"Obviously we had a disappointing season, but we knew where they stood. We had a chance to come over here and play some exciting baseball," closer Joe Nathan said. "This is going to be our playoff."
The Twins played like a team fighting elimination, as Thursday's game had all the makings of a classic nail-biter. With the Twins holding onto a slim two-run lead heading into the eighth inning, the Red Sox tried to mount one of their classic late-inning rallies.
Trailing, 5-3, at the start of the eighth and with the Yankees having already won, the Red Sox knew that to reduce their magic number of two would take a comeback against a strong Minnesota bullpen. And it didn't take long for Boston to make it interesting
Matt Guerrier struck out two of the first three batters he faced in the eighth, but he also gave up a solo homer to Jason Varitek that pulled the Red Sox within one. Guerrier then allowed back-to-back bloop singles to put runners at first and third with no outs.
With rain about to pour down on Fenway, manager Ron Gardenhire made the decision to call on Nathan to get the final out of the eighth.
It's not very often that Nathan gets the call in the eighth for a save situation, having done it only three times this season. But it seems that whenever that call does come, it's usually against Boston.
Thursday night marked the third time in the past two seasons that Nathan has picked up a save vs. Boston that required more than three outs. And this time was no less dramatic than the previous two.
Just as Nathan entered the game, the rain started to fall steadily down on the ballpark. But after falling behind 3-1 to Dustin Pedroia, Nathan got the Rookie of the Year candidate to pop up to first base, ending the threat.
After the Twins weren't able to do anything offensively in the top of the ninth, Nathan came on to finish off his save attempt. And, well, things got a tad more interesting.
Nathan allowed a leadoff double to Brandon Moss before walking David Ortiz on four pitches to put the go-ahead run on base. With one out, Nathan then intentionally walked J.D. Drew to load the bases.
That brought Varitek, the Red Sox captain, up to the plate with the bases loaded. Not exactly the ideal type of situation for any pitcher.
"We made some big pitches when we had to. It doesn't get much better than here at Fenway Park. Everybody gets into it, [it's] a very exciting and very loud crowd. I think all of the guys enjoyed it."
-- Ron Gardenhire
"Varitek has come up big for them so many times," Nathan said. "I know how good of a player he is and how clutch he can be, so I just really wanted to be aggressive. [With] bases loaded, there was nowhere to put him. So I wanted to make some pitches, get ahead and see what happens."
After falling down 0-2 quickly, Varitek battled through a seven-pitch at-bat before striking out swinging at a down-and-away slider. Pinch-hitter Kevin Youkilis then came to the plate with the rain still falling, and Nathan got his second swinging strikeout to end the threat and capture his 36th save of the season.
Just your average everyday save opportunity.
"We made some big pitches when we had to," Gardenhire said. "It doesn't get much better than here at Fenway Park. Everybody gets into it, [it's] a very exciting and very loud crowd. I think all of the guys enjoyed it. We haven't had much to cheer about lately, but that was a big one for us."
It was a victory that had looked far from possible after the bottom of the first inning. Boof Bonser was making his first start since being taken out of the rotation in mid-September. A laborious first inning in which Bonser (8-12) threw 39 pitches and struggled to get outs didn't appear promising.
Bonser gave up two runs over that inning, erasing the 1-0 lead the Twins had built off one of the year's frontrunners for the American League Cy Young Award, Josh Beckett.
But just as the momentum seemed to have vanished, Michael Cuddyer led off the second inning with a blast over the Green Monster for his 16th homer of the year. It tied the ballgame at 2.
"That was a pretty big lift for us, and I think that's what got us going," Torii Hunter said.
The Twins would slowly peck away at Beckett (20-7) from there, tallying a total of five runs on 10 hits over his six innings. Bonser, meanwhile, would settle down to pitch five innings, allowing just three runs on six hits during that time.
And while it would take a case of late-inning heroics by their closer to pull off the victory, the skipper said he expects nothing less when playing at Boston.
"Like I say all the time, when you are playing the Red Sox, you've got to hold on," Gardenhire said. "And tonight, we were able to hold on."