07/12/08 10:01 PM ET
Baker bailed out by bullpen in victory
Relievers stifle eighth-inning rally to put pesky Tigers away
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
The Twins wouldn't make it a repeat performance of that April scene, as the bullpen held on for the team's third straight victory over Detroit on Saturday, 6-5. The win helped pull the club further away from the Tigers, giving them a 6 1/2-game lead over Detroit for second place in the American League Central.When Baker gave up a two-run homer to start the eighth and cut the lead to two, and Crain came on and let two batters reach to put the go-ahead run at the plate, nerves were certainly rattling in the Twins' dugout. "A little roller up the middle and then you're like, 'Oh my, here we go,'" Gardenhire said. "Then you walk a guy and the next thing you know, you've got a mess out there. ... When they score, they score touchdowns. So you just have to figure out how to get out of it." "It always seems like a battle every time we face these guys," Twins closer Joe Nathan said. "This series alone you see three one-run games with these guys. Their lineup is something that's one of those lineups that you really don't pay attention to who is coming up. You know it's going to be three guys that could hurt you at any swing of the bat." Though it was a scenario similar to one before, this time Baker (6-2) helped create some of his own trouble. He had delivered a stellar outing through seven innings, allowing just two runs -- which came on Matt Joyce's two-run homer to right field in the fourth inning. But he suffered a hiccup at the start of the eighth with the Twins leading, 6-2. Following a leadoff single to left and a throwing error by Alexi Casilla that put the runner on third, Baker threw a 3-1 fastball to Curtis Granderson that he belted deep to right-center field -- pulling Detroit within two. "It's just one of those pitches that after you throw it, you're like, 'Why did I throw it?'" Baker said. "In that situation and that count, he's just too good of a hitter to be throwing that pitch." Baker stood by the dugout rail after exiting following the home run, and couldn't help but hide his face in his towel when more trouble began to unfold. After Crain suffered his early troubles, he then got Miguel Cabrera to strike out swinging for the first out of the inning. But the drama wasn't over yet. Left-hander Dennys Reyes came in, and a wild pitch advanced the runners to second and third. A groundout by Joyce would score a run to put Detroit within one, 6-5. Gardenhire called on Brian Bass to come in and face Marcus Thames, who grounded out to end the inning. It was then another one-run lead to save for Nathan, who came into the game 25-for-25 in save opportunities against Detroit. And he kept his record perfect.
After needing just nine pitches to record the save Friday night, this one would not be as easy for Nathan. He battled through an eight-pitch at-bat with Gary Sheffield before getting him to strike out swinging. He then walked Brandon Inge on five pitches. But two straight strikeouts handed him season save No. 27.The Twins stormed out to a four-run lead thanks to Brendan Harris. After shuffling positions shortly before the game, moving from third base to shortstop due to Nick Punto's injury, Harris came up with his biggest offensive day of the season. He went 3-for-3 with a home run and four RBIs, tallying one in each of his four plate appearances. Harris singled in the first two Twins runs off Tigers left-hander Nate Robertson, one in the second and one in the fourth. With the game knotted at 2 in the seventh, Harris' solo homer to right field put the Twins back on top. Joe Mauer's fifth home run of the season, a two-run shot to the opposite field later that inning, helped extend the lead. Harris added an insurance run in the eighth inning, when Delmon Young scored from third on the shortstop's sac fly to center. It turned out to be a critical run with the trouble that followed. "I've been swinging it [the bat] better the last month, and I've been feeling pretty good -- albeit sometimes they still aren't falling," Harris said. "So today was a long time coming. It felt pretty good." Perhaps even a better feeling for the entire team is that it enters Sunday's finale in Detroit with a chance at a winning record on the road trip. It was a situation that seemed highly unlikely following a frustrating three-game sweep in Boston. "That's a comeback," Gardenhire said. "You just think about a couple big hits here and there and, if our bullpen gets the outs they are supposed to at the end of the second game, it could have been a super road trip already. But we'll just keep playing, and it's fun right now because they are really getting after it."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.