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Buscher's sac fly wins it in ninth inning

Buscher's sac fly wins it in ninth inning

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins were breezing to one of those lazy afternoon victories, jumping to an early five-run lead against an overmatched team while their No. 1 starter finished things quickly enough to have everyone home for dinner.

Only it didn't quite turn out that way.

Minnesota ratcheted up the degree of difficulty, coughing up the lead during a six-run Seattle sixth inning, but used a vintage Twins-style ninth-inning rally to pull out a thrilling 7-6 victory on Saturday afternoon.

"It looked like it was going to be one of those comfortable ones," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Then they throw a big touchdown against us. Luckily, we blocked the extra point."

Minnesota jumped out to an early lead when Joe Mauer hit an opposite-field solo home run in the first inning off Seattle starter Ryan Rowland-Smith. Three batters later, designated hitter Randy Ruiz recorded his first Major League RBI with a single.

In the second, the Twins used five consecutive hits to score three runs and take a quick 5-0 lead.

But Rowland-Smith calmed himself and got through three more innings without surrendering an additional run.

"He struggled a little bit with his breaking stuff, trying to get that over early," Mauer said. "He settled down pretty nicely and was able to get some outs."

Twins starter Scott Baker, on the other hand, got through five scoreless innings, aided by an errorless defense that turned three double plays on his watch, before running into trouble in the sixth inning.

Baker secured only one out in the frame while allowing four batters to reach before being yanked for reliever Jessie Crain. The right-hander struck out the first batter he faced, Wladimir Balentien, but then walked Bryan LaHair and gave up an RBI double to Yuniesky Betancourt. Gardenhire again emerged from the dugout, this time to summon lefty Craig Breslow. With runners on second and third, Breslow surrendered a two-run single to Ichiro Suzuki, which gave Seattle a 6-5 lead.

"I screwed up, should have walked Ichiro, I think we all know that," Gardenhire said. "Just put him on, don't let him flip one out there and take our chances with the next guy."

The Twins returned fire in the eighth. Pinch-hitter Brian Buscher led off by coaxing a walk from reliever Sean Green. He was driven in two batters later when pinch-hitter Jason Kubel sliced a single to left off reliever Cesar Jimenez to tie the game.

Minnesota led off the ninth with a pair of singles from Mauer and Morneau. Delmon Young then squared around and sacrificed the pair up a base with a bunt.

"Delmon's first ever bunt," Gardenhire said. "Not even in Little League did he do that."

Gardenhire next sent up Mike Lamb to pinch-hit. The Mariners brought in Ichiro to play near second base while employing a five-man umbrella infield. This would have allowed Seattle to go home on any ball hit on the ground. Batista got behind Lamb 2-0, and then decided to intentionally walk him. With the bases loaded and a double play now a possibility, Ichiro returned to right.

Buscher came up and pushed a soft liner to shallow left field. Jeremy Reed caught the ball and wound up, but his throw was up the third-base line, allowing Mauer to score from third and the Twins to keep a first-place tie in the AL Central with the White Sox.

"We've seen that one quite a bit over the years," Nick Punto said. "Mauer gets on, Morneau gets on, bunt them over and hit the sac fly to get them in."

Mauer retreated to third once he saw the ball in the air and took off once the ball landed in Reed's glove, despite the shallowness of the drive.

"That was pretty close. Probably if it was earlier in the game, I wouldn't have gone," Mauer said. "But you have to take a couple chances, and luckily [the throw] was a little off line."

The win overshadowed an ugly sixth inning. Gardenhire said he observed mechanical issues from Baker on the mound, a sentiment that the right-hander echoed.

"It's definitely a mechanical thing," Baker said. "You have a pitch go where you want it to go, and then [a pitch] that will be off a little bit. It's getting back to the consistency and trying to repeat the delivery as much and as many times as possible over a game."

Baker went 5 1/3 innings while allowing four earned runs on eight hits and two walks.

"I can go in the bullpen and throw strikes all day long," Baker said. "But once you get in the game, it's a whole different ballgame."

Baker was able to offer a silver lining to the blown lead and subsequent comeback for a team that is in the midst of a pennant race.

"We need to learn how to play these games and play them well," he said.

Thor Nystrom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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