Hernandez stifles Red Sox in finale

Hernandez stifles Red Sox in finale

MINNEAPOLIS -- Heading into the 2008 season, the Twins had one goal in mind: improve their lineup.

Throughout the offseason, the Twins tried to add offense to a club that finished near the bottom of nearly every offensive category in '07. General manager Bill Smith and his staff felt with their many acquisitions, they had done just that.

A slow start offensively to the season had some questioning whether that was the case. But after two convincing offensive performances against the Red Sox, including Monday's 7-3 win, perhaps that newly rebuilt lineup is just starting to show its potential.

"The only way you're going to tell if [it's improved] is to do it consistently over more than one or two nights," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of his offense. "That's what we're hoping for. If we can get guys a little more consistent and putting good swings up and down the lineup, we should be OK."

In taking three out of four from Boston, the Twins have begun to show a bit of versatility in their offense. One night after scoring nine runs thanks to an usual burst of home runs, the club showed another way they can put runs on the board -- this time stringing together hits and walks to sustain scoring rallies in multiple innings.

The club tagged Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz for seven runs on eight hits over his 4 1/3 innings.

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau continued to be staples in the middle of the order, reaching base a combined five times on the night. Morneau tallied an RBI single to right field in the first inning and another run would score on the play thanks to a fielding error by Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew.

But it was a new set of hot hitters that did the majority of the damage. After delivering his first multi-homer game in nearly four years on Sunday, Craig Monroe followed it up with another solid night at the plate. As the Twins DH, he went 1-for-2 with a two-run double in the fifth frame and two walks.

Delmon Young has also started to look as if he's finding his feel at the plate. Young went 2-for-4 with two RBIs including an RBI single up the middle as part of the Twins' three-run fifth inning.

"I think we've got a lot of balance throughout the lineup so we've got a lot of options," right fielder Michael Cuddyer said. "Our bench is pretty strong as well. I think any time you can give Gardy that kind of flexibility, to go through the lineup and exchange guys and not miss a beat, it's nice. That's what we didn't have last year."

While the quality hitting has been coming on of late, the Twins have continued to get strong performances from their starting staff. Perhaps the biggest question mark coming into this season, Minnesota starters have instead been a source of strength -- particularly Livan Hernandez.

Despite giving up three runs in the first inning,, Hernandez recovered to pitch six solid innings and deliver his sixth quality start this season.

Coco Crisp led off the game with a double that bounced off the right-field baggie. A David Ortiz single to left scored Crisp. Hernandez then allowed his ninth home run of the season, this one a two-run shot by Manny Ramirez to right field. It was career home run No. 498 for Ramirez and put Boston up, 3-0.

But Hernandez settled down, holding the Red Sox scoreless over the next five innings to notch his sixth win. The Twins are now 8-1 in games that Hernandez has started, and more impressive may be his ability to shut down tough lineups such as the Tigers, White Sox -- and the Red Sox.

"It's not easy," Hernanadez said of facing some of the tough AL lineups. "You've got to concentrate, and like I said before, find the way you can pitch these guys and keep them out of balance."

Hernandez did have one scare in the second inning when he caught a hard liner with his glove directly in front of his face. The veteran then threw the ball down hard to the ground, appearing to be a bit upset. Hernandez said it was more about pain.

"It was hurting so bad, and I didn't feel my finger for like 10 minutes," Hernandez said.

But while the Twins were quite serious for most of Monday's victory, they were granted a bit of comedic relief in the seventh inning thanks to an unusual catch by Cuddyer.

A fly ball by Dustin Pedroia to right almost turned into a blooper-reel play when the ball hit off Cuddyer's glove and bounced up onto the bill of his hat. After a quick bounce to two on the bill, the ball happened to fall down to the left and right into Cuddyer's glove.

For the team's renowned magician, it almost looked like a bit of a magic act. Well, not so, if you ask Cuddyer.

"Hands down that was the probably the ugliest catch I've had in my career," Cuddyer said with a laugh.

The Twins have now won 10 of their past 11 games in the Metrodome, which has included a two-game sweep over the White Sox and a three-game sweep over Detroit.

It's that type of success, and the recent combination of solid pitching and offensive performance, that has the Twins feeling optimistic about how their new-look club is coming together.

"We're playing well at home, and that's very important," Gardenhire said. "These guys here, the Red Sox, that's as good as you'll get in this league. That's the way I look at it. So yeah, it's been good baseball. Guys are intense, we got some big hits and the pitching held up. It was a good series for us, a really good series."

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