Target Field has been able to provide the Minnesota Twins with a distinct advantage in its first year of existence, something the current American League Central leaders would like to have during the first round of the playoffs.
Competing with West front-runner Texas for a probable home-field edge for the AL Division Series, Minnesota will try to further its lead on the Rangers in the standings when the two teams continue an important three-game series this afternoon in Minneapolis.
With both the No. 1 seed and the Wild Card likely to come out of the AL East, the Twins and Rangers are in essence battling to see who will host the Wild Card recipient in Game 1 of next month’s ALDS if both clubs manage to hold onto first place in their respective divisions. Minnesota now owns a 2 1/2- game cushion on Texas for that spot after last night’s 4-3 victory, the 14th for Ron Gardenhire’s squad in its last 17 home tilts.
Down 3-2 entering the bottom of the seventh inning, the Twins tied the contest on J.J. Hardy’s one-out single before Denard Span greeted Texas reliever Matt Harrison with a base hit that plated Jason Repko with the go-ahead run.
Matt Capps protected the one-run lead by working out of an eighth-inning jam and tossing a scoreless ninth to record his eighth save since coming over in a late-July trade from Washington. The Minnesota closer came on to strike out Nelson Cruz with runners at the corners and one out in the top of the eighth, then retired Ian Kinsler on a fielder’s choice to end the threat.
Capps got some help from his defense in the ninth, as Repko threw out Alex Cora trying to take third on a Julio Borbon single for the second out of the inning.
Alex Burnett (2-2) claimed the win with 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of emergency starter Matt Fox, who held Texas to two runs and four hits over the first 5 2/3 frames in a solid major league debut. Both pitchers were called up from Triple-A Rochester prior to the game.
“Just to be able to help the team out and give them a chance to win was my goal coming in, and I was able to do that,” said Fox. “So it was a lot of fun.”
Texas starter Derek Holland (2-3) received the loss after being charged with four runs in 6 1/3 innings of work. The Rangers had given the young lefty a 3-2 lead when Kinsler singled to lead off the seventh, moved to second on a wild pitch, and later scored on Julio Borbon’s sacrifice bunt.
Minnesota is now an outstanding 43-23 at home this season and holds a four- game margin on second-place Chicago for the Central’s top spot. The White Sox’ game at Boston scheduled for Friday was postponed due to inclement weather.
The Twins will send out their top winner today in hopes of reeling in another victory. Carl Pavano comes into this afternoon’s test with 15 victories on the season, his highest total since 2004, although the oft-injured veteran has taken a loss in each of his past three mound trips.
One of those defeats took place against the Rangers on August 24, a 4-3 setback in Arlington in which Pavano threw an eight-inning complete game. He followed up by limiting Seattle to two runs and just five hits over seven frames this past Sunday, but wound up on the wrong side of a 2-1 verdict to the Mariners.
Pavano did best the Rangers at Target Field back in May by delivering seven innings of two-run ball and is 7-4 with a 3.95 ERA in 12 starts at his home park this year. The right-hander is just 1-3 with a suspect 7.62 ERA over five career matchups with Texas, however.
Colby Lewis opposed Pavano in that August 24 clash and will do so again for the Rangers today. The well-traveled right-hander got a no-decision that night after allowing three runs on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings.
Lewis has endured some hard times during the second half of this season, though, having lost six consecutive decisions over an eight-start span after compiling a 9-5 record over the first 3 1/2 months. His last win occurred on July 16 at Boston, and the Rangers have scored two runs or fewer in all but one of those eight outings during his winless stretch.
The 31-year-old was his own worst enemy in Sunday’s start against Oakland, however, as Lewis surrendered a season-high seven runs (five earned) on eight hits — two of which were homers — over 5 2/3 innings of an 8-2 home loss to the Athletics.
Lewis is 0-2 with a 4.35 ERA over seven career appearances (three starts) against Minnesota and was the losing pitcher in a May 28 test at Target Field, even though he did give up only two runs and five hits in six innings.
He’ll be hoping to have teammate Josh Hamilton in the lineup this afternoon. The All-Star outfielder and current AL batting leader (.362) left Friday’s opener in the eighth inning with back stiffness, but is expected to be okay to start today.
The Rangers did take three of four games from the Twins in a series held in Arlington last month, but Minnesota has won all four meetings between the teams held in Minneapolis this season.