MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Alexi Casilla laced a single to left field to drive in the winning run with two outs in the ninth and lift the Minnesota Twins to a 5-4 victory over the Texas Rangers on a windy, chilly Thursday night at Target Field.
Jim Hoey (1-2) finished the ninth for the win. Luke Hughes led off the ninth with a double off Mark Lowe (1-0) that a fan picked up before the Rangers could play it. They complained, to no avail.
Arthur Rhodes came in to get the second out, but Casilla hit an opposite-field line drive that was plenty deep enough for Hughes to score.
Rangers starter Derek Holland gave up a solo shot in the second inning to Delmon Young, just his second this season, and a three-run homer to Michael Cuddyer in the fifth to the back of the bullpen measured at 443 feet that made the grounds crew guys jump up to avoid getting hit.
Twins starter Nick Blackburn was hurt by two errors, one of them his, in a two-run sixth by the Rangers. He also gave up huge home runs to Josh Hamilton (an estimated 441 feet) and Nelson Cruz (450 feet), which tied the game with one out in the eighth.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was asked before the game whether the Rangers, fresh from the franchise’s first World Series appearance, are the best team in the American League. He didn’t hesitate to agree.
Lately, the Rangers have been playing the part, climbing from the .500 mark on May 21 with 12 wins in a 17-game stretch prior to this series.
The left-hander Holland offered evidence of their superior starting pitching depth by matching his career high with 10 strikeouts over 7 1-3 innings. Most of the other outs were on the ground, and the Twins hit four infield singles. He might’ve even avoided facing Cuddyer in the fifth, had second base umpire Paul Nauert not missed the tag shortstop Elvis Andrus made on Rene Rivera trying to retreat on a bouncer hit right at him.
Rivera was retired on the next play at third base when Adrian Beltre grabbed Ben Revere’s bunt and made a snap, off-balance throw to get the lead runner, but it’s impossible to determine how that inning would’ve developed had Rivera been out the first time. Rangers manager Ron Washington argued with Nauert for a while.
With Tommy Hunter and Brandon Webb working their way back from injuries and Alexi Ogando at 7-0 in 12 starts, Holland could be squeezed out this summer. But coming off a five-hit shutout last week, he’s pitching as if he plans to stay.
After going 53-28 at Target Field last season, the Twins brought a 6-15 record at home into this one, a hard-to-stomach mark for a proud organization and the fans who’ve been flocking to this sparkling ballpark on the edge of downtown.
The Twins still had the worst record in baseball when the day began despite six wins in their last seven games and still a long list of injured stars, but no longer do they have the biggest deficit in a division race. They cut five games off Cleveland’s lead in the American League Central and moved within 11 games after the win.
Gardenhire used the word “nervous” a number of times when talking about Blackburn’s start, after the right-hander left his previous appearance after five innings and 80 pitches because of tightness in his back. He looked fine over 109 pitches five days later, save for the soaring and costly home runs by Hamilton and Cruz.
Blackburn’s ERA remains the best on Minnesota’s starting staff, 3.47, and he hasn’t taken a loss since April 28. Blackburn struck out six while surrendering 10 hits and one walk in those 7 1-3 innings. Only two of the four runs against him were earned, though they were partially his fault, thanks to the failed throw on Hamilton’s dribbler back to the mound leading off the sixth.
He took second and later scored on Beltre’s single to cut the lead to two. The next batter, Cruz hit a scorching one-hopper to third baseman Danny Valencia, who didn’t put his torso in front of it and let it skip past him for a crucial error that allowed Beltre to race to third. Then Mitch Moreland made it 4-3 on a sacrifice fly to the short-armed Revere in center field.
Blackburn was most disgusted, though, in the eighth on his 1-0 changeup to Cruz. He whipped his body away from the field toward his dugout while Cruz jogged around the bases with his 15th homer. Young didn’t bother watching, either, as the ball soared into the third deck, a half-dozen rows up.
Notes: Washington said 2B Ian Kinsler, out on paternity leave following the birth of his son, would return to the team for Saturday’s game. … The Rangers are in a stretch with 17 out of 20 games on the road. … The Twins started a portion of the schedule with 31 of the next 41 games at home. They’ve played the fewest home games in the majors. … Cuddyer’s eight home runs are tops on the Twins. The next-closest players have five. … The Twins won for the first time in 26 games this year when being out-hit.
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