Twins overcome three-run deficit in ninth, take series from White Sox
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MINNEAPOLIS -- All those struggles of the past month seem like distant memories now.
Three times in three days, the Minnesota Twins brought sellout Target Field crowds to their feet in the ninth inning of thrilling triumphs over the rival Chicago White Sox -- and they saved their best for last, rallying from a three-run deficit on Sunday to win 7-6.
Winners of eight straight at the All-Star break, the White Sox leave town on a three-game losing skid, their American League Central lead trimmed to 1½ games.
And the previously slumping Twins?
"We all know we've got to play better in the second half, and that's a pretty good start -- winning three out of four against the guys that are in front of you," infielder Nick Punto said. "Hopefully, we can continue that trend."
The stadium was less than full on Sunday as the Twins (49-43) came to bat in the ninth, trailing 6-3 and with Chicago closer Bobby Jenks looking to extend his streak of 15 consecutive saves. The fans that stayed came to life quickly, though, after Orlando Hudson and Joe Mauer drew walks to open the inning.
Jason Kubel fell behind 0-2 before singling to bring home Hudson. Then, Michael Cuddyer drove a 2-2 fastball to center field to score Mauer, cut Chicago's lead to 6-5 and force White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen to make a pitching change.
"I didn't have it," Jenks said. "My cutter was coming back. My sinker wasn't sinking. The slider was big. I just didn't have my stuff today."
Rios, who had cut off Cuddyer's single to keep the White Sox (50-41) ahead, picked up the ball in the gap and Cuddyer stopped at third. But Rios double-clutched, then inexplicably threw to no one between third base and home plate, allowing Cuddyer to race home as the ball caromed off the fence in front of the Chicago dugout.
A mob scene quickly enveloped Cuddyer and Young, who also hit a two-run homer in the second inning.
"I just like the fact that they're into it and we're not giving up until they get us out," said manager Ron Gardenhire, who was confined to the bench by a sore back. "Today, you get one guy on and another guy on and it snowballs. Then, all the pressure turns from not on us anymore onto them."
It all bailed out Nick Blackburn, who was charged with five runs on nine hits in five-plus innings. His earned-run average is 10.73 over his past six starts -- a stretch in which he's made it to the seventh inning only once.
Brian Duensing pitched the final four innings to earn the victory and is the primary candidate to join the rotation if the Twins decide to dump Blackburn or Kevin Slowey, who got battered in Thursday's series-opening loss -- the Twins' 14th in 20 games before winning the next three.
"We're not going to deal with that right now," Gardenhire said of Blackburn's status. "We're going to enjoy this ballgame, and we'll discuss those things as we go along."
Said Blackburn, "We were doing what we've been needing to do these past couple weeks, but I don't know how much longer they're going to keep putting up with that stuff. It's frustrating for me."
Young's homer gave the Twins an early 2-0 lead, and Cuddyer had a two-out RBI triple in the third -- enough to keep the Twins ahead 3-2 before things fell apart in the sixth.
Rios and Paul Konerko each singled before Carlos Quentin drove a double to deep right-center, giving Chicago its first lead and sending Blackburn to the showers.
Duensing came on and gave up a pair of RBI singles to Ramon Castro and Gordon Beckham, extending Chicago's lead to 6-3 -- where the score stayed until the Twins' rally.
And with that, momentum is back on the Twins' side as they come back for a three-game set against Cleveland beginning Monday.
"That," Duensing said, "can be a big win for us down the road."