Ortiz sharp, leads Twins past Yanks

Ortiz sharp, leads Twins past Yanks

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins came into Wednesday night's game with the Yankees feeling a bit beaten down.

It wasn't just the two straight losses in which they were outscored 19-3 that had caused the Twins to be a tad concerned about the state of the club, but the fact that their bullpen was thin due to some injuries and a death in the family of one pitcher.

The bullpen was so depleted for the Twins that they had starter Sidney Ponson on call just in case of an emergency, as only two relievers were really in place to pitch if necessary -- Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan.

But on a night where the Twins needed a big pitching performance, Ramon Ortiz delivered even more than that as he put together one of the best starts of the year for the club. Ortiz pitched eight impressive innings, allowing just one run on three hits in a 5-1 victory over the Yankees on Wednesday night at the Metrodome.

"He gave us a huge lift," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Our bullpen needed it, obviously, with not much out there. And really, our team needed it. We'd been beat around quite a bit."

That depleted bullpen won't be as much of a concern now as the Twins made a roster move following the win, calling up left-hander Glen Perkins to pitch out of the bullpen and sending catcher Chris Heintz down.

But the key was when the Twins needed a starter to step up and deliver, Ortiz (2-0) proved that he was the right one for the call.

It had been a difficult task for the Twins pitching staff to try and shut down the vaunted Yankees lineup in the first two games, as witnessed by the 19 runs that were tacked up on the board. And there were questions lingering if Ortiz was the man to shut down the lineup, considering his penchant for giving up home runs.

One such hitter who had been a thorn in Ortiz's side for much of his career was Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who had belted eight of his 16 hits off the right-hander for home runs. But on Wednesday, it was Ortiz that got the best of Rodriguez as he got the Yankees' third baseman to strike out twice -- once swinging and once looking -- while giving up just one sac fly.

"I made a lot of first-pitch strikes tonight," Ortiz said. "And my changeup, slider -- every pitch was working. And with these guys, you have to go get it."

The success against Rodriguez was a small glimpse into Ortiz's success on the night, as the key for him was his ability to pitch inside and pitch aggressively to force the hitters to back off the plate. Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said the plan all week had been to do the same thing, but Ortiz was the first pitcher to succeed in doing it.

Still, things could have unraveled for Ortiz at one point in the outing, something that has been his downfall over the past few seasons. Usually it has been one big inning that has proven costly for Ortiz and in the fourth inning Wednesday, things looked like again they could fall apart.

Johnny Damon led off the inning with a single to center field. Ortiz then followed that up by walking Derek Jeter to put runners on first and second with no outs. That's when Anderson made a visit to the mound to calm Ortiz down and give him a moment to catch his breath. And it worked.

Ortiz was able to get out of the inning with minimal damage when only one scored as Damon was driven home on Rodriguez's sac fly to center field, making it a 1-0 game. It was the only run he would give up all night as he allowed just two more hits after that inning.

"That's a heck of a job for what he did against a lineup like that," Anderson said. "That's a heck of a lineup -- there's no breather 1-9."

But even with the impressive outing, Ortiz still wasn't in line to get the victory until an impressive four-run eighth inning by the Twins offense.

The start of Wednesday's game had looked very similar to the past four games, when the Twins had struggled to get anything going at the plate. A few missed chances to move runners over and drive in any runs looked like it might be a repeat of the past couple days.

But then the Twins were able to knot up the game in the sixth. A double by Nick Punto to lead off the inning started the rally before he was driven home on an RBI single from Michael Cuddyer later on. The game then remained tied until the eighth, when Yankees right-hander Kyle Farnsworth took over on the mound to start the inning and found trouble right away.

Farnsworth walked Luis Castillo, who then proceeded to steal his second base of the season. With one out in the inning after a Punto strikeout, Farnsworth (0-1) then gave up four consecutive hits, including RBI singles from Joe Mauer and Cuddyer, and RBI doubles from Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter.

It was just the kind of inning the Twins felt they needed to get things going again.

"Hopefully, that can take pressure off guys," Morneau said. "Some guys have been trying too hard. And then something like that happens, where it seems everybody got a hit there in those couple innings and that could be just the thing to turn it around."

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