Kubel's grand slam lifts Twins in 12th
Santana strikes out 13 Red Sox in eight innings
MINNEAPOLIS -- There was a feeling right from the start of Tuesday's Twins-Red Sox matchup that fans at the Metrodome may be witnessing something special.With Cy Young caliber pitchers in Johan Santana and Curt Schilling taking to the mound, there wasn't a question that a classic pitching duel would make for some memorable moments. But just how special of a game it would be was not so easily imagined, as those on hand for the game were witness to a 12-inning, drama-filled game. Pitching dominated the first eight innings, but the game was highlighted by Jason Kubel's walk-off grand slam to lift the Twins to a 5-2 victory over the Red Sox. "I think we all witnessed a pretty [darn] good baseball game," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "There was a lot of excitement in that one." A classic game deserves a classic ending, and Kubel's blast seemed to come from a storybook. The outfielder, who missed an entire year of baseball last season due to a knee injury, has seen his share of struggles in his fight to regain his spot back in the big leagues. Kubel started the year with the Twins, but his inconsistency at the plate earned him a ticket back to Triple-A before he was recalled when Shannon Stewart was placed on the DL. So after the Red Sox had taken a one-run lead in the top of the 12th inning and the Twins had squandered away earlier scoring opportunities, Kubel came up to the plate with the bases loaded and only one out. To make the scene even more dramatic, Kubel fell behind early only to battle back to make the count full with the deciding pitch at hand. And when Kubel saw a two-seamer down the middle of the plate, he delivered the ball deep into the outfield. But at first, it was uncertain if it would just fall short. "At the beginning we didn't think it was going to be out of the ballpark," Santana said. But Kubel's shot scarcely carried above the baggie in right field and gave the Twins the winning blast to end a game that had often looked lost. And for Kubel, the feeling couldn't have been sweeter. "I've been building up a lot of confidence lately and this right here, this helps with that a lot," Kubel said.
But while the blast may have sealed the deal, it all truly began with a performance for the ages from Santana. It seemed only fitting that the Twins could find some way to eek out a win after the type of performance put together by their ace.Dominant outings aren't anything new for Santana, but against the Red Sox, the Twins ace was historic. Santana became the sixth Twins pitcher to record 1,000 strikeouts. His was the second fastest to the number, accomplishing the feat in his 198th appearance. Bert Blyleven is the only Twins pitcher to reach 1,000 career K's faster, as he did it in his 170th outing. The historic strikeout came against former Twins player David Ortiz in the fourth inning, and when the record went up on the score board, the crowd greeted Santana with a standing ovation to which he tipped his cap. "It was very special to see all the fans here and standing," Santana said. "That's why I tipped my cap." Needing just eight strikeouts heading into his start on Tuesday to reach the mark, Santana went way beyond the call as he struck out a season-high 13 batters in eight innings of work. Santana looked dominant right from the start, as he struck out the first five batters he faced. He allowed just five hits and did not walk a batter in the outing. "Santana, that might be as good as I've ever seen him throw the baseball," Gardenhire said. "I don't know if I've ever seen his stuff that good."
"Going against a Cy Young caliber type of pitcher like Schilling, you have to be on top of your game, because one mistake will change the whole game," Santana said. "And it seemed like in the seventh inning, that was the case."That's because Santana did make his lone error of the game in the seventh, when Jason Varitek broke the scoreless tie by homering on a first-pitch changeup with two outs in the inning to give Boston a 1-0 lead. But it didn't take long for the Twins to return the favor, as Michael Cuddyer delivered his 10th home run of the season on a solo shot off Schilling in the bottom of the inning. It was one of only six hits that the Red Sox ace would give up on the night as he went eight innings, walking one and striking out five. When Jesse Crain loaded the bases with only one out in the top of the 12th, it looked like the Twins wouldn't pick up the win. Although one run would score on an Alex Gonzalez's grounder to shortstop, Nick Punto made a spectacular play and got a force-out, almost turning a double play to spark some life in the Twins. Overall, through all the ups and downs that carried the Twins to their seventh victory of the season that has come in the last at-bat, it was still clear that there was something a little more to this one. "I've been in some games where I feel that I've done a good job, but tonight was special," Santana said.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.