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Fox pitches in as Twins rally past Rangers

Fox pitches in as Twins rally past Rangers

MINNEAPOLIS -- As he warmed up in the outfield grass at Target Field before his start against the Rangers on Friday night, Matt Fox tried to soak in the moment. Less than 24 hours earlier, this type of scenario certainly seemed tough for him to imagine.

Fox got the call around 1:30 a.m. CT on Friday morning that he was headed to Minnesota. The Twins were desperate for pitching help after using eight pitchers in Thursday night's 13-inning loss, including Friday's scheduled starter, Nick Blackburn. So the club turned to Fox for the start, a pitcher who hadn't even been on the team's radar as a potential September callup.

Yet there he was making his Major League debut and delivering everything the Twins could have hoped to see from him in a 4-3 victory against the Rangers.

Fox delivered 5 2/3 solid innings, giving up two runs on four hits, and when manager Ron Gardenhire walked out to the mound to take the pitcher out following David Murphy's go-ahead single for the Rangers in the sixth, he had a message to deliver to Fox as he gave him a congratulatory pat.

"I just told him I hope you took it all in," Gardenhire said. "He pitched his tail off. That was a big league performance, and I wanted him to know that."

Thin on starting options at Triple-A Rochester, the Twins added Fox to the 40-man roster earlier in the day. A first-round sandwich pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft who had missed the entire '05 season after having shoulder surgery, Fox has not had an easy road to this point.

A power pitcher when the Twins originally drafted him, Fox has had to adapt as a pitcher following the surgery. He's learned how to use his fastball that now sits in the 88-91-mph range. He featured a cutter on Friday night as well as a slider and a changeup. And while none of the pitches necessarily overwhelmed the Rangers -- he didn't record a strikeout -- Fox did enough to keep the team off-balance.

"He missed the strike zone just enough to where they couldn't sit on something and bang it," Gardenhire said. "His fastball had a little deception. He threw a lot of nice breaking balls."

"He threw the ball well," added Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler. "When a guy does something like that, he's locating the ball well, and we weren't able to put anything together."

Perhaps most impressive about the outing was the circumstances surrounding it. With the Twins holding a 3 1/2-game lead over the White Sox heading into the day in the American League Central race, Fox found himself pitching in the middle of a pennant race against the AL West-leading Rangers.

Add on top of all that, Fox's debut came on a night when the Twins kicked off a weekend-long celebration of the club's 50th season in Minnesota. A total of 34 of the club's 50 greatest players, including Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Tony Oliva, were on hand for the contest, as they were honored in an hour-long pregame ceremony that featured video tributes and huge applause from the fans as the greats were introduced behind home plate.

But despite getting only about 45 minutes of sleep, he estimated, Fox managed not to let the whirlwind circumstances of his arrival and the events surrounding the contest get to him.

As he walked off the mound with two outs in the sixth, Fox was greeted with a standing ovation from the sell-out crowd of 40,134, and it's a moment he'll never forget.

"I told countless people that was the most fun I've had, that I've ever had on the mound," Fox said. "Just to be able to help the team out and give them a chance to win, that was my goal coming in. I was able to do that, so it's a lot of fun."

The Twins managed to make it a memorable day for Fox as well, tallying enough runs off Rangers starter Derek Holland, four over his 6 1/3 innings, to pick up the victory.

The Rangers had gone ahead, 3-2, in the seventh when Kinsler scored on Julio Borbon's squeeze bunt. But the Twins wouldn't let that lead last long.

Danny Valencia singled with one out in the seventh, but he was removed from the game for precautionary reasons due to a tight right hamstring. Holland then walked Jason Repko, and he was taken out of the game. J.J. Hardy singled to score the tying run, and Denard Span delivered the go-ahead run with a single to right field off Matt Harrison that gave the Twins a 4-3 lead.

The Rangers were threatening in the eighth when Gardenhire turned to closer Matt Capps for a five-out save. With one out and runners on first and third, Capps struck out Nelson Cruz and got Kinsler to ground into a fielder's choice for the final out of the inning.

Capps then ran into some trouble in the ninth, but he was aided when right fielder Repko threw out Alex Cora, who unsuccessfully tried moving from first to third on a base hit by Borbon. Capps completed his eighth save with the Twins by getting Elvis Andrus to fly out to right field.

What's next for Fox is still a question. In addition to starting at Rochester this year, Fox also spent time pitching out of the bullpen. Gadenhire was asked after Friday's contest if Fox could possibly help the Twins in relief.

"With the way he threw tonight, absolutely," Gardenhire said. "He did a heck of a job."

For now though, the Twins' manager just wants the rookie to get a chance to truly soak in the Major League atmosphere and not worry too much about what's next.

"I think he should just be able to sit down [Saturday] and enjoy a Major League Baseball game, and try to take it all in a little more," Gardenhire said. "We'll see where we're at from there."

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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