Valencia rips walk-off to lift Twins in 10th
Liriano, Scherzer battle before heroics maintain four-game lead
MINNEAPOLIS -- Danny Valencia carried the tag of the Twins' future third baseman for a few seasons before finally getting his chance in the Majors when he was promoted in May. But it would have been hard for anyone to predict the type of impact he'd have in his rookie year.As the Twins have seen themselves plagued by injuries over the past two months, the need for a third baseman, as well as another bat to step up key situations, has intensified. And Valencia has certainly delivered -- just as he did on Wednesday night. With the Twins needing a win to maintain a four-game lead over the White Sox in the American League Central race, Valencia came up with the biggest hit of the night. After Michael Cuddyer singled and stole second base off reliever Ryan Perry in the 10th inning, Valencia lined a one-out single just over the top of the Tigers' infield to score the winning run and give the Twins a 2-1 victory at Target Field. "My first walk-off hit in pro baseball," Valencia said with a smile. "It was nice for it to come in a situation like this." Hits were limited for both clubs in a game that began as a pitchers' duel between red-hot starters Francisco Liriano and Max Scherzer. Scherzer entered the contest on quite a roll, and certainly as a much different pitcher than the Twins saw back in the first month of the season. He allowed 16 earned runs against the Twins in back-to-back starts on April 28 and May 3, but he showed the club how far he's come since being sent down to Triple-A Toledo in May by his performance in this one. Scherzer held the Twins to just one run on four hits over a career-high nine innings and didn't allow a hit until the fifth, when Minnesota scored its only run off him. "It was one of the best games I've thrown in the big leagues, and it doesn't feel right," Scherzer said. "We didn't win. I'm so tied to how this team does and my teammates. When we don't come away with wins, it doesn't feel right. That's what kind of stinks about it. Even though I threw the ball well, we didn't win." Scherzer has now allowed just three earned runs in his past four starts -- a span of 30 innings -- and he has posted a 1.60 ERA over his past 14 starts. Liriano has been impressive himself lately, posting a 6-0 record since the start of the second half. And while he had a no-decision against the Tigers on Wednesday, he held Detroit scoreless through seven innings and dropped his ERA to 2.17 in nine starts since the All-Star Break. But after Liriano threw his 104th pitch to strike out pinch-hitter Alex Avila to end the seventh, the Twins decided to turn to their bullpen. "I think if we can give him the rest he needs and take care of him to the end, he'll throw the ball very well," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He said the rest, the extra day, helps him, and it does with all these guys this time of year." Jesse Crain was called on to start the eighth, having allowed just one earned run over his previous 31 2/3 innings of work -- resulting in a 0.28 ERA over a span of 35 appearances. But Austin Jackson singled to lead off the inning. Will Rhymes popped up his bunt attempt off Crain for the first out and then left-hander Randy Flores came in to strike out pinch-hitter Ryan Raburn.
Gardenhire then turned to right-hander Matt Guerrier to face Miguel Cabrera, who walked on six pitches, before Jhonny Peralta hit a single to left field that tied the game and forced the Twins to deliver a memorable finish.Valencia played a role in the Twins getting their only run off Scherzer in the fifth. Delmon Young led off the inning with a double to right field, and Valencia's single put runners on the corners for Jose Morales, who hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Young and gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead. In the 10th, he found himself behind in the count to Perry. After a first-pitch ball, Valencia quickly got in a 1-2 count but he managed to lay off some tough pitches to work the count full. "He gave me good pitches to hit early in the count and I just didn't swing," Valencia said. "I was thinking, 'Geez, I let some of the pitches I wanted to hit go by.' I was able to work the count and he threw me another pitch that was good to hit, and I was able to hit it up the middle." Valencia hit a 95-mph fastball from Perry just far enough into center field that Cuddyer was able to score standing up from second base to give the Twins the victory. In 208 at-bats since joining the Twins, Valencia is batting .332 with 16 doubles, two homers and 24 RBIs. "We need him, that's for sure. Especially now, with all the injuries we've had to endure in the past two months," Cuddyer said. "For him to come up and fill in nicely is huge." Confidence has never really been an issue for Valencia. It certainly isn't hard to tell his confidence considering the t-shirt Valencia, a proud University of Miami alum, was wearing after the game emblazoned with "The 'U' invented swagger" across the front. But even Valencia admits that he didn't quite envision this type of success so early in his time with the Twins. "I'm just lucky that they put me in the position that I'm in," Valencia said. "I'm just happy that the coaching staff has the confidence to put me out there every day. I knew I'd be able to play up here, obviously, but to do this well it's pretty surreal."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.