SEATTLE -- Close contests on the road have not boded well for the Twins in recent weeks. Of their last 10 games away from the Metrodome that were decided by three runs or less, the Twins had lost nine of them. But on a night when its starter finally turned things around for himself and in the first contest of what the club has already declared a key road trip for its season, the Twins found a way to eke out a close victory as they defeated the Mariners, 2-1, in 10 innings on Friday at Safeco Field.
"We obviously know we haven't played to our capability on the road," said closer Joe Nathan. "We haven't done what we're supposed to. But this is definitely a game that can turn things around and get our confidence where it needs to be on the road." Confidence seemed to be a theme for the Twins on Friday. The club got a huge boost from starter Francisco Liriano's performance, holding the Mariners to just one run on three hits over six innings. There was also another player in need of a big hit who came up with the game-winning one in the 10th -- well at least it was that way according to manager Ron Gardenhire. The Twins saw the winning run cross the plate in the 10th when Justin Morneau scored from second on a ball that Matt Tolbert hit to deep left field that bounced off the glove of left fielder Wladimir Balentien. The play was officially ruled a fielding error by Balentien, who took a poor route to the ball and then allowed it to hit off the back part of his glove. But hit or no hit, no one denied that Tolbert's deep shot was a key one. "For him to come up and put a good swing on it was huge," Gardenhire said. "He's been really fighting it and working his tail off. No one outworks the kid. It was huge for him to come up in that situation." Tolbert's play marked the end to a roller-coaster inning for the Twins. One in which the Seattle had already escaped a few close scoring threats by Minnesota. Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez robbed Jason Kubel of a potential three-run homer, leaping above the wall in left-center field to snag the ball with the palm of his glove. On Gutierrez's catch, Joe Mauer put the go-ahead run just 90 feet away from home plate with only one out when he tagged up from second. The Twins then tried to score a suicide squeeze, but were unable to when the Mariners made a perfect pitchout that prevented Tolbert from laying down the bunt and left Mauer hung out to dry in a rundown. But all of that seemed to be erased thanks to Tolbert's play, which allowed Nathan to come on for the bottom of the 10th. The Twins' All-Star closer retired the side -- which included Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki -- to pick up his 11th save of the season and secure the Twins' 2-1 win. The win moved Minnesota back to .500 on the season (28-28) and improved the club's road record to 7-16. "He's as good as they get in the closer position," Gardenhire said of Nathan. "Facing great hitters like that, you better make great pitches and he did." But one of the main reasons that the Twins were even in the contest in the 10th was Liriano's ability to get himself back on track Friday night. "I feel better today, more relaxed," Liriano said. "I didn't change anything today. I was just trying to do the same thing that I was before. I just got a better result tonight." After lasting just four innings in each of his three previous starts, Liriano managed to pitch toe-to-toe with arguably one of the best right-handed pitchers in the league -- Felix Hernandez. Friday night marked the third time the two friends squared off against each other this season and this time both walked away with a no-decision. Like Liriano, Hernandez gave up just one run in his outing -- pitching seven innings and scattering six hits. But while Hernandez was impressive with his mid to high 90s mph fastball and ability to keep many of the Twins hitters offbalance, it was Liriano's ability to hold steady in a tight 1-1 game that impressed the club's coaching staff. When he walked two batters and loaded the bases with two outs in the third, Liriano was starting to overthrow and it looked like yet another disastrous inning might await the starter. But this time -- unlike so many others recently -- Liriano was able to harness his abilities and make quality pitches when it counted. "His outings have been one bad inning," Gardenhire said. "Just like the inning where he got in all kinds of trouble, that's the inning that's been getting to him. He goes ahead and gives up the big hit and you have a three or four-run inning. Tonight he got through it. Tonight he made pitches when he had to and go the big outs that he hadn't been getting lately." The Twins bullpen also got some key outs in the win. Jesse Crain was called upon to face the first two batters of the seventh. Left-hander Jose Mijares then got two more outs before Matt Guerrier pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings to get the ball to Nathan. All in all, it was the kind of close win that has seemed difficult to come by for the Twins on the road. But on this night, they came up with the big hit ---umm, error. "We won so we'll take it," Nathan said. "We'll take them anyway we can get them right now."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.