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Twins get back into winning column

by Josh Newman
Okay, so it was not a bad way to get back into the swing of things following the All-Star break. Solid pitching, decent hitting, etc.

For two games, that is.

To follow up the American League’s victory over the National League, the Twins closed out the week with a three-game series against the Texas Rangers at The Ballpark in Arlington, Tx. They emerged victorious in two of the three contests, thanks mainly to stout pitching. They might have pulled out a sweep were it not for a game-ending home run by the Rangers in extra innings, but taking two out of three beats their current winning percentage.

They had to rely on a strong bullpen and timely hitting, plus a little aggressiveness on the base paths in the first game, to take this series. In the first game, starter Glen Perkins needed 102 pitches to record 15 outs. In the process, he allowed seven hits and three earned runs. When he left, the Twins had a 5-3 lead, thanks in part to a three-run homer by Jason Kubel. Minnesota then shuffled through the ‘pen, calling on Bob Keppel, Jose Mijares, Matt Guerrier, and finally Joe Nathan to try and preserve the lead. The foursome did that and then some, allowing just two hits over the last four innings as the Twins prevailed, 5-3.

It was technically a come-from-behind victory – one of my favorite types – since the Rangers led 2-0 after the first inning. But never fear. With two runners on base, Carlos Gomez lined a triple down the first base line to tie the game in the second inning.

Minnesota took the lead for good the following inning. Joe Mauer snapped an 0-for-10 slump with a one-out single to center. Justin Morneau followed that up with a double, then Kubel slammed his 15th homer into the right field bleachers to make it 5-2.

But it wasn’t until Perkins left the game that the Twins were able to settle down.

In Game 2, Twins starter Scott Baker finally pitched the way the organization and the fans knew he could. Better late than never, right? In what might have been his best game of the season, Baker scattered six hits over eight innings, giving up just one run as the Twins won, 4-1.

This game also featured a rarity that probably will never be seen again in this lifetime – a stolen base by Kubel.

Except for a Nelson Cruz home run in the fourth inning, Baker hardly even broke a sweat. The win was his eighth of the season, and it enabled the Twins to clinch their fifth consecutive road series win.

So two out of three is not bad. But for me, it wasn’t enough. I was hungry. I wanted to see the Twins sweep an opponent for the first time since May 12-14. But when Gardy sent Francisco Liriano to start Game 3, I had this strange feeling that it wasn’t meant to be.

I was right.

The funny thing is, it wasn’t even totally Liriano’s fault. When he left the game in the seventh inning, Minnesota had a 3-2 lead. Prior to his departure, though, he had surrendered back-to-back hits to put runners on first and second. Keppel eventually allowed one of those inherited runners to score on a sacrifice fly to deep center field by Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus.

With neither team able to score over the next few innings, the game went into extra innings. Fittingly enough, the game was ended by the man who got it all started: Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler.

Kinsler, who led off the bottom of the first with his 21st home run of the season, walked up to the plate with a runner on second. He then smacked a fastball by Twins relieve R.A. Dickey into the bleachers for the game winner to become just the third Major Leaguer to hit a leadoff homer and walk-off homer in the same game since divisional play started in 1969.
Disappointing? Yes. But at 47-45, the Twins sit just two games behind first-place Detroit. But with July coming to an end soon, Minnesota needs to start thinking about where they sit for a postseason run. Entering Monday, they were 7.5 games behind the Yankees for the wild card berth and may be poised for a run if they stay healthy.

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