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Updated: June 9th, 2011 10:17pm
Twins Daily: Alexi Casilla's walk-off RBI single nips Rangers in ninth

Twins Daily: Alexi Casilla's walk-off RBI single nips Rangers in ninth

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- After letting an early lead slip away, the Minnesota Twins got the final laugh on Thursday night when Alexi Casilla ripped a two-out, game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to secure a 5-4 walk-off win over the Texas Rangers.

The skinny

With the game tied 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth, a leadoff double by Luke Hughes against hard-throwing Rangers right-hander Mark Lowe set the table for a possible walk-off.

Manager Ron Gardenhire summoned left-handed hitter Brian Dinkelman to pinch hit. Rather than bunting, Dinkelman was told to swing away in order to give the team one extra shot at a game-winning hit -- or perhaps a groundball to the right side -- but he struck out swinging on a changeup.

Matt Tolbert then coaxed a walk to put runners on first and second, and Ben Revere flew out to left field, leaving it all up to Casilla, who delivered a game-winning single into the left-field corner off left-hander Arthur Rhodes, giving the Twins their seventh win in eight games.

"He threw me a first pitch slider in the dirt, then he threw me a fastball a little bit outside and up," Casilla said. "I wasn't looking for that pitch. I was looking for something I could pull ... so I could put the ball in the outfield grass."

With the exception of Delmon Young's second-inning homer, Rangers left-hander Derek Holland mostly cruised early, matching a season high with nine strikeouts through only four innings on his way to a career high-matching 10.

A blown call at second base gave the Twins an extra out in the fifth inning that Michael Cuddyer exploited, launching a 1-0 changeup into the bullpen in left-center field for a three-run homer and a 4-1 lead. But the Rangers scored two unearned runs in the top of the sixth, then tied the game in the eighth, when Nelson Cruz torched Nick Blackburn's 109th and final pitch an estimated 450 feet into the third deck in left-center field.

With the win, the Twins moved within 11 games of first place in American League Central for first time since May 12.

"The good thing about it, it's a fun group, they root for each other, and they've had a taste of some wins here," Gardenhire said about his team, which comprises of several young players. "And you can see they really like it, and it's a good thing. You feel like you have a chance in ballgames again, and that's the atmosphere that you're looking for."

Turning point

After Blackburn departed with one out in the eighth, the Twins needed three relievers and 21 pitches to end the frame -- but they somehow emerged unscathed.

Mike Moreland and Yorvit Torrealba singled off of Jose Mijares, who gave way to Alex Burnett. Craig Gentry grounded into a fielder's choice, leaving runners at the corners, and then a Burnett fastball grazed Elvis Andrus to load the bases.

Gardenhire emerged from the dugout at the last second to bring on left-hander Chuck James. Rangers manager Ron Washington countered by pinch-hitting Mike Napoli for David Murphy.

James fell behind 2-1 before bringing the crowd to its feet when a fastball clipped the corner to make it 2-2. Napoli fouled off one pitch, then hit a hard grounded to shortstop that Casilla fielded and flipped to Matt Tolbert for an inning-ending forceout -- keeping the score tied at 4.

"We had to kind of finagle our way through it as best we could," Gardenhire said. "We honestly really thought, needed Burnett to go a little deeper, but once he hit the guy you've got Murphy coming up, who's absolutely killed us in the few years he's been in the league, so we just wanted to take him out of the game and brought in the lefty. But they got through it. They all made pitches when they had to and got through it."

Numbers game

441: Estimated distance (in feet) of Josh Hamilton's first-inning home run into the second deck in right-center field.

371: Estimated distance (in feet) of Young's line-drive homer to left-center in the second inning, knotting the score at 1.

21: Days between three-run homers for the Twins until Cuddyer's blast in the fifth. Trevor Plouffe hit a three-run homer in Oakland on May 19. Cuddyer's home run traveled an estimated 447 feet. "(Cruz's) ball was hit pretty good," Cuddyer said. "Hamilton's was hit pretty good too. I hit mine really well, and it was the shortest of the three."

1: Blown call in the bottom of the fifth to set up Cuddyer's bomb. Rene Rivera led off with a double to the right-center field wall. Then, Tolbert chopped a ball over Holland that was fielded at shortstop by Andrus, who reached out with his bare hand and tagged Rivera on the belt as he tried to get back to the bag. Second-base umpire Paul Nauert called Rivera safe, though, and protests by Andrus and Washington went nowhere. Three batters later, Cuddyer homered to give the Twins their first lead.

2: Errors by the Twins in the top of the sixth inning. Blackburn threw high on Hamilton's dribbler, allowing Hamilton to take second base, and Danny Valencia let Nelson Cruz's bouncer past him.

Health watch

• RHP Matt Capps and LHP Phil Dumatrait were both unavailable for Thursday night's game. Per Gardenhire, Dumatrait was dealing with a knot in his pitching shoulder, and Capps is suffering from a mild case of tendinitis in his wrist. Both are day-to-day.

• C Joe Mauer (bilateral leg weakness, sore shoulder) needs to catch more before he tries to return to the big-league team, according to Gardenhire, who strongly indicated he wants the All-Star to spend a stint with Triple-A Rochester, too. "I think he's caught 22 innings (entering Thursday), and I don't believe 22 innings is enough catching to say you're ready to go up here and start the grind of catching four days in a row, five days in a row," Gardenhire said. "I would like to see more innings and I would like to see him totally ready."

• CF Denard Span was placed on the seven-day disabled list Thursday night after being diagnosed with a concussion. He was instructed to "take it easy" over the next couple days.

• An MRI showed only fluid buildup in 1B Justin Morneau's sore left wrist, which had Gardenhire asking Morneau if he wanted to go on the DL last week. "No structural damage, so we will let him continue to play as tolerated," McWane said. Morneau was in the lineup as the designated hitter on Thursday, with Luke Hughes taking his place at first base.

• After undergoing an MRI on his hip, quadriceps and back, DH Jim Thome will receive an epidural to deal with quad pain that is originating from a previous injury to his back, McWane said, adding that the team has consulted outside back specialists. "That should take care of the symptoms he's having in his quad," McWane said, "and if that works, then we'll progress his baseball activities this weekend." Thome previously was on the disabled list from May 3 to May 24 with an oblique strain. He'll be eligible to come off the 15-day DL on June 17.

• RF Jason Kubel (left foot) "hit in the cage, played catch and did some agility drills, felt OK," McWane said. "We'll progress his baseball activities through the weekend."

• IF Tsuyoshi Nishioka (fractured fibula) was scheduled to make another start with Fort Myers on Thursday. He's eligible to be activated from the 60-day disabled list, but Gardenhire said he doesn't want Nishioka "rushed up here. ... I would like to see him go to Triple-A and get in a little thicker competition, Triple-A ball, seeing some pitching and all that. He's not been swinging great. So, I want to see him go full-out."

• LHP Glen Perkins (oblique strain) threw a bullpen session on Thursday, felt great and is headed to Toledo to join Triple-A Rochester for a rehabilitation assignment, McWane said. The Twins' best reliever before his injury on May 21, Perkins is scheduled to throw an inning on Saturday. He become eligible to return from the DL on Monday.

• RHP Joe Nathan (right elbow) also threw a bullpen session, felt great and will throw another on Saturday, McWane said. If that session also goes well, Nathan could be sent to Fort Myers to begin a rehabilitation assignment as soon as Saturday night.

• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) threw long toss from 120 feet and had "no complaints," McWane said.

Overheard

"I remember Detroit, for sure ... I love those situations. I just try to calm down, don't be too excited -- trying to be me."
-- Casilla, when reminded that he now has five career walk-off hits. Casilla's Detroit reference is from Game 163 in 2009.

"Letting them spin me around in chairs, put on goggles, all this crazy stuff. They wore me out today."
-- Span, talking about the tests he was put through by doctors on Thursday.

On deck

Twins left-hander Brian Duensing (3-5, 4.73 ERA) got back on track on Sunday in Kansas City, scattering six hits over eight scoreless innings of a 6-0 win over the Royals -- his first victorious decision since April 23. He'll try to keep rolling on Friday (7:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN Twin Cities) against the Rangers, who have scored six earned runs and struck out 16 times against Duensing in 16 1/3 career innings (3.31 ERA) over five appearances (two starts).

Texas will counter with left-hander C.J. Wilson (6-3, 3.03), a fifth-round pick in the 2001 draft who is in his seventh big-league season, all with the Rangers. The 30-year-old Californian is 2-0 with a 1.74 ERA in 20 2/3 innings over his last three starts, including 7 2/3 scoreless in a win on Sunday at Cleveland. In 20 appearances (three starts) against the Twins, Wilson is 1-3 with a 4.24 ERA, 34 strikeouts and 18 walks in 40 1/3 innings.

Coming up

• Saturday: vs. Texas, 3:10 p.m. RHP Scott Baker (3-4, 3.86) vs. RHP Colby Lewis (5-6, 4.37).
• Sunday: vs. Texas, 1:10 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano (3-6, 5.20) vs. LHP Matt Harrison (5-5, 3.48).
• Monday: Off.

Tom Pelissero contributed to this report.

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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