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06/03/09 1:45 AM ET
Slowey, Mauer fuel Twins' win
Nathan makes early appearance for four-out save
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was tempted to turn to closer Joe Nathan for more than three outs in Sunday's 3-2 victory over the Rays, but hesitated based on the closer feeling a bit under the weather. So when the situation arose again Tuesday night, as Minnesota held a one-run lead for starter Kevin Slowey with two outs in the eighth and a runner on second base, Gardenhire made the rare decision to call on his closer for the extra out. Nathan had not been asked to protect a lead in the eighth inning since Aug. 17 of last season vs. Seattle. Yet it was the same result this time, with Nathan helping hold on for the Twins' 4-3 victory over the Indians in the series opener at the Metrodome. "Once we got to two outs [in the eighth], I was ready to turn to him," Gardenhire said. "I wouldn't want to use Nathan much more than that." Left-hander Jose Mijares took the mound for the start of the eighth inning and gave up a leadoff homer to Victor Martinez. Two outs later, Mark DeRosa doubled to center field and Ryan Garko was sent to the plate to pinch-hit with the tying run in scoring position. Rather than keep Mijares in the game to face Garko, Gardenhire decided to turn to one of the two right-handers that he had warming up in the bullpen -- Nathan and Jesse Crain. It was Nathan who got the call. "I think they know that whenever they feel like they need to put me in that I'm comfortable," Nathan said. "Obviously it's not an easy situation when you get thrown into the mix in the eighth inning, especially in a one-run game. All of the outs late in the game are going to be huge. But I'm definitely hoping they are confident and know that whenever they feel like they need to use me, it's something that I'm open to and ready to do." Nathan looked a little uneasy at first, throwing a wild pitch that advanced DeRosa and put the tying run just 90 feet from home plate. But Nathan got Garko to ground out, ending the inning. After adjusting to the unusual break between innings, the closer managed to work his way through the ninth -- giving up one two-out single -- to capture his 10th save of the season. "That's not an everyday thing," Gardenhire said of using Nathan for the extra outs. "If you start using him in the eighth, you won't have him for maybe two or three games a week, and that's not good enough. ... You do it every once in awhile." Nathan's four-out save was one of the only unusual occurrences in the win over the Indians. Everything else seemed to follow script for the Twins of late. Joe Mauer went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and yet another home run as he continues his impressive stretch at the plate. Slowey delivered his fifth straight quality start, giving up just two runs over his 6 2/3 innings, and became the third American League pitcher with eight wins. Slowey has been one of the more consistent Twins starters of late, having won four straight starts and allowing no more than three earned runs in each of his last six starts. The Twins right-hander scattered just four hits through six innings before giving up a two-out single to Luis Valbuena in the seventh. Slowey (8-1) followed the single with an uncharacteristic walk to Trevor Crowe, one of two free passes he issued in the inning. Two runs then scored on Kelly Shoppach's soft double into right field. Shoppach's ball bounced off the gloves of first baseman Justin Morneau and second baseman Alexi Casilla and rolled into foul territory, allowing both Valbuena and Crowe to score. But all of that came after the Twins built a 4-0 lead, thanks in large part to Mauer. The Twins catcher delivered an RBI single in the third off Indians rookie starter David Huff, and then in the fifth, he belted his 12th homer of the season, putting Mauer just one shy of his career high. His three RBIs also brought his season total to 35. "He's swinging really good," Gardenhire said. "Like I said, I don't remember too many guys on the ball as well as he's been on the ball for this long. ... I don't know how much more I can talk about him. It's just amazing, it really is." The early offense came after what Gardenhire called a "huge play" -- on a catch made by Carlos Gomez in the third with the contest still scoreless. With two outs in the third and Ben Francisco on first base, Martinez hit a line drive to right-center off Slowey. As Gomez was standing over near left-center field, it looked like it would be a double off the baggie. But Gomez glided across the field in his usual speedy manner and made a leaping catch up against the wall. "Incredible," Slowey said of the catch. "I turned around and he was almost out of my field of vision. He was so far shaded, and for him to make that catch up against the wall saved me at least a run, maybe two. It was awesome." Slowey's eighth win now ties him for second in wins in the American League with the Royals' Zack Greinke. Only Roy Halladay, who tallied his ninth victory on Tuesday night, has more. Slowey was asked after the game if the considered himself in the same elite category as the other two. "No, I don't," Slowey said with a laugh. "But that's all right with me. The fact that I have eight wins means our team has eight more wins. That's what it's all about."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.