Span spurs Twins to win in Milwaukee
Outfielder scores three runs in return from disabled list
MILWAUKEE -- It's sometimes easy to overlook the importance of a good leadoff hitter and to not appreciate their impact until that tablesetter is somehow missing.On Thursday afternoon, the Twins saw just what having their regular leadoff man back in the lineup could do for their offense.
In his first game back after spending 15 days on the disabled list with an inner-ear infection that left him feeling dizzy, Denard Span drew three walks, hit a triple and scored three runs to help lead the Twins to a 6-4 victory over the Brewers at Miller Park."I was just pumped up to finally get back on the field," Span said. "My teammates have been riding for me the last 2 1/2 weeks for being dizzy. It just felt good to come back the first game and help us win." The Twins were looking for an emotional lift in Thursday's series finale, as they were coming off a stunning 4-3 loss the night before in which the Brewers came back with two outs in the eighth. Sitting one game under the .500 mark, Minnesota was looking to avoid falling any further below that measuring point, not to mention avoid losing back-to-back Interleague series. And having Span in the leadoff spot again seemed to provide them with the lift they needed, as the Twins captured the series win and moved up to 37-37 on the season. "He's huge for us," Joe Mauer said. "He gets us going, and I think that was what kind of got us going last year. Get him back in front of the lineup, and it kind of completes things." It didn't take long for Span to look like he was feeling comfortable at the plate following his DL stint and had no lingering effects of the dizzy spells that had plagued him over the previous month and a half. Leading off the game, he drew the first of his three walks on five pitches from Brewers starter Mike Burns, who was making his first Major League start. Nothing came from that first free pass, as Burns retired the next eight batters he faced. But when the lineup turned over at the start of the fourth, Span made his presence felt again -- drawing another leadoff walk. This time, it led to the first of the Twins' runs as Span scored from second on Justin Morneau's RBI single. The club added another run in the inning when Michael Cuddyer drew a bases-loaded walk with one out to make it a 2-0 ballgame. "It's just big to get him on base," Mauer said of Span. "Get him on base, and you see how many times they threw over to first. That can mess with a pitcher's head a little bit, rush him, and maybe he'll make some mistakes to the hitter. So maybe Brendan [Harris, the Twins' No. 2 hitter] and myself can benefit from that. He changes the game." Span scored yet again for the Twins in the fifth, but this time it was his bat that allowed him to reach base. With one out in the inning, Span showed no signs that his bruised left palm -- an injury he suffered when hit by a pitch in his second rehab game at Triple-A Rochester -- was affecting him. He lined a ball into the right-field corner for a triple. His hand might not have shown any ill effects of the injury, but Span said he noticed the effect his time off had on him while running the bases. "After the triple, I almost died," Span said with a laugh. "I hadn't played in 2 1/2 weeks, so I was a little out of shape. I kind of felt like [Mike] Redmond out there after hitting that triple," he added, referring to the Twins' slow-footed backup catcher. A sacrifice fly by Harris drove in Span in that inning, and in the sixth, Joe Crede hit a solo home run -- his 11th long ball of the season -- to put the Twins up, 4-0. But the Brewers weren't done trying to make a run, as they pulled within one of Minnesota in the bottom half of the inning. After holding Milwaukee scoreless for the first five innings, starter Scott Baker saw the top part of the Brewers lineup get to him in the sixth. After Baker issued a leadoff walk, Casey McGehee belted a two-run homer right field. One out later, Prince Fielder added another long ball, his 18th of the year, that made it a 4-3 game. But Baker (5-6) would get two outs after that to complete six innings, marking the end of his day. He finished having allowed the three runs on four hits, walking three. Asked if the heat and humidity had made him tired at the end of his outing, Baker said that didn't play a factor in giving up the runs. "I felt fine," Baker said. "It was a little lack of focus, not finishing some pitches on some pretty good hitters." The Twins quickly added back on to their lead in the top of the seventh. Span drew his third walk of the day -- again to lead off the inning -- and he advanced to third base on Harris' single to the right field gap. He scored from third on a passed ball by Mitch Stetter during Mauer's at-bat. Mauer then drove in a run with his second hit of the day -- a ground-rule double to left-center -- to give the Twins a little bit of breathing room. "Having Span up there, his on-base percentage, seeing pitches plus he's hitting .300, that's a big difference in your lineup," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "To move Mauer and those guys down in the lineup now and get Harry in the two hole now, as he's been swinging very good and doing a very good job, it's a nice thing. It's fun to have [Span] back. He can run the ball down in the outfield no matter where you put him." Minnesota's bullpen would hold on for the win as R.A. Dickey pitched a scoreless seventh, Matt Guerrier gave up one run in the eighth, and Joe Nathan came in to convert his 17th save of the season. And for the Twins, it was an opportunity to move past their disappointing loss on Wednesday night. "I was happy to see the club turn the page after a tough one last night," Gardenhire said. "It was a nice win."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.