08/18/07 12:29 AM ET
Punto's Twins top Rangers in extras
Shortstop redeems himself by producing winning run in 10th
By Leslie Parker / MLB.com
That being the case, they were overjoyed with their 2-1, 10-inning win over the Rangers at the Metrodome on Friday night.
Nevermind that they left nine runners on base and went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. They were picked up by an unlikely hero in Nick Punto, who scored the game-winning run.
Punto, who is batting just .204 this season, went 0-for-4 in regulation, including ending the seventh inning with a bases-loaded strikeout. But to lead off the 10th inning, he hit a fly ball that center fielder Marlon Byrd would have had to make a spectacular play to catch.
"It was a ball I was going after," Byrd said afterward. "I thought I could dive and make the catch. Then, when I realized it was going to drop, I tried to block it with my body."
As Byrd was trying to chase down the ball, the speedy Punto made it all the way to third. He scored the winning run on Jamey Wright's next pitch, which ricocheted off catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia toward the backstop.
"Nicky is a huge part of this team and a huge part of the excitement for this team," Mike Redmond said. "We're all pulling for Nicky to get that big hit there. We were way more pumped up. Not that we wouldn't be for somebody else, but just because he's been grinding it so much this year. That was huge and I was pumped for him."
Punto got the start at shortstop with usual starter Jason Bartlett sidelined with a hamstring injury. It's unknown how long Bartlett will sit out, but in the meantime manager Ron Gardenhire stressed that Punto is his go-to guy.
"He said he was happy that I gave him the opportunity to hit there, leading off that inning. I told him, 'You're the shortstop now, you're going to have to come up with the big hits now,'" Gardenhire said. "Nicky's going to have to come up and get some big hits for us now that Bartlett's down. He's got to do it. He's the veteran of that group of infielders. Not throwing too much on his shoulders, I think he understands that, and it was huge for him to get that hit tonight. Huge for our team and huge for him."
Starting pitcher Carlos Silva was also huge for the team. Though his August record stands at 0-1, Silva has pitched well enough to be 3-0. Silva gave up just one run in his seven innings of work, bringing his August ERA to 1.29. He's struck out 14 over those three starts while only allowing 13 hits.
"Another good pitching performance by Carlos where we can't get him a win. We're a little disappointed on that side, because he's pitching so well for us," Gardenhire said. "It's all about winning now -- winning baseball games any way we can. "
After giving up a solo home run to Saltalamacchia in the third inning, Silva allowed back-to-back singles. Just when it looked like he was in trouble, he got out of the jam with two quick outs.
The bullpen came in to pitch three scoreless innings, and reliever Matt Guerrier picked up his second win of the season.
While the pitching performances were solid, the offense was shaky.
After scoring just nine runs over a five-game losing skid, including being swept in Anaheim, the Twins' bats broke out of their funk to rack up 17 runs on 28 hits in their two wins in Seattle.
But after an exciting win, Gardenhire did not seem concerned with the offensive woes.
"It's not always a beautiful thing, but it doesn't matter," Gardenhire said. "It's about the left-hand column at the end of the game. That's all we're trying to do, get wins in the left-hand column and have some fun here chasing down the other guys and putting a little pressure on them."
The win moved the Twins to six games behind Cleveland in the division and 6 1/2 games behind in the American League Wild Card race.
Leslie Parker is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.