MINNEAPOLIS -- On a night when the Twins learned they likely lost their primary setup man for the rest of the season and that their infield situation could be shaky over the coming days, the club desperately needed a pick-me-up. And just when it seemed that lift wouldn't come Friday against the Red Sox, it came from an unlikely source -- third baseman Mike Lamb. It was Lamb who delivered a big two-out single off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon in the bottom of the ninth inning to give Minnesota a 7-6 walk-off win over Boston in the series opener at the Metrodome.
"It was a big pick-us-up," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Lamb's hit. "And maybe that's a lift that will get him rolling. ... It hasn't been going his way yet, but it's a long season here. He can help this baseball team out starting tonight." Things hadn't exactly gone the way that Lamb had envisioned to start the season. Having signed to be the Twins' everyday third baseman due to his offensive talents, Lamb has instead suffered a bit of a slow start at the plate. Coming into Friday's contest, Lamb was batting just .207 over 27 games. Lamb hadn't even started Friday night's game. With Boston starting left-hander Jon Lester, the left-handed-hitting Lamb was put on the bench for the third consecutive day. But when second baseman Brendan Harris had to leave the game in the fifth inning due to a tight right hamstring, Lamb was called into duty. Matt Tolbert shifted from third to second, and Lamb was inserted at the hot corner. Lamb certainly didn't make a huge splash offensively in his first at-bat, popping out foul to third baseman Mike Lowell in the seventh. But then came the ninth, when the Twins staged their comeback after having watched two earlier leads dissipate. Delmon Young got the rally started with a leadoff single to center off Papelbon. Tolbert moved Young to second with a sacrifice bunt. Carlos Gomez then came up to the plate with two outs and the tying run still at second base. Unlike the form he has shown for most of the season, Gomez displayed remarkable poise. With a 2-2 count, Gomez remained patient and didn't swing at two consecutive balls that Papelbon threw in the dirt. That patience helped Gomez draw what was a rare walk off the Red Sox closer, just the second he had issued this season and his first since he walked the first batter he faced to start the '08 season. "He's learning," Gardenhire said of Gomez. "He's had a few of those at-bats where he kind of swung crazy and not really saw the ball ... and had a chance to chase some of those pitches. That guy is throwing 96 mph and throwing some forkballs in the dirt, and he laid off of them. That's a growing experience for him." Young stole third base during Gomez's at-bat, putting the tying run just 90 feet from home plate. So Lamb came to the plate with the mission at first of at least trying to tie up the game. That changed in the middle of his at-bat when Gomez stole second base, his 15th steal of the season, to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. But Lamb looked a bit frustrated early on in the at-bat. He even took his helmet off for a second following a swinging strike in almost a "Oh no, what can I do?" type move. Yet the third baseman battled and got enough of his bat on the fifth pitch he saw from Papelbon, "a hanging splitter," Lamb called it, to flip the ball into left field and drive in both runs to cap off the comeback victory. "I haven't had too many balls fall in for me, it feels like," Lamb said. "So to have one in that situation, it felt pretty good." It was the second consecutive blown save for Papelbon, and the first time in his young career that he's suffered back-to-back losses. "It's frustrating ... right now, just because the simple fact is I'm throwing good pitches," Papelbon said. "I'm just not finishing them right now and executing them all the way through the strike zone. I'm sitting there in a comfortable position, where I want to be with one out to get, and I don't finish the split-finger." The Twins' rally occurred after Boof Bonser allowed six runs for the second straight start. Unlike his last outing where Bonser bounced back after a rough first inning, this time he struggled throughout. Throwing 96 pitches in four-plus innings, Bonser found his share of trouble. Most of it came in the fifth inning, when he allowed four straight batters to reach before Gardenhire pulled him in favor of right-hander Juan Rincon. So despite the second rough outing, Bonser again saw his team manage to turn his troubles into quite a spectacular victory. The bullpen would keep the Red Sox from adding any more runs over the next five innings, keeping open the possibility of the comeback. And so instead of watching another game get away, the Twins were left jumping up and down in a big huddle in the infield, celebrating a victory over the defending World Series champs. A feeling that was much needed considering the news that had been delivered earlier. Before the game even began, the Twins learned that Pat Neshek will likely be out for the rest of the '08 season due to a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. It was an injury he suffered while pitching in Thursday's game in Chicago. "It's a tough blow with Neshek, but we have to keep pressing on," Gardenhire said. And after the game, Gardenhire said that Harris will be day-to-day with his hamstring. It's the same situation the club currently faces with infielder Nick Punto, who is battling a sore left hamstring. "We're to the point we don't have too many infielders left," Gardenhire said. "That makes it a little tougher." It means that Lamb definitely won't be sitting on the bench again on Saturday night when the Twins face the Red Sox for their second game in the four-game series. And both the Twins and Lamb are optimistic that maybe Friday can be the start of a big turnaround for the third baseman. "I sure hope so," Lamb said. "We'll see tomorrow. I would love to get some breaks, but we'll never know until tomorrow."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.