossing seven innings while giving up three runs on four hits, Duensing kept Minnesota in the ballgame. It was the second consecutive outing of seven or more innings by a Twins starter, keeping the burden off the bullpen.

Duensing went seven innings for the first time in five outings this month after four of his five April starts went seven innings. The three runs he allowed were the fewest for Duensing since May 10.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was especially happy with the way the left-hander was able to finish by striking out Ichiro Suzuki with runners on the corners and two out.

“He wants to be out there, he needs to make a big pitch [and] he did,” Gardenhire said. “That last hitter is as good as they get in the league and it was a good matchup for us. We wanted him to get out of that inning without giving something up and he did.

“That’s important for him on down the road. He came out of it feeling pretty good about himself. Although he got a loss, he knew he found something out there on the mound and he finished that inning off, which was huge.”

But as much as Duensing kept them in the ballgame, the Twins could not get much going at the plate against Bedard, who pitched six shutout innings, scattering six hits with four strikeouts for the win.

At the plate, the Twins had at least one runner on base in each of the first five innings but could not bring any of them around to score. Overall, the Twins went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

“[Bedard] was pretty filthy,” Gardenhire said. “Sometimes, you tip your hat to the other guy and Bedard’s one of those guys that we’ve had to do that before. He had great stuff today. One of those situations you could see guys swinging and missing balls by a foot, and that’s that breaking ball, that was diving down along with a 92-mph fastball.”

The Twins’ best chance to put runs on the board came in the fifth, when their Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, catcher Drew Butera and second baseman Alexi Casilla, led off with a pair of singles.

But those hits were followed by three consecutive outs from the top of the order.

“That fifth was a big inning,” Bedard said. “We were up, 3-0, and if I give up a hit there, the game gets closer. You just battle out there. Try to keep the ball down and get out of the inning.”

One of those outs looked like it could score a run, though, when Matt Tolbert flew out to right field for the second out of the inning. But with Butera on third and Ichiro’s strong arm in right, it was not deep enough to bring the Twins’ catcher home.

Gardenhire was not sure if Butera could have scored on the play, but said he would have have liked to see him try with the way Bedard was keeping the Twins hitters off balance throughout the game.

“It was kind of more of a respect thing for [Ichiro’s] arm,” Butera said. “I’m not a very fast runner, I know that, and he has probably one of the best arms in the game. And I felt at the time we had one of our hottest hitters coming up. I probably could’ve taken a chance, I probably should’ve taken a chance.”

The top five hitters in the Twins’ lineup combined to go 2-for-20 on the day, with two singles and four strikeouts. None of the Twins’ seven hits went for extra bases as they lost for the fifth time in six games.

With the Indians also losing Wednesday, the Twins remained 14 1/2 games out. While they’ve been playing better of late, the losses continue to come, making it tougher for the Twins to remain positive.

“You obviously pay attention because you want to win. That’s ultimately what this is about,” said designated hitter Jim Thome, who went 1-for-3 with a walk and a single. “It’s always about winning your division and trying to gain ground. Cleveland has played well, so give them credit. So I always look every day and see what Cleveland is doing because I want to gain ground on them.

“You want to try to do the best you can to gain ground but you can’t do it overnight. It takes a long process. … Baseball is a weird thing. I’ve seen crazy things happen.”

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 beat 5/25

May 25, 2011 Comments off

Capps unavailable Wednesday due to sore arm

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins closer Matt Capps was unavailable for a second consecutive game Wednesday due to soreness in his forearm.

Capps pitched Monday against the Mariners, tossing 31 pitches over 1 2/3 innings, giving up one run on two hits for his fourth blown save of the season. It was the second-highest pitch total of the season for Capps and his sixth outing of more than three outs this year.

“Capps is a no-go. We’re backing off him,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’re not going to mess with him.”

Capps’ injury will not require an MRI as of yet. The Twins are just being cautious to allow him to rest after a couple tough outings.

While Capps is the Twins’ closer, Gardenhire would prefer not to use him outside of the ninth inning, but the Twins have been forced to bring him in during the eighth for his past two outings.

The results in those appearances have been an 0-1 mark for Capps with a pair of blown saves. He’s allowed five runs on six hits and two strikeouts over 2 2/3 innings.

“I know a lot of teams have done that with their closers and everything,” Gardenhire said. “We really like the idea of bringing him in the ninth inning and letting him have a clean inning.”

Twins will hold fundraiser for tornado victims

MINNEAPOLIS — An autograph session will be held before Saturday’s game at Target Field to raise funds for victims of the recent tornadoes, the Twins announced Wednesday.

The session will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. CT outside Gate 29 on Target Plaza, and all donations will benefit the Red Cross tornado relief efforts. For $10, fans will be able to get a variety of autographs, with a limit of one from each player.

Among the players scheduled to take part in the autograph session are pitchers Matt Capps and Brian Duensing and catcher Drew Butera.

Liriano scuffles in loss to Royals

April 14, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — In the first three innings of games this season, Francisco Liriano has been impressive. It’s the next three that are the issue.

In his office Wednesday morning, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire discussed with reporters Liriano’s middle-inning struggles, attributing them to a tendency by Liriano to get overhyped after something goes wrong. Against the Royals, Gardenhire did not believe that was the issue in the Twins’ 10-5 loss.

“He was making pitches, the ball was just rolling through,” Gardenhire said. “They found some holes. Off the end of the bat, the ball rolled up the middle, another one in the hole, a jam shot that shot through the hole there. He blooped another one to right.

“He was making pitches. I didn’t think he was trying to overthrow the ball and he was using all of his pitches. They just found some holes in the one inning.”

That inning was the fourth, in which the Royals plated six runs on eight hits, all off Liriano.

After holding the Royals hitless through three innings on Wednesday, Liriano had his outing derailed by a leadoff single in the fourth. Each of the next five batters got a hit as well, and the Royals were on their way to a road win.

Royals center fielder Melky Cabrera got things started with a single, and Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Jeff Francoeur and Wilson Betemit each followed with singles of their own. Mike Aviles added a two-run double and later scored the sixth run of the inning.

“It was a tough inning for me,” Liriano said. “I think I made some good pitches in that inning, and they were still getting hits. You’ve just got to tip your hat to them.”

Against Cabrera, Liriano fell behind 2-0 before giving up a single through the hole to left field. Gordon hit the first pitch he saw back up the middle, just past Matt Tolbert at short. Liriano was ahead of Butler, 1-2, but the first baseman hit a fastball to left for the base hit.

He was behind Francoeur, 1-0, and gave up an RBI single back through the middle, on a pitch that was nearly in the dirt.

“The one Francoeur hit up the middle, I went to block it,” catcher Drew Butera said. “Obviously he’s a good bad-ball hitter, but at the same time, he still made the pitches, executed what he wanted to do, and it was just one of those days.”

Behind 0-1, Betemit hit a changeup on a soft liner to left, scoring another run.

Aviles was behind 0-2, but still managed to hit the ball just past Danny Valencia at third base and into shallow left field for the hustle double. No matter what Liriano did, any pitch he tried, the Royals had an answer for it and managed to find a hole for a base hit.

“We just kept putting the good part of the bat on the ball, putting the ball in play and everything was falling in,” Aviles said. “We really didn’t hit the ball as hard as we could in that inning, if you really think about it, but it doesn’t really matter as long as the balls find holes and we keep putting pressure on the defense.”

Liriano finished with seven runs allowed on eight hits in five innings of work, including a walk and four strikeouts. Royals starter Kyle Davies also lasted just five innings, but it was enough for the win, as he allowed five runs on 10 hits with one walk and four strikeouts.

The Twins answered with a four-run, six-hit inning of their own in the fifth, highlighted by a two-run single by Delmon Young, but couldn’t catch up.

“It was a day of bunches, man,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We bunched together a bunch of hits and they came back and bunched together a bunch of hits. Again, our bullpen was spectacular and did the job.”

Four Twins collected two or more hits in the game, including Tolbert, Jason Kubel, Delmon Young and Denard Span, who went 4-for-5 with four singles and two runs scored.

Unfortunately for the Twins and the 36,286 fans on hand — the smallest crowd so far in Target Field history — most of those hits came off Davies. Once Yost went to his bullpen, the Twins’ managed just two more hits in four innings.

Between Kanekoa Texeira, Tim Collins and Jeremy Jeffress, the Royals’ relievers retired 12-of-14 batters faced. Jeffress allowed one hit while facing seven batters over two innings, earning his first Major League save.

“A solid bullpen, I think you saw some really good arms coming out of the bullpen,” Gardenhire said. “That’s the adjustments they’re starting to make. Young kids with great arms out of the bullpen, bringing in some veterans that have won. It’s about getting a winning atmosphere.”

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