Nevin boosts Twins past O's in finale

Nevin boosts Twins past O's in finale

BALTIMORE -- In his 12-year career, Phil Nevin has always longed to be a part of a playoff-bound team.

It appears that Nevin's wish has come true, as the Twins saw their magic number dwindle to two on Sunday afternoon with a 6-3 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards. Minnesota is 1 1/2 games out of first place in the AL Central after the win.

But while being a part of a playoff-bound team was important for Nevin, there's no doubt that he wanted to contribute. Having joined the Twins late in the season, Nevin had been waiting for an opportunity to come up big, and he did just that on Sunday.

Nevin's his two-run blast in the eighth inning, his first homer in a Twins uniform, gave Minnesota a little breathing room after it had been holding on to a narrow 4-3 lead.

"It's about time, isn't it?" Nevin said with a laugh. "I did hear that in the dugout a few times today. Just to have a chance to be a part of this, whatever that role is, means something. We've got a great group in here, and everybody understands their role. That's what has made this team so successful, you see that coming in from the outside. But to have a little bigger part in it today means a little bit, yeah."

Nevin's homer was a big part of giving the team a cushion near the end of the game, but that homer could have been even more crucial had it not been for the effort of the Twins bullpen.

After the Twins stormed out to a 4-0 lead, thanks in part to a two-run shot by Joe Mauer in the first inning, the lead slipped to just one run after Matt Garza ran into trouble.

Garza (3-5) cruised through the first few innings before giving up three solo homers. Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada delivered two of them, one in the fourth inning and another to lead off the sixth. Corey Patterson belted one two outs later in the sixth to make it a 4-3 ballgame.

"I just left a couple of pitches up, and to a hitter like Tejada, he's going to make you pay," Garza said.

Garza then issued his third walk of the game before exiting the game.

Juan Rincon started the bullpen's solid effort by recording a groundout to end the sixth before the game was halted for 29 minutes due to rain.

"That's just as big of a situation as it would have been in the eighth," Gardenhire said. "We just put him in a little earlier and he got through it. He's one of our best relievers out there, and that still stands."

Pat Neshek took over in the bottom of the seventh. With the Twins still leading by just one run, Neshek entered the game with runners at first and second and just one out. Neshek struck out Tejada and was able to get two outs on the play when Mauer threw out Chris Gomez trying to steal third, ending the inning and the threat.

"He made a big pitch when he had to, and we were able to throw [Gomez] out," Gardenhire said. "That was a huge play in the ballgame."

After Nevin's homer gave the Twins a three-run cushion, the Twins got another strong performance by Jesse Crain in the bottom of the eighth. Crain entered the game with one out after Glen Perkins gave up a single to Jay Gibbons. Crain recorded three straight outs to hold the three-run lead before closer Joe Nathan came in for the ninth inning and picked up his 35th save of the season.

"One after another, they just get the job done," Gardenhire said of his relievers. "I just can't say enough about how much the bullpen means to us."

Nathan's save made him the first Twins pitcher to record at least 35 saves in three consecutive seasons.

"We need a whole team effort," Nathan said. "We need runs scored, our starters to pitch well, the other hands in the 'pen getting us there, so I think this stat is definitely more of a team effort, and this milestone recognizes what our team has been able to do."

Nathan's comments are a reflection of the Twins' team mentality. And with Minnesota's magic number at just two, it leaves open the possibility to clinch a playoff berth as soon as Monday, if the Twins beat the Royals and the White Sox lose in Cleveland.

And while clinching a spot in the playoffs is something that Nevin has spent nights awake thinking about recently, he's trying hard not to let it overwhelm him.

"It's hard not to think about what could possibly happen here in the next month, or even couple of weeks," Nevin said. "I know a lot of guys in here have been there before, and I almost feel like a rookie. There are 22 other teams that aren't going to have that opportunity to get in the playoffs, and I've been one of those 22 for the past 12 years.

"Dennys Reyes is another guy that's been around nine or 10 years, and he's never had a chance to go, either. So hopefully it happens."

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