Offseason moves provide punch
Monroe, Everett, Lamb combine for eight RBIs vs. Red Sox
MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins general manager Bill Smith received some validation Sunday night after three of his offseason moves paid big dividends in Minnesota's 9-8 victory over Boston.
Three players who were not with the club a year ago, Craig Monroe, Adam Everett and Mike Lamb, knocked in all but one of Minnesota's runs in the victory. Monroe produced four of those RBIs himself, as the designated hitter homered twice.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said it's important for some of the new players to produce offensively.
"We are trying to get these guys going," he said. "All we can hope for is they come along and help us score some runs."
The Twins improved to 19-17 and reclaimed sole possession of first place in the American League Central after the White Sox lost Sunday. Boston fell to 24-16, but is still in control of the AL East standings.
For both teams, pitching and defense took a back seat to hits and runs. Even reliable Twins closer Joe Nathan wasn't immune to yielding offense. Nathan earned his 12th save of the season in 12 attempts, but he gave up two runs in the ninth inning and allowed the tying run to reach second base before getting Manny Ramirez, who entered the game as a pinch-hitter, to ground out.
"Fortunately, I ran a fast ball in on his hands," Nathan said about the final pitch to Ramirez.
It turned out the Twins needed every one of their nine runs for the victory. Monroe's solo shot in the seventh inning, his second home run of the game, turned out to be the game-winner.
"To hit two home runs, it gives you a different feeling on the inside," Monroe said.
Gardenhire penciled Monroe into the lineup because he had been successful against Boston starter Tim Wakefield in the past. Monroe said hitting against the knuckleballer brings back memories of playing ball in the backyard.
"I talk about playing Wiffle ball," said Monroe. "You don't know where that thing is going."
A big second inning put the Twins in the driver's seat early. With two on and no one out, Monroe launched his first home run, a three-run shot to the left-field seats, giving Minnesota a 3-0 lead. It was Monroe's third home run of the season.
The next power surge came from an unlikely source, as Everett hit a two-run shot to put the Twins up, 5-0, in the second. It was Everett's first of the year and just the 36th home run of his career. It also marked the first long ball by a Twins shortstop since Aug. 27, 2007.
Boston scratched across its first run of the game in the top of third on a Mike Lowell sacrifice fly, but Lamb, Everett's 2007 Houston teammate, produced a two-run single in the bottom of the third to push Minnesota's lead to 7-1. The hit chased Boston starter Tim Wakefield from the game after just 2 2/3 innings.
It was the Red Sox's turn in the top of the fourth, as they put the heat on starter Nick Blackburn. After four Boston hits, a walk and an error, Minnesota's lead was trimmed to 7-4. The Twins got one back courtesy of an unearned run after an error by Lowell made it 8-4 after four innings.
Blackburn labored through much of the game, but he showed an ability to get out of tough jams. Blackburn gave up just one run after loading the bases with no one out in the third inning and stranded a runner on third with just one out in the sixth inning after getting Dustin Pedroia to ground out and David Ortiz to strike out. The right-hander lasted six innings to earn his third win of the season, giving up four earned runs on nine hits. He also struck out five batters, walked one and hit two batters.
"He was erratic," said Gardenhire, who noted Blackburn may have been relying on his fastball too much. "It seemed like a lot of fastballs were hit. You have to mix it up."
Blackburn said he is not satisfied with what kind of pitcher he is yet, and knows he still has a lot of work to do.
"I'm working on it," said Blackburn. "You always want to get better."
The Red Sox cut into the Twins' lead and got to the bullpen when Coco Crisp took reliever Matt Guerrier deep to right field for a two-run home run, making it 8-6 in the top of the seventh. Monroe hit the eventual game-winning home run in bottom of the seventh. It was Monroe's fourth of the year and the third time he has gone deep twice in a game over the span of his career.
Dennys Reyes pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the Twins, and despite giving up two runs in the top of the ninth, Nathan remained perfect in save opportunities.
Monroe said he and his teammates are capable of duplicating the type of offense they showed against Boston on Sunday.
"This is a good hitting team. We are going to get going."
Joe Kieser is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.