Surging Twins win 7th straight

Published 9:31 am Monday, June 20, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS  — Joe Mauer returned to the Minnesota Twins lineup this weekend to a standing ovation and much excitement from fans at Target Field.

When the weekend was over, Mauer’s return was overshadowed by guys named Drew Butera, Matt Tolbert and Rene Tosoni.

Butera’s single scored Delmon Young in the bottom of the ninth as the Twins rallied to beat the San Diego Padres 5-4 on Sunday and extend their winning streak to seven games.

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“That’s how you do these things. Everybody has to play a part,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Everybody has a role and everyone has to come through.”

Young led off the ninth with an infield single and advanced to second on Luke Hughes’ sacrifice bunt.

Butera’s grounder bounced off the glove of diving third-baseman Chase Headley and into left field, allowing Young to score.

“One of those balls that’s kind of in between a dive and being able to just stand up,” Headley said. “That’s what I do on that ball every time, and that’s what I’d do next time. Unfortunately, it tipped off my glove. It’s just a tough way for it to end.”

Alex Burnett (2-4) pitched one inning for the win. Chad Qualls (3-3) took the loss.

Mental errors plagued Minnesota for the first two months of the season and it looked as though another miscue might doom the Twins on Sunday.

After Minnesota scored three unearned runs to take a 4-3 lead in the seventh, the Padres tied it on Will Venable’s infield single in the eighth. Reliever Glen Perkins was late getting off the mound to cover first on Venable’s grounder to the right side.

But the Twins were able to come back and win for the 14th time in their last 16 games.

“We’re smiling, we’re laughing. Winning’s great,” Tolbert said. “It’s starting to feel like it did last year. We just need to keep the momentum.”

Pinch-hitter Tosoni tied the game in the seventh on a double down the first-base line. Tolbert briefly gave the Twins the lead with a double to left-center.

Tosoni hit for starting catcher Rene Rivera in the seventh. He was replaced by Butera when the Twins took the field in the eighth.

The Twins are carrying three catchers as Mauer works his way back to playing every day behind the plate. Mauer was 0 for 4 as the DH Sunday.

“It starts with our pitching staff, they’ve been doing great keeping us in ballgames,” Butera said. “That’s the mentality you have to have. You’re never out of it.”

The seventh-inning rally was made possible by Headley’s throwing error that put runners on second and third with one out.

“That’s unfortunate when things are going the way they are,” Headley said. “We don’t have the luxury of making mistakes. We’re not playing well enough where we can overcome a mistake. That kind of magnifies everything.”

Twins starter Francisco Liriano did not surrender a hit until there was one out in the fourth inning. He struck out eight over seven innings.

Minnesota has climbed back into the AL Central race on the back of its strong starting pitching. Entering Sunday, Twins starters had a 1.73 ERA since June 2. The Twins were 16 games out of first at the beginning of June and eight back coming into Sunday’s game.

The Padres strung together three infield hits in the fifth inning to score twice and take a 3-1 lead.

San Diego failed to make solid contact much of the afternoon, but at this point, the Padres will take runs however they can get them. They came in hitting .220, scoring just 76 runs over their last 29 games.

Starter Dustin Moseley has received the third-lowest run support in the majors this season, but exited leading 3-1 in the seventh. He allowed three runs — one earned — in 6 1-3 innings.

The Padres activated Orlando Hudson from the disabled before the game, and the former Twin had two hits and scored a run.

San Diego could use some of the magic being generated by the Twins reserves and bench players. Tolbert said that the role players feed off each other and try to contribute any way they can.

“Tosoni came off the bench cold,” said Tolbert about Minnesota’s seventh. “He just battled his butt off. Everybody was excited. I was like, ‘There he is out there.’ It was the perfect opportunity to take the lead and I got one to fall in.”