Twins cruise to win after big first inning
Club takes six-game lead into showdown with White Sox
CLEVELAND -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had some trouble sleeping after his team's victory over the Indians on Saturday. He was trying to figure out ways his club could score runs after watching a 21-inning scoreless streak finally come to an end on Jim Thome's game-winning home run in the 12th against Cleveland.But on Sunday, the Twins eased some of the stress on their manager -- and their pitching staff -- by taking barely any time at all to get some runs on the board. A five-run first inning helped catapult the Twins in front of the Indians and carried the club to a 6-2 victory over Cleveland in the series finale at Progressive Field. "Just to get off to a good start like that was definitely a sigh of relief for us," said Twins leadoff hitter Denard Span. Indians starter Mitch Talbot faced just three batters before leaving the game with right shoulder inflammation. He threw 14 pitches and didn't retire a single hitter. Span drew a leadoff walk and stole second base, Orlando Hudson hit an infield single and Joe Mauer drove in a run with his single to left field before Talbot was taken out of the game. Things didn't get much better for the Indians initially when Justin Masterson took over. The Twins added two more runs after an error by second baseman Luis Valbuena extended the inning. A wild pitch by Masterson scored a run before Delmon Young added one on a sacrifice fly to right, and Danny Valencia capped off the big inning with an RBI single. "The first inning, they made a mistake and we made them pay for it," Gardenhire said. "But that's about all we got. After they brought Masterson in, he was pretty filthy himself today. We've seen a lot of good pitching in this series. Fortunately for us, we came out with a couple wins." Masterson retired 13 straight batters, starting with the final out of the first inning. The Twins tallied three consecutive hits off Masterson to start the sixth inning, including an RBI single by Michael Cuddyer to take a 6-2 lead. Masterson, who had made 28 starts this season, pitched seven innings and allowed three runs (one earned) on five hits while striking out six. It was the longest relief outing by a pitcher in the Majors since the 2008 season. "It's a good thing we did score before he got in, because he did a heck of a job," Span said. Scoring runs off Indians pitching was one challenge the Twins had to overcome this weekend, but up ahead is another test as they get set to meet the second-place White Sox for their last head-to-head matchup of the season. The three-game series kicks off on Tuesday in Chicago, and the Twins will begin the series with a six-game lead in the American League Central race. During the last two seasons, the Twins have entered big series like this in September looking to make up ground in the division. Now after taking two of three from Cleveland this weekend, they'll go into these head-to-head matchups holding a sizable lead over the White Sox. So does the team's mentality change at all? "You try not to view it any different," Gardenhire said. "You feel like you have to win every game, no matter whether you're on top or the bottom. That's the way it is in September. Every game you are like, 'Oh my, that's the one that could cost us.' So you try not to lose it, and that's what we do -- is try to win them all." Besides finally seeing their offense score some runs, the Twins got another boost heading into their series with the White Sox, as their bullpen appears to be fully healthy once again. After Kevin Slowey battled through five innings on Sunday, giving up two unearned runs in his second start since coming off the disabled list with a strained right triceps muscle, the bullpen backed up his start by not allowing a run over the final four frames. Left-hander Glen Perkins threw two scoreless innings for the Twins and the club saw two of its other lefties -- Jose Mijares and Brian Fuentes -- make their return to the mound following injuries. Mijares pitched one-third of an inning, giving up one hit, in his first appearance since Aug. 11, while Fuentes made just his second appearance since the Twins acquired him on Aug. 27, pitching a 1-2-3 inning in the ninth. "We had a chance to get Mijares and Fuentes out there, and we needed that before this big series with Chicago," Gardenhire said. "All the guys that we envisioned to be there are back to throwing the ball. It should be a good bullpen. It should allow us to be able to mix and match as best as we possibly can." Although the Twins enter this week's series with the White Sox holding a six-game lead, there is still the feeling that the club can't let up on its must-win mentality. It may seem like Chicago is a ways back at the moment, but just last year, the Twins sat 5 1/2 games back on Sept. 12 and went on to force a Game 163 with the Tigers en route to capturing the division title. "Chicago is trying to catch us and we are where we want to be," Span said. "But at the same time, we have to have that predator-like mentality. We can't let down right now, because if we go in there and they sweep us, they are right back in the thick of things." Last year, the Twins had a total of seven games remaining with Detroit in which they could make up ground at this point in September, while the White Sox have only these three against Minnesota. But the Twins are well aware that if they start to get comfortable at all in their lead, trouble could await as they've seen the division go down to a one-game tiebreaker involving them the last two years. "We've played a few 163's," Gardenhire said. "I think we've been there and done it, and we don't want to do it anymore. No more 163's, let's just keep winning. They can't catch us if we keep winning."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.