Guerrier closes Duensing's first victory

Guerrier closes out Duensing's first win

KANSAS CITY -- In the 123rd game of the season, someone other than Joe Nathan picked up a save for the Twins. Matt Guerrier took the ball in crunch time, wavered a bit, and then ended Minnesota's 8-7 victory over Kansas City like an ordinary Joe.

With the tying run at first and two outs in the ninth, Guerrier got the 27th out when Josh Anderson bounced to second, ending a wild and crazy game in which the Twins managed to barely keep the Royals at arm's length after building a 6-2 lead in the sixth.

Because the game got close in the latter stages, there was more nail-biting time for the Twins than usual. Manager Ron Gardenhire's usual trump card with a narrow lead is Nathan, but the big right-hander was unavailable after laboring through two innings on Friday.

Entering Saturday's game, Nathan had all 31 saves for Minnesota this season. But now he has a little company in that department. Guerrier came on in the eighth and ended a Royals threat to preserve a 7-6 lead. Michael Cuddyer's RBI bloop double in the ninth provided a little more breathing room and Guerrier needed it. He allowed one run in the ninth after surrendering back-to-back singles with one out. But while Guerrier bent, he never broke.

It was the fourth career save for Guerrier and his second in Kansas City. He also had a save against the Royals on May 27, 2008.

"It was a little different," Guerrier said. "We kind of had to piece some things together from the sixth inning on. I think it was a little easier for me going in early. If you wait for the ninth, maybe you put a little more pressure on yourself."

The Twins (60-63) have won four of their past five and enjoyed a happy result on Saturday thanks to a couple of "firsts."

In addition to Guerrier picking up his first save this season, starter Brian Duensing turned in five solid innings to record his first Major League victory.

Duensing, who attended high school in Omaha before moving on to the University of Nebraska, had a flock of family members on hand to watch his second Major League start. The left-hander allowed two runs over five innings and left with a 3-2 lead. He then took a seat to watch his teammates hold off the Royals over the final four innings.

"It's pretty special to finally get that first big league win," Duensing said. "I owe a lot to the offense and I owe a lot to the defense, too."

Indeed, Duensing may not have had a first Major League victory to celebrate if second baseman Alexi Casilla hadn't made a diving stop on Billy Butler's smash in the third to take a two-run single away from the Royals.

Meanwhile, the Twins' offense did plenty of damage against Kansas City starter Kyle Davies and the Royals' bullpen. Cuddyer got Minnesota off and running with a solo homer in the second. It was Cuddyer's 20th homer this season and enabled him to join Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel in the 20-homer club. It marks the first time since 1987 that Minnesota has had four players with 20 homers or more. The '87 quartet that accomplished the feat included Tom Brunansky, Gary Gaetti, Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek.

A two-run double by Kubel in the third staked Duensing to a 3-0 lead, and after the Royals drew within 3-2 in the fifth, Minnesota went back to work offensively. It took some good work with the bats to overcome a shaky performance by the Twins' middle relievers.

Minnesota even got away with a muffed fly ball. Center fielder Carlos Gomez dropped Yuniesky Bentacourt's shallow popup in the seventh, but had the presence to stay with the play and throw out Alberto Callaspo at third on what turned out to be an unconventional fielder's choice.

"All kinds of crazy stuff happened out there," Gardenhire said. "We're just fortunate to have ended up with a win. Duensing got his first win, Guerrier got the save, and in-between, we had some not-so-good performances out of the bullpen. But there were enough runs for us to hold on."

Prior to Saturday, the last Twins pitcher other than Nathan to record a save was Craig Breslow on Aug. 29, 2008.

Gardenhire had made up his mind before arriving at the ballpark that Nathan would not be used on Saturday under any circumstances.

"He didn't even need to wear his uniform tonight," Gardenhire said. "He wasn't going out there. He said he felt really weird sitting out there in the bullpen."

No Nathan. No Morneau. And yet, the Twins will go for a weekend sweep on Sunday.

The Twins got production from a lot of spots on Saturday, with Kubel and Cuddyer combining for five RBIs.

"I'm a little more excited about the balance up and down the lineup," Gardenhire said. "We think we can score runs. We can run a little bit, we can hit some in the seats. But it's all about pitching."

The Twins had just enough pitching on Saturday. Even without their All-Star closer.

Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.