ST. PETERSBURG -- The Twins had been the victim of their share of late-inning collapses in recent weeks. Those late losses had started to wear on the club's confidence. Not to mention, they had hurt the Twins' postseason chances, as many had come on nights when the club had a chance to pick up ground on the White Sox in the American League Central race. But on Thursday night, the Twins finally wound up on the correct end of a ninth-inning comeback -- and this one couldn't have provided a bigger lift.
Facing perhaps the hottest team in baseball at their own ballpark where they hold the best home record in the Majors, the Twins managed to deliver a five-run ninth inning against the Rays -- an inning that carried the Twins to an 11-8 victory in the series opener at Tropicana Field. It snapped Minnesota's four-game losing streak. And even better, the win pulled the Twins to within 1 1/2 games of the White Sox in the division following Chicago's loss in New York. Perhaps this was just the spark that the Twins needed to break out of their recent funk? "It's huge, there is no question," said Adam Everett. "From the beginning of September until now, we've had games snatched from us from the ninth inning on, extra innings. So for us to snatch a game away from a team like Tampa Bay and their pitching staff, that's huge for us." On a night where the Twins appeared to be following a similar script to their previous losses -- their starter lasting just two-thirds of an inning and a total of five home runs given up by the pitching staff -- it was Everett who became the team's unlikely hero. Trailing, 8-6, at the start of the ninth, the Twins got their rally started quickly. Denard Span drew a walk off Rays right-hander Dan Wheeler, and that's when Alexi Casilla came up to bat. As he watched Wheeler throw to first base, Casilla decided to show bunt. The second baseman had already laid down two sacrifice bunts in the contest, and thought that if he indicated another bunt, he might get a fastball to try and hit through the hole between first and second base. Turns out he was right. Casilla belted the first pitch from Wheeler -- a fastball -- but his plan turned out better than planned. Rather than go through the hole, Casilla's ball ended up in the right-field seats to knot the game at 8. It was the seventh home run of the season for the second baseman. "You know, even me I'm surprised, because I'm like, 'Where did that power come from?'" Casilla said with a laugh. "I'm hitting the ball good and trying to put a good swing on the ball and hitting home runs." With the middle of the order coming up and no outs, the Twins felt confident about their chances to get out of the inning with a lead to hand over to closer Joe Nathan. It looked even more promising after Joe Mauer doubled to center on a ball that bounced off the top of center fielder Fernando Perez's glove. Wheeler then intentionally walked Justin Morneau to put runners on first and second with no outs. That's when Everett got his chance to deliver what he called a "make or break moment." After Wheeler was replaced by left-hander Trever Miller, Everett was called in to pinch-hit for designated hitter Jason Kubel in order to lay down a bunt. But on a 2-1 count with the bunt sign still on, Everett had a decision to make. The Rays' infield had been charging in on two of the three pitches Everett was thrown. He knew that in a 2-1 count, he'd likely get a fastball and the infield would charge in again. So he decided to do something that might seem a little dangerous considering the situation -- he swung. "At that moment in time, I felt like that was the right thing to do," Everett said. "I went with it. And it worked out." Everett lined a ball deep to left field that bounced off the wall and scored the go-ahead run. The Twins would follow with two more runs in the inning -- on a Delmon Young RBI single and a Matt Tolbert sac fly -- but it was Everett's decision to take the risk on what the Twins call a "butcher boy" play that made the difference. "If [the infielders] are running all over the place, we give them the option to slash," manager Ron Gardenhire said. Still, it sure seemed like a risky thing to do, so Everett was asked if he felt more at ease making the decision due to his veteran status. "Let me put it to you this way," Everett said. "Would I have done that early in my career? Probably not." The ninth inning rally took Glen Perkins off the hook for the loss. Perkins gave up five runs (two earned) in just the two-thirds of an inning. Four of those runs came on a pair of two-run homers. One of those was from Evan Longoria, who had a total of three in the contest. The woes for Perkins came after Kubel had given the Twins a 3-0 lead with a three-run homer in the first. But while the Twins were forced to battle from behind for most of the contest, it seemed only fitting that their first big victory came in this sort of fashion. After all, Minnesota had suffered enough of these in reverse, that to shake hands at the end of one seemed like the perfect remedy. "We've been walked off about six or eight times over the last couple weeks, it seems like," Gardenhire said. "It hasn't been fun, and these guys, they are busting their tails out here. ... Tonight, we got back to shaking hands, and that makes you feel good."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.