Two ninth-inning runs lift Twins

Two ninth-inning runs lift Twins

CLEVELAND -- There was a lot for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to like in Sunday's 4-2 win over the Indians.

There was Justin Morneau's ninth-inning double that broke a 2-2 tie. There was the way Minnesota scratched out two runs in the sixth after Indians starter Jeremy Sowers retired the first 15 hitters. And there was the strong outing from Nick Blackburn, who held the Indians to one run in seven innings.

The fact the win moved the Twins within 2 1/2 games of the first place White Sox going into the four-game series between the teams that opens Monday night at the Metrodome didn't hurt, either.

However, in Gardenhire's mind the true star of the game was center fielder Denard Span, whose spectacular catch in the eighth inning probably saved the Twins from defeat.

"That was the ballgame," Gardenhire said.

Although the play resulted in a game-tying sacrifice fly for David Dellucci, Gardenhire's point was well taken.

The inning began with the Twins leading, 2-1. Dennys Reyes relieved Blackburn to start the eighth but ran into immediate trouble. Asdrubal Cabrera singled and took third on Grady Sizemore's single

Matt Guerrier replaced Reyes. Dellucci, batting for Franklin Gutierrez, drove a pitch to left-center. It looked like the ball would split the gap, meaning the Indians would at least tie the game and possibly take the lead, but Span somehow ran it down with a lunging catch. Cabrera tagged up and scored, but Guerrier retired the next two hitters and the momentum swung back to the Twins.

"That was the biggest play of the game," Gardenhire said. "That catch was unbelievable."

"I didn't think I was going to get to it," Span said. "I was playing straight up. I got a pretty good jump. I kept running. I got to a spot like they teach us. At the last minute, I reached out. I didn't really see it. I got lucky."

That area of the field hadn't been kind to the Twins this series. Carlos Gomez, the regular center fielder, bruised his lower back and tail bone after crashing into the wall Friday night and hasn't played since. Span replaced Gomez and smacked into the wall himself trying to make a catch later in the same inning.

Span made his catch Sunday a few feet in front of the wall, but the events of Friday night definitely crossed his mind.

"As I was running, I was wondering if I was going to have to dive," he said with a laugh. "I definitely wasn't going to dive."

The Twins took advantage of their new-found opportunity in the ninth. Alexi Casilla doubled with one out to start the winning rally off Rafael Perez. Morneau, who was 1-for-8 in his career against the left-hander, drove a 3-1 pitch to the gap in left-center, putting Minnesota ahead.

"He threw me the pitch I was looking for on 2-0, but I didn't swing at it," said Morneau, who hit a slider that stayed up. "He threw me the same pitch on 3-1. I pulled the trigger and took it the other way."

Left-handed hitters were batting .208 (15-for-72) against Perez this season.

"He doesn't give you anything straight," Morneau said. "His fastball sinks pretty good and his cutter sinks pretty good. He's one of the toughest guys to face late in a game."

After Delmon Young was walked intentionally, Jason Kubel singled to center, scoring Morneau.

Guerrier (6-4) picked up the win. Joe Nathan recorded his 28th save.

The Twins were handcuffed for five innings by Sowers. Minnesota relied on a bloop double by Craig Monroe, a walk, a bunt hit by Nick Punto and two RBI groundouts by Span and Casilla to push across two runs in the sixth, erasing a 1-0 deficit.

"We had some good things happen with the ball not going 50 feet to get two runs," Gardenhire said. "Someone in the dugout said, 'That's Twins baseball.' "

Steve Herrick is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.