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Kubel, Twins slam brakes on Yanks' hex

Kubel, Twins slam brakes on Yanks' hex

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NEW YORK -- After their losing streak stretched to 12 games against the Yankees following Saturday's 7-1 loss, the Twins wondered what it might take for the club to turn its luck around.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire reiterated that it was just one big hit or one big inning that his club needed to finally get over the hump and end its struggles vs. this Yankees squad -- particularly in New York. Denard Span said that Minnesota might need to score 30 runs in the series finale to pick up a win, although he joked that New York still would probably score 27.

Certainly, it seemed that something dramatic was required for the Twins to snap their 12-game skid vs. the Yankees, which included last year's sweep in the American League Division Series, and pick up their first win in the Bronx since July 4, 2007. But Minnesota probably didn't envision it happening like this.

Jason Kubel belted a two-out grand slam off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning as Minnesota finally saw that streak come to an end with a 6-3 victory over New York on Sunday afternoon before a crowd of 46,628 at Yankee Stadium.

"That doesn't happen very often, so take pictures," Gardenhire said afterward about Rivera giving up the grand slam. "He's as good as they get. The best I've ever seen in the game."

Kubel's homer certainly was memorable as it was just the fourth career grand slam given up by Rivera and the first he's allowed at home since becoming a reliever. The last grand slam off Rivera came on Bill Selby's game-ending shot for Cleveland on July 14, 2002.

"It's a pretty good feeling," Kubel said of his grand slam. "It's an even better feeling that we finally beat them."

Trailing by two runs to start the eighth, the Twins got their rally started against reliever Joba Chamberlain. With runners on first and second and two outs, Michael Cuddyer hit a ball that hit the top of first baseman Mark Teixeira's glove and fell in for a single to load the bases.

That's when Rivera, who hadn't allowed a run in 11 innings this season, was called in for what would have been a four-out save. Facing Jim Thome, a career .299 hitter with the bases loaded, Rivera walked in his first run since 2005.

Next up was Kubel, who was batting .224 entering the game and had gone 0-for-3 with two strikeouts to start the afternoon. But on a 1-0 cutter inside from Rivera, he blasted a shot deep into the right-field bleachers for his sixth career grand slam and first since April 17, 2009.

"It was a good pitch that was off the plate," Kubel said. "This time, I actually kept my hands inside of one and made decent contact. It wasn't way in, but it was in enough that I usually don't make contact with that pitch."

Rivera seemed more upset with himself about the bases-loaded walk he issued to Thome than the pitch Kubel hit for the grand slam.

"It was low, and he just dropped the head of the bat," Rivera said. "Those things are going to happen. They're professional hitters, and sometimes they're going to hit it. Not that I'm happy with that, but I understand those things are going to happen. But the walk is again unacceptable."

Bases-loaded walks and grand slams off Rivera are certainly rare, but it's been the same case with victories for the Twins here in the Bronx.

Minnesota entered Sunday with a 5-29 record in New York since 2002, when Gardenhire took over as manager.

So it's no surprise that not even a slam off Rivera would exactly seal a victory for the Twins. First, they had to overcome a few more nerve-racking moments before the victory could be completely sealed.

The Yankees tried to mount a rally in the ninth, when closer Jon Rauch gave up a pair of singles to start the inning, bringing Derek Jeter up as the tying run to the plate. But Rauch struck out New York's Nos. 1-3 hitters in order to give him save No. 10, and more importantly, the first win for the Twins in the Bronx in nearly three years.

"It kind of gets that monkey off your back for the most part," Cuddyer said.

Much has been made about the Twins' struggles against the Yankees, and for the early part of the contest, it appeared that perhaps they would watch another opportunity pass.

Minnesota had already watched one early lead disappear. Justin Morneau homered off Yankees starter Sergio Mitre to lead off the second inning, giving the Twins a 1-0 lead. But like so many times in this ballpark, Minnesota couldn't hold onto that lead as the slim advantage soon disappeared.

Starter Nick Blackburn gave up three runs to the Yankees, but he delivered yet another solid start with minimal damage over his seven innings. And he kept his club close enough to rally for the victory against a New York team that Minnesota will face three more times next week at Target Field.

"[This win] is going to help out just to let us see that they are a beatable team," Blackburn said. "They all have their weaknesses also. It's just a matter of us going out there and exposing their weaknesses. ... Hopefully today gets us rolling and helps us realize that we can beat these guys."

His team's futility against the Yankees was something that Gardenhire was reminded of constantly since his club arrived in New York, and the headlines in local papers declared the Twins having a case of "Bronx-itis."

But Gardenhire said after the victory that he's focused on a new number.

"We're 1-0 now against the Yankees in our one game," Gardenhire said. "We'll construe the numbers any way we want to now."

He then added one more thing.

"Oh, my cold is better, too," Gardenhire said. "My 'itis."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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