Span drives in winner in 12th for Twins
Punto's triple off Hunter's glove in center field sets up victory
ANAHEIM -- During Torii Hunter's long tenure with the Twins, the club grew accustomed to watching him make catches that broke the hearts of opposing teams.But on Thursday night, Hunter wasn't able to do that to his former team. Nick Punto's triple to right-center field, which glanced off Hunter's glove, set up the Twins' go-ahead run in the 12th inning and helped Minnesota capture a 2-1 victory over the Angels at Angels Stadium. In the first game of the team's longest road trip in 39 years, the Twins couldn't help but be ecstatic to pull off such a thrilling victory against one of the best teams in the American League. "We knew we were in for a battle tonight, and it was," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. The game had been tied at 1 since the fifth inning due to an early pitcher's duel, but the Twins finally were able to put another run on the board in the 12th. Thanks to the fact that Hunter was unable to come up with a big leadoff hit by Punto in the inning. Facing right-hander Justin Speier, Punto belted a ball to right-center field that carried all the way to the wall. Hunter, who was playing a bit shallow in center, had to race back to the wall to try to make the play. He made it to the wall and jumped up. But the Angels center fielder was not able to get enough of it as the ball tipped off the left edge of his glove and then bounced off the wall for a triple. Denard Span then singled on a 1-2 pitch from Speier down the third-base line to drive in the winning run. "I've got to catch that," Hunter said of Punto's hit. "If it hits your glove, you have to catch it. I make those plays nine out of 10 times." The Twins knew exactly how rare it was to see Hunter unable to come up with the ball in that situation. "We've seen him make plenty of catches like that," Gardenhire said. "I'm glad he didn't make it tonight. ... He's as good as they get out there. We got a little lucky." Lucky might have been the word for the hit, but the victory helped the Twins to prove that they can indeed compete against playoff-caliber teams away from the Metrodome. Having been swept in series at New York, Boston and Chicago so far this season in blowout fashion, the Twins are on a mission to prove that they are a true postseason threat by beating teams like the Angels on the road. "That's a great lineup, really tough, no doubt about it and we know they play well at home," Twins starter Scott Baker said. "For us to come in here and not only win that game but win that type of game really shows that we are a playoff team." Baker helped to set up the victory. Despite having walked away with his fifth straight no-decision, the right-hander delivered a stellar outing for Minnesota. He allowed just one run over eight innings -- a two-out solo home run by Mark Teixeira in the first inning. The Twins right-hander recovered to scatter just two hits over his next seven innings. He walked two in the contest and struck out six. "Baker was really good against a good lineup," Gardenhire said. "He used all of his pitches. He had a couple outings where struggled. But to come back against these guys is pretty good." Holding the Angels' lineup to one run was a feat, but Baker also had to do it while dueling with the club's ace, John Lackey. The Twins couldn't get anything going early against Lackey, who has been tough against the club in the past. After giving up back-to-back singles in the first, Lackey retired 12 straight batters. But in the fifth, the Twins finally managed to tag the right-hander for one run. It was Punto who was the catalyst of that run, as well. With two outs, Punto lined a ball down the first-base line that deflected off Teixeira at first base and into right field. Rather than being satisfied with a single, Punto stretched the hit into a double, a move he said was dictated by the situation of the game and how Lackey was pitching. "Two outs and Gomez coming up behind me, even if I get thrown out at second it's not a bad play," Punto said. It turned out to be the right one. Gomez's single to left scored Punto and knotted the score at 1. Neither team would tally a run after that fifth inning until Span's RBI single in the 12th. Baker's effort was a big reason but so too was a strong effort by the Twins' bullpen. Matt Guerrier, who has been given some rest after posting a 20.25 ERA in August, came in for the ninth inning to face Teixeira, Vladimir Guerrero and Hunter. After a scoreless inning in which he walked Hunter and struck out Garret Anderson, Guerrier came back for a second. He made it two straight scoreless innings before Jesse Crain came in to pitch a perfect 11th inning. Joe Nathan then picked up his 35th save by striking out two of the three batters he faced in the 12th. "It's huge," Punto said of the bullpen's performance. "We're not going anywhere without our bullpen. ... I feel great for Matty. He needed that." With the White Sox idle on Thursday, the Twins picked up a half-game on Chicago and trail by only a half-game in the American League Central race. The Twins face 13 more games in the next 14 days before heading back to the Metrodome. Getting a victory in the first contest of this road trip was big, but the Twins aren't about to sit back and relish in it for long. "We're not going to keep that lineup to one run every night," Span said. "But as long as our pitchers continue to do that, they'll keep us in the game. And I think as long as we have good pitching, we can play with anybody."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.