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Cirillo delivers in a pinch

Cirillo delivers in a pinch

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire issued a challenge to his starting staff on Monday to pitch deeper into games in order to help give the increasingly taxed bullpen a rest.

Gardenhire got the dominant, seven-inning start he was looking for from Scott Baker on Tuesday night against Toronto. Unfortunately, though, the Blue Jays pitching was nearly as good, and the Twins offense couldn't come up with the big hit until much later.

It wasn't until the 12th inning that the Twins received that big, game-winning hit from pinch-hitter Jeff Cirillo, so it ended up being another night of the bullpen pitching five innings en route to the Twins capturing a 2-1 victory over the Blue Jays at the Metrodome.

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"I was really happy we got to rest the bullpen," Gardenhire said, with his words clearly dripping of sarcasm. "But we were looking for a good start tonight and we got one. And it was a good win for us."

The start by Baker was the kind the Twins had been hoping to see from the right-hander. After all, Baker's dominant debut for Minnesota in Milwaukee on May 19 had the Twins thinking that they had a different pitcher on their hands this season.

But it took Baker until Tuesday night to show the Twins another glimpse of that dominant pitcher. He certainly did this time, giving up just one run over seven-plus innings in his first quality start since that debut outing.

It ended up being a no-decision for the starter, despite Baker's dominant outing. But that didn't take away from the fact that the right-hander certainly looked like a different pitcher than the one who gave up five or more runs in three of his last four starts. Instead, Baker effectively shut down a tough Blue Jays lineup, allowing just the one run on four hits and striking out a career-high nine batters.

"He pitched very, very well," Gardenhire said of Baker. "He used all of his pitches, located the ball and had a great slider tonight against a good-hitting baseball team. He did a fantastic job.

And the difference this time around for Baker?

"I think my stuff was basically the same," Baker said. "It was just better location of pitches with two strikes."

And for as effective as Baker was, the bullpen was equally as dominant. Four Twins relievers combined to retire 15 straight batters and gave the club a chance to eek out the victory.

Though the Twins had hoped to give their 'pen a rest, in the end, it was the chance at a victory that overruled any thoughts of limiting how many relief pitchers they used.

"You get in these games and you have to keep running them out there," Gardenhire said of his 'pen. "They are warriors [who are] going to go out there and take the ball. They pitched very, very well tonight. Both sides did. Now we'll just have to regroup tomorrow and see where we're at."

Gardenhire was pleased with what he saw from his 'pen but he had to watch it from the television in his office. The Twins skipper earned his fourth ejection of the season while arguing a play at home plate in the bottom of the seventh. It came after the Twins had taken a 1-0 lead in the inning.

A one-out walk by Michael Cuddyer got the scoring started off Toronto starter Shaun Marcum and Torii Hunter followed with a single to left. Jason Kubel doubled to right to score Cuddyer and Hunter advanced to third. Mike Redmond then flew out to right field and Hunter tried to beat the throw home. But the throw by Blue Jays right fielder Alex Rios reached catcher Gregg Zaun in time and home-plate umpire Mike Winters ruled Hunter out on Zaun's tag.

Hunter began to argue with Winters and Gardenhire intervened before his center fielder could get tossed. Gardenhire's decision to argue was more of an attempt to keep Hunter in the game than to argue to the call. And afterward, Gardenhire admitted that Winters made the correct call.

"He made the right call," Gardenhire said of the play. "It looked on the replay like [Zaun] tagged Torii's batting gloves hanging out. So maybe we'll just have to tuck them in a little more next time."

It may have been the right call, but the missed scoring opportunity would prove costly as Baker allowed his lone run in the eighth inning to knot the game up at 1. Baker faced just two batters in the inning, walking Zaun to lead off and then giving up a single to Aaron Hill that put runners at first and second. That was it for Baker but Zaun scored two batters later on a John McDonald sac fly.

A seesaw battle between the two strong staffs ensued after that before the Twins finally were able to capitalize on their rally in the 12th.

Two hits and an intentional walk to Redmond loaded the bases with two outs in the inning. Up to bat was Jason Tyner, but with a lefty on the mound, the Twins went to Jeff Cirillo off the bench.

The Twins signed Cirillo this offseason, in large part due to his knack for hitting left-handed pitching. So when Cirillo got the opportunity Tuesday night, he took advantage, hitting a high fly ball into shallow center field that dropped in for the game-winner. Cirillo, sore knees and all, certainly did what he was brought in to do, even if he admitted that it wasn't quite the way he had hoped for it to happen.

"I almost feel a little guilty in the sense that the ball fell," Cirillo said of his blooper. "But that's baseball, and I'm sure plenty of times in my career I've lined out to end games. And every hit counts. So it's weird that you're celebrating a hit but it's a bloop hit. But we're like, 'Whatever, all right, let's jump up and down and go home.'"

And no one was happier than Gardenhire that Cirillo's ball fell in for a hit.

"We needed to end that game," Gardenhire said. "We needed to get away without having to send another pitcher out here. It was a long night but a good win for our baseball team."

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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