Even Lee can't hold Twins down
Minnesota gets to Tribe lefty with three late runs to sweep
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins saw on Sunday exactly why Indians left-hander Cliff Lee is a leading candidate to be the American League starter for this year's All-Star Game.At least they did for five innings. But even one of the most dominant starters in the AL during the first half of this season couldn't stop the Twins' recently surging offense. After holding Minnesota scoreless for five innings and allowing just two hits, Lee watched as the Twins constructed what has become a trademark rally in a 4-3 victory over Cleveland in the series finale at the Metrodome. The victory gave the Twins a series sweep over the Tribe and kept them within a game of the White Sox for the AL Central division lead. "We've been playing good baseball and [we] have a good attitude on the bench," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Guys are into it, and you feel like something is going to happen eventually. ... It just takes a couple big hits, a couple of good at-bats, walks and making the guy throw pitches." The rally started with a leadoff triple by Denard Span in the sixth inning. The Twins had managed no real scoring threat over the first five innings off Lee. But that changed when Span belted a ball deep into the right-center-field gap and used his speed to stretch the hit into a triple. He then scored on Alexi Casilla's groundout to the shortstop. Even then, with the Twins trailing by two at the start of the seventh, 3-1, Lee looked to be in complete control. But it was following a one-out walk to Craig Monroe that Lee started to see his outing crumble. Delmon Young hit a ball hard to third baseman Casey Blake that he dove for but was not able to come up with cleanly, allowing Young to reach. Brendan Harris and Nick Punto followed with back-to-back hits to account for one run. Span then continued his strong day by drawing a five-pitch walk with the bases loaded to knot the game at 3. In a tough at-bat, Carlos Gomez shortened up his swing and put a ball into play toward shortstop Jhonny Peralta. It resulted in a groundout, but it also allowed what was the winning run to score, giving Lee just his second loss of the season.
A little bit of hitting, some patience at the plate and a burst of speed on the basepaths -- call it the characteristic Twins comeback."The difference is, when [a pitcher] starts making mistakes and start walking guys, can you capitalize on it? And that's what we've been doing," catcher Mike Redmond said of the Twins winning 18 of their last 21. "We've been able to capitalize on the mistakes and take advantage of them. When we get guys in scoring position, look at the numbers. We're lights out. Guys get big hits. When guys are out there with one out or two outs, guys are driving them in." But early on in the contest, the Twins had struggled to get anything going off the pitcher who has been one of the best comeback stories of the '08 season. Casilla tried to get a rally started with a one-out bunt single in the first. Casilla lined a bunt just over Lee's head almost into center field. But after Casilla's hit, Lee (11-2) retired 14 of the next 15 batters he faced. The lone Twins hitter to reach during that time was Gomez, who singled to shortstop Jhonny Peralta in the third inning. A slight altercation took place following that third inning. Gomez crossed paths with Lee near the pitching mound at the end of the inning, Gomez said that Lee told him to quit bunting. That didn't sit well with Gomez, who began exchanging words with the starter. Home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson stepped in, and first-base coach Jerry White and Gardenhire each expressed their anger to him over the event. But in reality, it might have been just what the Twins needed. "When Cliff Lee said something to Gomez, I think that woke us up a bit," Redmond said. "I think it fired us up a little bit. It probably worked against him." Lee was able to keep the Twins quiet until the sixth, but in the meantime, Minnesota starter Glen Perkins was doing just enough to keep his club in the contest. Perkins (5-2) gave up one run in the second inning. Kelly Shoppach doubled to right field on a ball that bounced off the baggie and over Span's head. Ryan Garko followed with a single to center that scored Shoppach from second. The left-hander then settled down to pitch three scoreless innings before Jhonny Peralta added a two-run homer to left field in the sixth to give Cleveland a 3-0 lead. Regardless, in a stretch where the Twins have been making comebacks night after night, the three-run deficit certainly didn't seem like too much to overcome. "To know that we are going to score runs, it's just a matter of time, is huge for a pitcher," Perkins said. "You don't want to give up runs. but if you give up a run or two, you know you are going to be in the game and still have a chance to win. And it happened today." Another solid effort by the bullpen included a scoreless eighth inning by Matt Guerrier before Joe Nathan, who had been named to the All-Star team earlier in the day, picked up his 25th save of the season. Seeing his team find a way to pull off a late comeback win over a pitcher like Lee certainly pleased Gardenhire. And he hasn't minded at all the way that the wins keep coming. "When the big guys are not hitting home runs, it's nice to see the other guys contributing," Gardenhire said. "Today was another one of those days against a very good pitcher."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.