ARLINGTON -- Tuesday's was a game the Twins seemed destined to lose, especially considering that they were coming off a 20-6 blowout loss on Monday, and trailed by four runs in the fourth inning with right-hander Carl Pavano laboring and All-Star left-hander C.J. Wilson on the mound for the Rangers.
But the Twins managed to keep it close, their perseverance leading to Joe Mauer's go-ahead pinch-hit double in the ninth inning off Rangers closer Neftali Feliz for a 9-8 come-from-behind victory over the Rangers on Tuesday at the Ballpark in Arlington.
"I think it's the biggest show of character from this team," said closer Joe Nathan, who tossed a scoreless ninth to tie Rick Aguilera for the Twins' all-time saves record, with 254. "We got our brains beat in last night and fell down 7-3 tonight but didn't give up. I think that's the one thing we've proven this year. We've been 16 1/2 games back this year, but there's never been any quit from this team."
The Twins entered the ninth inning trailing by a run. Delmon Young started the rally with a one-out single before Jim Thome notched a pinch-hit double to left field to advance Young to third.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka then reached on an error by shortstop Elvis Andrus, allowing Young to tie the score and set the stage for Mauer's opposite-field double, which scored pinch-runner Jason Repko and gave the Twins the lead.
"Coming off a cold against a guy throwing 96, 96 mph isn't an easy thing to do," manager Ron Gardenhire said of Mauer's big hit. "But I think he was a little refreshed and came up and put a good swing on it."
But the Twins weren't out of the woods just yet, as Nathan was called on to close it out with Hamilton, Michael Young and Nelson Cruz due up in the bottom of the ninth.
Hamilton didn't make it easy on Nathan, hitting a single on the second pitch of the inning before Cruz reached with one out after a fastball from Nathan grazed his jersey.
But Nathan was able to strike out Mitch Moreland on a 3-2 slider and then pinch-hitter David Murphy on a sinker to preserve the impressive win, which keeps the Twins within seven games of the first-place Tigers in the American League Central.
"Nathan was throwing some nasty pitches," Gardenhire said. "You saw the 3-2 slider that went down into the dirt that [Moreland] chased. That was filthy. That ball really dove. That's the pitch he used to throw all the time and get people swinging. You have to have the arm speed to be able to do that. That was huge."
Mauer's game-winning hit and Nathan's clutch save came on a night when the Twins were hoping that Pavano would go deep to rest the bullpen, which has been used heavily. But the veteran simply couldn't get it done against the powerful Rangers' offense, going just five innings for his shortest outing since May 8, in Boston.
"I've got plenty of time to think about what I did wrong, but it was a big win for the team," said Pavano, who gave up eight runs for the third time this year. "The boys battled behind me. I didn't make it easy on us at all, with a lot of bad pitches and runs given up. But we didn't put our heads down and kept going till the end."
Minnesota trailed by as many as four runs after jumping out to an early three-run lead in the second inning against Wilson, who also struggled. Drew Butera gave the Twins their first run with an RBI single before Alexi Casilla plated a run with a groundout and Michael Cuddyer drove home a run with a single.
But the Rangers came back with two runs in the bottom of the inning, on a pair of RBI doubles by Moreland and Cruz.
Texas added five runs in the fourth, powered by another RBI double by Cruz and a three-run homer by Yorvit Torrealba. Andrus contributed the fifth run on a bloop single into right field to give the Rangers a four-run lead.
The Twins, though, came back with three runs in the fifth, as Wilson walked the first three batters of the inning to load the bases for Danny Valencia, who laced a two-run single that knocked Wilson from the game. Right-hander Tommy Hunter then came on in relief, and Nishioka tagged him for an infield single to give the Twins another run.
Texas added an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth off Pavano on a single from Torrealba for his fourth RBI of the game. It was the final inning of the night for Pavano, who allowed the eight runs on nine hits and walked two.
Minnesota was able to make it close again in the sixth, with an opposite-field single by Jason Kubel scoring Ben Revere, who reached on a walk to lead off the inning.
The bullpen then did its job, as Alex Burnett tossed a perfect sixth, Matt Capps threw a scoreless seventh before coming out with two runners on and no outs in the eighth in favor of left-hander Glen Perkins, who got out of the jam. Then came Mauer's go-ahead double and Nathan's fifth straight save.
"They strung some good at-bats when they needed to and had some good at-bats in the ninth against our closer," Young, the Rangers' designated hitter, said. "Any time we get into the ninth inning with our closer, we feel good about our chances. Hopefully, we'll get in the same spot tomorrow."