Willingham’s 3-run HR in 9th lifts Twins over A’s

Published 8:23 am Wednesday, May 30, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS — Two on, two-out, down by two in the bottom of the ninth.

The Minnesota Twins signed Josh Willingham to be their hammer in situations just like this, and the struggling slugger delivered in a big way against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night.

Willingham hit a three-run homer to lift the Twins to a 3-2 victory, their second come-from-behind win in as many days.

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“You want to be in that situation whether you get a hit or not,” said Willingham, who hit his fifth career walk-off homer. “Fortunately I was able to get a hit tonight. I’ve been on the other end several times as well.”

Justin Morneau added two doubles for the Twins, who trailed 2-0 heading into the ninth thanks to a strong start from A’s right-hander Jarrod Parker.

But Jamey Carroll led off the ninth with a single against Brian Fuentes (2-1), who then walked Denard Span. With two out, Willingham hit a 1-0 pitch into the bullpen and was mobbed by teammates at home plate.

The Athletics squandered another late-inning lead to lose for the seventh time in a row. The Twins ended Ryan Cook’s 23-inning scoreless streak in the eighth inning Monday en route to a 5-4 victory.

“Don’t ask me how,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I really can’t tell you. That’s why you play nine innings.”

Parker allowed four hits, walked four and struck out four in six shutout innings for the A’s.

Glen Perkins (1-1) pitched the ninth for the Twins and Fuentes, the former Twins reliever, blew his second save in six chances this season.

Signed to replace the departed Michael Cuddyer, Willingham got off to a fantastic start, hitting .313 with seven homers in his first 31 games. But he was hitting just .203 with one homer and 11 RBIs in his last 17 games before stepping to the plate in the ninth against his former team.

“We weren’t able to do a whole lot tonight offensively,” said Willingham, whose Twins left 11 men on in the first eight innings. “We had some chances with some guys on and weren’t able to get the big hit. Anytime you can come from behind and win a game like that, it’s great. They’re the wins that can kind of springboard you a little bit.”

Collin Cowgill’s base hit in the seventh gave the Athletics a 1-0 lead and Coco Crisp’s single in the eighth made it 2-0, but that was all their weak-hitting lineup could muster while they wait to see if Manny Ramirez can give them a much-needed jolt.

The A’s left 12 runners on base and couldn’t take advantage of control problems by jittery Twins starter Cole De Vries, who was able to pitch five shutout innings while walking five and hitting another batter.

While Ramirez is working on his timing with Triple-A Sacramento following a 50-game suspension, the beleaguered A’s offense entered the night hitting an MLB-worst .211 this season.

De Vries gave the sputtering offense plenty of opportunities to get going. He walked five and hit a batter in the first three innings, but the Twins turned two double plays and Seth Smith grounded out to first with the bases loaded in the third.

“It kind of baffled me how we didn’t give up more runs than that, to tell you the truth,” Gardenhire said.

De Vries is from the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie and played in college at the University of Minnesota. The 27-year-old was signed as a rookie free agent in 2006 and languished in the majors for six years before finally making his debut with the Twins this year.

This was his first start at home, and there seemed to be plenty of jitters early on. The right-hander was able to settle down eventually, needing just 22 pitches to get through the next two innings before giving way to Jeff Manship.

“I was fairly composed during my bullpen,” De Vries said. “I could tell I was a little amped up. I went and sat down for a little bit but when I started to walk out to the mound, boom, right through the ceiling. I was like, ‘All right, let’s calm down a little here.”’