In his first six seasons with the Minnesota Twins, spanning from 2004 to 2009, Joe Nathan notched 246 saves as the Minnesota closer, and picked up three more before winding up on the disabled list this season. On Saturday night at Target Field against the Kansas City Royals, he picked up one of the more important saves of his Twins career.
Having been reinserted into the closer's role after Matt Capps' meltdown on Friday night, Nathan came on in the ninth inning and, after a little bit of drama, retired the Royals to close things out and preserve a 4-3 victory for the Twins. With the Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Tigers both losing on Saturday, the Twins' deficit in the American League Central race dropped back down to six games.
Minnesota struck first in this one, getting on the board in the bottom of the first inning. Ben Revere started the game with an infield single, moving to second on an Alexi Casilla ground out and then stealing third. Joe Mauer then grounded out to second and plated Revere, making the score 1-0. Michael Cuddyer then singled to center, and Delmon Young followed that up with a double to deep center field to score Cuddyer and give the Twins a 2-0 lead.
The Twins added to their lead in the bottom of the fourth on a solo home run by Drew Butera. . .yes, that Drew Butera. That gave the Twins a 3-0 lead, and it looked like they might be cruising, as starting pitcher Carl Pavano had given up just two hits over the first four innings. However, things got a little rougher in the top of the fifth, as after two quick Kansas City outs, Brayan Pena singled to keep the inning alive, and Alex Escobar followed that up with a two-run home run to left to cut Minnesota's lead to 3-2.
Kansas City tied the game in the top of the sixth, as Melky Cabrera singled to start the inning. Cabrera then stole second base, and Pavano then walked Alex Gordon. Billy Butler grounded into a fielder's choice to third that forced Gordon at second, but still left runners at the corners with one out. Eric Hosmer, who was the hero for the Royals on Friday night with his home run off of Capps, then grounded out to third, scoring Cabrera with the tying run and making the score 3-3.
In the bottom of the eighth, with Royals' starter Jeff Francis still on the mound, Alexi Casilla and Joe Mauer collected consecutive singles with one out, with Casilla taking third on Mauer's base hit to put runners on the corners. The Royals then brought in reliever Aaron Crow to face Michael Cuddyer, and the All-Star greeted him with a single to center field to score Casilla and give Minnesota a 4-3 lead. The Twins had a chance for more, but in a situation similar to last night's ninth inning for the Twins, Delmon Young hit a ground ball to the mound, and Mauer got caught in a rundown between third base and home plate, and was retired for the second out. Danny Valencia then grounded out to the mound as well to end the inning.
In came Nathan to pitch the top of the ninth to a raucous ovation at Target Field, and though he allowed a one-out single to Hosmer, who subsequently stole second, he retired Mike Moustakas on a fly ball to right field to end the ball game. Nathan threw 14 pitches in the inning, nine of them for strikes. His save was the fourth of the year, and his first one since April 8 in Minnesota's 2-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
Pavano pitched seven strong innings, allowing three runs on six hits while getting a no-decision. Glen Perkins, who pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning with two strikeouts, got credit for the victory, which was his first of the season to even his record at 1-1. Francis took the loss for Kansas City, allowing four runs on seven hits in 7.1 innings of work and dropping his record to 3-11 on the year.
The final game of the series will take place on Sunday afternoon at Target Field, with first pitch scheduled for 1:10 PM Central time. Kansas City will send right-hander Felipe Paulino (1-6, 4.31 ERA) to the mound, while the Twins will turn to left-hander Brian Duensing (6-7, 4.13 ERA).