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Updated: July 19th, 2011 10:38pm
Twins Daily: Ninth-inning comeback helps soften offensive woes

Twins Daily: Ninth-inning comeback helps soften offensive woes

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- For eight innings, the Minnesota Twins were left baffled by the Cleveland Indians. But their offense came alive when it was needed most. Danny Valencia hit a walk-off, two-run single in the bottom of the ninth to send the Twins to a 2-1 victory on Tuesday night at Target Field.

The skinny

Nothing was working for the Twins (45-51) as Indians starter Justin Masterson kept them bewildered for nearly eight innings, allowing no runs off four hits.

"We were swinging and swinging and his ball was falling off the table," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He was throwing anywhere from 91 to 96 miles per hour, 97 at times. The ball looked like it was diving -- start at the knees and drop to the ground. When you're throwing that hard and moving in and out, he was filthy.  He was absolutely filthy."

It wasn't until Masterson exited that the Twins finally found their offensive spark. Indians closer Chris Perez got a quick out to begin the ninth inning, but proceeded to load the bases, setting up Valencia for his game-winning hit.

Backed by a one-run performance by Francisco Liriano, who was far from top form, the Twins managed to stay in the game despite their offensive woes.

Control was an issue for Liriano. In six innings of work, he walked four batters, threw a wild pitch and hit Travis Buck with an errant fastball in the fifth inning. The damage was minimal, however. Five strikeouts, as well as solid defense by the Twins' infield, helped Liriano work out of several jams and keep the Indians' lead to one run.

"I was throwing the ball down at the plate. I wasn't missing up so that's a good thing," Liriano said. "I walked a couple guys too, trying to overthrow and trying to be too perfect to the plate. That's one thing I've been doing wrong this year."

With Liriano out after six innings, the Twins bullpen was called upon to hold the score and they responded accordingly. Phil Dumatrait, Matt Capps and Glen Perkins shut out the Indians (51-45) for three straight innings, combining for one hit and four strikeouts.

It was a much-needed victory for the Twins after the Indians won both games of the series-opening doubleheader on Monday. The win brought the Twins back to within six games of the AL Central lead.

Turning point

The ninth inning seemed like it was going to be more of the same for the Twins after leadoff batter Alexi Casilla lofted a fly out to left field off the third pitch he saw from Perez.

But a five-pitch walk to Joe Mauer in the next at-bat suddenly gave the Twins a glimmer of hope.

Michael Cuddyer again proved he is well-deserving of his All-Star status. Facing a 2-1 count from Perez, who continued to throw nothing but fastballs, Cuddyer looped a pitch into left field for a double, moving Mauer 90 feet away from tying the game.

"That's how (Cuddyer) rolls," Valencia said. "He's the heart and soul of our team right now. ... He really sets the tone for us."

With one out, the Indians chose to intentionally walk Jim Thome to put a force at any base with Valencia up next. 

Since the All-Star break, hits have been hard to come by for Valencia. Before the ninth, he had posted a .153 batting average in his last 26 at-bats, including a pair of strikeouts earlier in Tuesday's game.

The recent slump, however, didn't appear to have taken any toll him. Valencia drew the count to 2-1 on Perez, a longtime friend of his since high school, before sending a 93 mph fastball into left field.

The Twins' bench cleared and the capacity crowd was sent into a frenzy as Mauer and Cuddyer hustled home to seal the victory.

"I was sure he wants to throw his slider there, because he's always said that's what he's going to strike me out with," Valencia said. "But luckily enough, he couldn't get ahead and he gave me the pitch where I could hit it good enough to get in the outfield and it fell in there. It's big, not just between me and him. It's just good for the team and we needed this win."

Numbers game

14: Strikeouts for Perkins in his last 9 1/3 innings pitched, surrendering only one hit and one run in that stretch.

3: Game-winning hits for Valencia this season. "He's come up with some big hits," Gardenhire said. "We need him to come up with more. He's one of those guys in those spots that we're going to have to have him drive in runs."

0: Hits for Ben Revere in his last 13 at-bats. He went 0-for-4 on Tuesday.

6: Batters hit this season by Liriano after a pitch got away from him and slammed into Buck's helmet. Buck staggered to the ground in pain and was eventually forced to come out of the game with a head contusion.

Overheard

"I'm trying to take a little load off his legs. He took a beating last night in the second game. But I think his legs are feeling better underneath him and he is using them a lot better. He's firing the ball all over the place."

-- Gardenhire, talking before the game about playing Mauer at first base on Tuesday. Mauer has 12 hits in 20 at-bats since the All-Star break.

Health report

• OF Jason Kubel (sprained left foot) served as designated hitter for Triple-A Rochester Tuesday, recording a single and two walks. Twins head trainer Rick McWane said Kubel has had "no problems at all" with the injured foot, but he still struggling to find his form. In three games with the Red Wings, he is 2-for-10 with four strikeouts. No timetable has been set for his return. "I'd like to see him get 30 or 40 at-bats. I don't know if that is going to happen," Gardenhire said. "I know 'Kub's thoughts were to join us back here for the Detroit series (this weekend), but I sure like to see him swinging better than he is now."

• OF Denard Span (concussion) played seven innings in center field for the Red Wings on Tuesday, notching one hit in three at-bats. It was the third game of his rehabilitation assignment, which is expected to last at least two weeks.

• 1B Justin Morneau (neck surgery, wrist) continues to participate in on-field conditioning work, although he has not been cleared to resume running. McWane said the Twins remain pleased with his progress towards a projected mid-August return.

• RHP Scott Baker (strained right elbow) will throw a bullpen session on Tuesday before the Twins decide if he needs to go on a rehab assignment.

• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) is slated to pitch for Rochester on Wednesday against the Durham Bulls.

On deck

In the series finale Wednesday (12:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN), the Twins will send right-hander Nick Blackburn (7-6, 3.99) to the mound. After a bumpy start to the month, Blackburn pitched a gem in his last outing, coming off a good outing July 15 against the Royals in which he went seven innings, allowed four hits and no runs while striking out three.

The Indians counter with right-hander Josh Tomlin (11-4, 4.03). Since his big-league debut in July 2010, Tomlin has become a mainstay in the Indians rotation. Batters rarely gain a free pass against Tomlin, who ranks second in baseball to Roy Halladay in walks per nine innings (1.12). The Twins tagged Tomlin for six runs in his first start against them this season.

Coming up

• Thursday: vs. Detroit, 12:10 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (6-6, 4.08) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (12-5, 2.29).
• Friday: vs. Detroit, 7:10 p.m. LHP Brian Duensing (7-7, 4.14) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (10-5, 4.53).
• Saturday: vs. Detroit, 3:10 p.m. Starters TBD.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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