OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) _ Matt Tolbert is still waiting for the phone call telling him he’s headed back to the minors.
Minnesota’s utility infielder is used to it at this point in his career, even after helping the Twins to their latest road victory.
Tolbert, a late replacement in the starting lineup when J.J. Hardy was scratched due to a sore left wrist, hit a tiebreaking, two-out RBI single in the ninth inning and the Twins made it hold up in a 4-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Saturday night.
“I’m just glad to get a hit at the right time because I hadn’t done anything up to that point,” said Tolbert, who was recalled from Triple-A Rochester earlier this week. “You always have to be ready. That’s just the type of player I am, up and down, and will be for the rest of my career. So you just have to get used to it. Don’t unpack and don’t make plans.”
The A’s thought they had a plan to shut down Minnesota when Twins manager Ron Gardenhire sent Justin Morneau up to pinch-hit for Brendan Harris in the ninth. Morneau, the Twins’ hottest hitter who doubled and homered in their win over Oakland on Friday night, was ill before the game and could hardly stand but Oakland opted to intentionally walk him.
Morneau was replaced by Hardy, and after A’s reliever Brad Ziegler (2-3) walked Nick Punto, Denard Span hit into a fielder’s choice to move Hardy to third. Tolbert then lined a 1-0 pitch into left-center to drive in the eventual winning run.
“I didn’t want (Morneau) to beat us right there,” A’s manager Bob Geren said. “He’s one of the best hitters in the game right now. It was the walk that put him in scoring position. As it was, we had two outs and the guy (Tolbert) snuck one through the infield.”
Alex Burnett (1-1) retired one batter for the win, while Jon Rauch pitched a scoreless ninth for his 15th save.
Tolbert’s hit was only his second in 14 at-bats since returning to the majors on June 1 to replace Alexi Casilla, who went on the DL with a bone spur in his right elbow. The infielder had also not driven in a run since getting called back up but delivered the winner against the A’s to help Minnesota even its record to 3-3 on its current trip.
“That’s a big hit for him and for our ballclub,” Gardenhire said. “He’s put some really good swings on the ball lately and has not got a lot to show for it. I felt good with him going up there. He got one out over the plate and stayed on it and drove it up the middle.”
Adam Rosales had two hits for Oakland, including a two-run triple in the eighth. The A’s have lost four of five and fell to 0-2 on their seven-game homestand.
The Twins nearly wasted a solid outing from starter Francisco Liriano. The left-hander scattered five hits, matched his season high of 10 strikeouts and allowed only two runners past second base before leaving with a 3-1 lead after seven innings.
That was welcomed news for Minnesota, which had seen the lanky pitcher struggle for most of May after being honored as the AL Pitcher of the Month in April.
The Twins’ bullpen nearly let it slip away.
Reliever Jesse Crain gave up singles to Mark Ellis and Kurt Suzuki in the eighth before Rosales lined a two-out triple to left-center to tie it at 3. Burnett replaced Crain and retired pinch-hitter Daric Barton on a fly out to escape the jam.
Oakland starter Trevor Cahill matched Liriano early but struggled with his control in the sixth when five of the first six Minnesota batters reached base. Cahill, who had not allowed more than one run while winning his previous three starts, walked four and struck out six.
Cahill gave up a run in the second on Delmon Young’s sacrifice fly then settled into a groove until Joe Mauer’s one-out ground-rule double in the sixth. After Jim Thome and Jason Kubel walked, Young slapped the first pitch he saw from Cahill into right field to score Mauer and Thome.
Oakland took a 1-0 lead in the first when Rajai Davis scored on a double-play groundout.
NOTES: Hardy’s ailing wrist is the same one that forced him to miss 13 games earlier this season. Punto was moved to shortstop to replace Hardy, while Tolbert was inserted at second base. … Oakland 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff was held without a homer for the first time in four games. … Morneau had been slated to take the day off, his first since April 29, before pinch hitting in place of Brendan Harris with one out in the ninth. … Liriano is winless (0-3) in five career starts at the Oakland Coliseum.