MINNEAPOLIS -- Joe Nathan admits that the toughest adjustment for a pitcher to make when he's struggling is just to get back in the right frame of mind when he's on the mound. And after recording his first blown save of the year on Wednesday against Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field, Nathan was itching for a chance to get back out there on the field and work on righting his troubles. But the solution to getting Nathan back on track? Not exactly your typical one, as it came by facing the middle of the Red Sox lineup with just a one-run lead before a raucous crowd of 40,088 inside the Metrodome on Saturday.
Yet it seemed like just the right medicine for Nathan, who shut down the Red Sox for 1 1/3 innings to pick up his eighth save of the season and help secure a 2-1 victory for the Twins to snap the team's three-game losing skid. "It was big win for our team, for one, and big for me to get out there and make some pitches after some rough ones against Tampa and not making some pitches against them," Nathan said. "To come back and be able to make some pitches against some of the best hitters in the game was huge." On a night when neither team produced much offense, it was a game that relied mostly on pitching. And for the Twins, that meant their bullpen. Despite having Johan Santana on the mound, the Twins had to turn to their 'pen after just five innings after the Red Sox wore down Minnesota's ace early in the contest. After throwing 30 pitches in the first inning, Santana found himself in trouble and had to battle just to remain in the game for five innings. He was able to limit the damage to just one run in his shortened outing. And that run came in the fourth inning when Santana got himself into some trouble. The ace gave up a two-out single to Wily Mo Pena and then delivered two wild pitches during the next at-bat, which allowed Pena to advance to third and then score on a double by Dustin Pedroia. Santana admitted that it was a difficult night overall, and one that he had to labor through to even have a chance at the victory. "I was trying to do my job, they fouled off a lot of pitches and they made me throw a lot of pitches," Santana said. "It's part of the game and you have to make some adjustments. But in the end, it was all about the bullpen today." The challenge was certainly laid down for the 'pen, which had just a one-run lead to work with over the final four innings. And even that small lead was only due to the Twins being able to get on the board early against Red Sox starter Julian Tavarez, who had a pretty solid outing. Tavarez gave up just two runs over six innings as he walked three and struck out seven. But despite recording only four hits in the entire game, the Twins were able to take advantage in one opportunity, and that was all it would take. The Twins' only two runs of the game came in the second inning, when Tavarez loaded the bases with just one. He gave up a single to Justin Morneau, who then reached second on an error by Pena in center field, and then Tavarez walked the next two batters he faced. It was the second walk that was the most critical, as Jeff Cirillo battled through a 10-pitch at-bat to draw a walk. "He's a professional hitter and he battled and battled some tough pitches off," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Cirillo. "We sent the runners, knowing he was going to make contact. He had a great at-bat and ended up drawing a walk there. The rest of the guys tapped a couple here and got them in. But that was probably the biggest at-bat of the night. That's what we brought him over here for, because he has those at-bats"
Two runs would score when Jason Tyner delivered an RBI on a fielder's choice and Jason Bartlett delivered an RBI single.Following Santana's exit after the fifth with the game still at 1, Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain were able to hold that lead until Nathan entered in the eighth inning with runners on first and second. He was able to get the big flyout then, and it led to a showdown ninth with the knowledge that he would indeed face one of the toughest hitters in baseball in Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. The start to the season hasn't been the easiest for Nathan, who has had trouble getting the first out and saw his ERA heading into Saturday night rise to 3.38, not exactly typical of the All-Star closer. But Nathan held a 1.00 ERA against the Red Sox in nine career innings coming into this game. And it was last year against these same Red Sox at the Metrodome when Nathan had to get a save the tough way as well, working two innings while having to strike out Manny Ramirez twice. With so much on the line in the ninth on Saturday, Nathan was able to step up under the pressure again. He got a quick first out with a popup by Julio Lugo, but Nick Punto's first error of the year on a Kevin Youkilis grounder to third allowed the go-ahead run to reach first base. Next came Ortiz and Ramirez. On a 3-2 pitch, Nathan was able to get Ortiz to line out to center fielder Torii Hunter. And then, reminiscent of his save against the Sox at the Metrodome last season, Nathan got Ramirez to strike out swinging to end the game and perhaps restore a bit of confidence. "There is something about Boston and me having to go more than one inning," Nathan said with a laugh. "But as long as we can get a 'W,' I'll take it as long as I can get it." And right now, so will the Twins.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.