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04/04/07 12:38 AM ET
Twins bring out piranhas vs. O's
Seventh-inning small ball tops Baltimore
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins' first game of the season resulted in a victory thanks to a great display of power from the team's talented young lineup. But in the second game, it was all about speed. Manufacturing runs is something the Twins know they will have do to compete in a tough American League Central Division. And on Tuesday night, they showed they can rely on their own version of small ball in a 3-2 victory over the Orioles. "I think there are a lot of ways we can win," closer Joe Nathan said after picking up his second straight save of the year. "We proved last night that we can bang the ball around. Tonight there wasn't a whole lot of offense, so we played some small ball. We stole some bases, moved runners over and got some guys in. It's always nice when you have options of scoring runs." The Twins knew it wouldn't be an easy task generating offense against Orioles right-hander Daniel Cabrera, who has traditionally pitched well against the club. Cabrera was a career 5-1 with a 3.25 ERA against the Twins coming into the start. "He's got nasty stuff and when he's on, he's one of the better right-handers around," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We've seen him pretty good and tonight he was nasty. We didn't put many great swings on the ball." It was clear that the right-hander's stuff could easily fool a lot of the Twins hitters, as evidenced by the nine strikeouts that Cabrera recorded in his seven innings of work. But with Cabrera's slow leg kick and long arm, the Twins instead focused trying to make use of one advantage they had -- their ability to run. Speed has always been a large part of this Twins' club, as witnessed by the "Little Piranhas" nickname that was bestowed upon it last year by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. And moving along the basepaths wasn't a problem Tuesday as the Twins recorded a total of five stolen bases in the contest. It was the most for the club since Aug. 26, 2001, when it nabbed five bags against the Royals. The most entertaining of those five steals came as part of the Twins' game-winning run sequence in the seventh inning. Rondell White led off the inning with a walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Jason Tyner. After a strikeout by Jason Kubel, Tyner moved into scoring position by stealing second during Jason Bartlett's at-bat. It wasn't the prettiest of steals, as Tyner stumbled on a seam in the field turf during his run and had to crawl to the base to beat out the throw from O's catcher Alberto Castillo. Tyner admitted that he was lucky to have made a good jump to even end up with what Gardenhire called a "half-a-bag steal." "It's easy to steal when you don't fall down," Tyner said with a laugh. "Luckily I was able to stay up long enough. I got within hand's reach of the base and I was proud of myself for making it that far. ... I'm sure I'll see it again, but I'm sure glad I made it." The steal paid off, as Bartlett then delivered a broken-bat shot to left field, scoring Tyner and making it a 3-2 game. "That's how you have to play when you're facing a tough pitcher like we were tonight," Tyner said. "Runs are going to be tough to come by in those situations, and you have to take advantage of what you can. We were able to steal some bases tonight and that helped us to win the game." The Twins didn't get on the board until the fourth inning, when Nick Punto hit a leadoff single, advanced to third on a Joe Mauer single to center and scored when the next batter, Michael Cuddyer, grounded into a double play. Luis Castillo then delivered an RBI on a hard-hit infield single to Cabrera and easily beat out the throw to first. Castillo, who led the league in infield hits last season, already has three this season. And all of that scoring came after the team fell behind early due to a shaky first few innings from Boof Bonser. Bonser appeared to be laboring at the beginning of his start, throwing a total of 80 pitches through four innings. But it was in the third inning that problems arose, when Bonser gave up a solo home run to Melvin Mora with two outs in the inning. He then allowed the next three batters to reach, scoring another run. But Bonser settled down after that rough inning. After walking one batter in the fourth with one out, Bonser retired the final eight batters he faced. His line read even better, as it showed six innings with just two runs on three hits. "I guess you can say I found it there toward the end," Bonser said. "A little mechanics, a little struggle at the beginning, but I settled down." Bonser also got a little bit of help with another strong night by his bullpen. Over the first two games, the bullpen has pitched a combined six scoreless innings while allowing just three hits. The Twins were able to use Pat Neshek, Juan Rincon and Jesse Crain to get through the two innings between Bonser's departure and Nathan's ninth inning. Nathan then picked up his second straight save, this time with just a tight one-run lead. But it's the differing ways the Twins have pulled out wins early that has the team excited about its start to the season. "These are the type of games pay off for you later when you're in tight ballgames and you've gotten to see what guys are made of," Gardenhire said. And so far, it seems the Twins like what they see.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.