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Updated: May 29th, 2012 10:41pm
Down to last out, Josh Willingham's walk-off homer beats Oakland

Down to last out, Josh Willingham's walk-off homer beats Oakland

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Scoreless on the evening and down to their last out, the Minnesota Twins' fortunes changed on a dime when Josh Willingham hit a three-run, walk-off homer off Brian Fuentes into the bullpen to secure a 3-2 win over the Oakland A's.

The skinny

The Twins were left for dead.

But Jamey Carroll led off the ninth with a sharp single to right field, and Denard Span followed by drawing a six-pitch walk after falling behind 0-2. After Ben Revere popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt for the first out, Joe Mauer bounced into a fielder's choice for the second out.

Then Willingham struck, lifting a 91-mph fastball deep into the crisp night-time air.

"I was trying to get a good pitch to hit," Willingham said. "I would have been happy with a single there to extend the inning but more happier with a home run."

For Willingham, the blast marked his ninth of the season and fifth career walk-off.

"Anytime you can come from behind and win a game like that it's great," Willingham said. "Those are the wins that can kind of springboard you a little bit so hopefully that is what will happen and we can continue it tomorrow."

Prior to Tuesday the Twins were winless when trailing after eight innings.

"Don't ask me how (we won)," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I really can't tell you. Honestly, that's why you play nine innings. That's the game of baseball."

Until the ninth inning, the A's were in complete control.

A groundball single to left field by Collin Cowgill off Brian Duensing, just past the diving glove of shortstop Brian Dozier, scored Kurt Suzuki from third base with two outs in the seventh inning to give the A's a 1-0 lead. Coco Crisp tacked on another with a two-out RBI single in the eighth.

Twins hitters reached base 11 times through eight innings but were unable to score against A's right-hander Jarrod Parker and company.

Parker, the ninth-overall pick in 2007 by the Arizona Diamondbacks, came into the season ranked as the 26th best prospect in baseball per Baseball America. He held the Twins scoreless on four hits in six innings, walking four and striking out four.

The Twins' best chance to score off Parker came when they loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth, but Trevor Plouffe bounced out to short to end the inning.

Cole De Vries bent about as far back as possible without breaking in his five innings. Making his second career major league start, the right-hander allowed eight Oakland hitters to reach base in five innings -- including five walks and one hit batter.

But he was able to get out of the first and second innings with help from two groundball double plays. De Vries loaded the bases with two outs in the third but got Seth Smith to ground out. He then got Cliff Pennington to ground out in the fourth inning with runners in scoring position and two outs.

The A's lined out twice in the fifth.

"It was something else," De Vries, a Minnesota native, said about starting in front of his friends and family. "I was fairly composed in my bullpen. I could tell I was a little amped up, but then I went and sat down for a little while. When I walked out to the mound - Boom. Right through the ceiling. I was like 'Alright, let's calm down a little here.' It was fun. ...

"I did a good job of getting myself out of jams today, but you can get burn in some of those situations. So I'm going to try to limit those in the future."

De Vries threw only 51 of his 92 pitches for strikes, but his ERA after two starts sits at a tidy 2.70.

Justin Morneau doubled twice and walked in five trips.

Jeff Manship pitched recorded four outs while allowing only a hit in relief of De Vries. He was charged with a run on Suzuki's RBI single off Duensing.

The Twins also came from behind on Monday to beat the A's.

Turning point

Span's walk, because if he doesn't battle back from down 0-2 to get on base it's possible Willingham never bats.

"The first pitch of the at-bat I wanted to track one and see, kind of pick up the ball," Span said. "And then after it was 0-1 I thought maybe he was going to throw me a curveball or slider to get me to chase, and bam, another fastball. I'm like, 'Oh, God, here we go -- 0-2.' ...

"When I get two strikes I kind of focus a little bit more and bear down."

The walk was Span's third of the game, raising his on-base percentage to .368 on the season.

More importantly, the walk set the table for the eventual walk-off homer.

"I knew that was a big at-bat. Now the winning run is coming to the plate. Definitely I feel like that was a big at-bat."

Numbers game

9: Walks issued by Twins pitchers, including three by Glen Perkins in the ninth.

8: The number of hitters in Oakland's starting lineup that entered the game with a batting average below .245.

36: Pitches thrown by De Vries in the third inning.

9: At-bats in which De Vries threw five or more pitches in the first three innings, including an 11 pitch at-bat against Kila Ka'aihue in the second. De Vries' pitch count reached 68 by the end of that three inning stretch. He threw only 22 pitches in his last two innings of work.

3: Number of times that De Vries was ahead in the count either 0-2 or 1-2 before eventually walking the batter.

10: Of Morneau's 14 hits since returning from the disabled list on May 16 have been for extra bases, totaling five doubles and five home runs.

Health report

In a rehab start for Triple-A Rochester, Nick Blackburn (thigh) allowed four runs (three earned) on four hits and three walks while striking out two in 3 2/3 innings. He threw 68 pitches (41 strikes). Blackburn is scheduled to start again on Sunday.

Overheard

"I saw everybody running on the field and I was like, wait a minute it's a tied game. I thought we were about to play 15 innings tonight. And I looked up and saw Joe running and I forgot Joe was on base. My first thought was, 'Finally, we catch a break.'"
-- Span

"(Willingham) is a savior. He saved my butt. I owe him dinner big time. I told him to pick any day you want. He was like 'Alright, I'll let you know"
-- Revere, referring to Willingham bailing him out after a failed sacrifice attempt.

On deck

Wednesday: vs. Athletics, 12:10 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano (0-5, 8.47) vs. RHP Tyson Ross (2-5, 5.79)
Thursday: Off day

Nate Sandell contributed to this story

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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