Down to last strike, Mauer provides Monster finish

Down to last strike, Mauer provides Monster finish

Down to last strike, Mauer provides Monster finish
BOSTON -- There's no one the Twins would've rather have had at the plate down a run with two on and two out in the ninth inning.

After all, Joe Mauer has three batting titles to his credit and entered Saturday's game a career .339 hitter with runners in scoring position.

So it was hardly a surprise when Mauer came through in the clutch despite being down to his last strike against closer Alfredo Aceves, launching a three-run homer to propel the Twins to a 6-4 win over the Red Sox on Saturday at Fenway Park.

Mauer's seventh homer of the year led the Twins to their seventh win over their last nine games and their third straight against Boston. This is the first time the Twins have won three straight games here since winning five straight from Sept. 25, 1993-June 15, 1994.

"We're playing good baseball," Mauer said. "We're just fighting. It's been three tough games here in Boston, and we're never out of it. That's the mentality that we have, even since the start of the season, but it's definitely nice to pull it out late."

Despite a strong outing from rookie Cole De Vries, the Twins entered the ninth trailing by two runs but Alexi Casilla started the rally with a double with one out. Jamey Carroll then brought Minnesota within a run with an RBI single. Denard Span flied out to right for the second out but Ben Revere came through with a two-out single to put the go-ahead run on base. The runners moved up on a wild pitch.

It set the stage for a big at-bat for Mauer, and he delivered in a huge way with a three-run blast over the Green Monster on a 3-2 pitch from Aceves. It came after Mauer took a pitch that was just off the plate and outside.

"I started laughing in the dugout because I said, 'There's not too many people that can take that pitch, and not too many people who have that much courage.' " Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But Joe can. He knows the strike zone as well as anybody; that's why he's won all those batting titles. Most of us might have been sitting back in the dugout."

Aceves, though, clearly didn't have the same thought about the pitch.

"That's in the past," said Aceves, who blew his sixth save. "I've got nothing to say to that."

It came after left-hander Glen Perkins gave up two runs in the eighth, breaking a 2-2 tie. He served up a solo shot to pinch-hitter Pedro Ciriaco on his second pitch of the night. It was the first career homer for Ciriaco, and came on a 1-0 pitch. The Red Sox tacked on another run on an RBI single from Cody Ross with two outs off reliever Alex Burnett.

The Twins had just rallied to tie the game in the top of the eighth, when left-handed reliever Andrew Miller loaded the bases with no outs. Justin Morneau brought home the run with a sacrifice fly to right field but it was all they could muster with Ryan Doumit popping out and pinch-hitter Josh Willingham grounding out to end the inning.

It wasted a strong outing from De Vries, who gave up just two runs on four hits and two walks over seven strong innings in his 10th career start. He also struck out five, including the side in the fifth inning.

"He pitched like a veteran out there," Gardenhire said. "He used his curveball, he used his fastball, his changeup was good tonight, especially early when he got some people off his fastball with it. He just did a fantastic job."

He started out a bit shaky, as he walked the first batter he faced in Ryan Kalish before promptly giving up an RBI double off the Green Monster to Carl Crawford. He also served up a shot over the Monster to Mike Aviles in the second inning. But he settled down after that, retiring 17 of the next 20 batters he faced to finish his outing strong.

The Red Sox also received a stellar performance from right-hander Clay Buchholz, who gave up just an unearned run on seven hits over seven frames. That run came in the fifth inning, when Carroll singled, reached second on an errant pickoff throw from Buchholz, third on an infield single from Revere and home on an error by catcher Kelly Shoppach.

The Red Sox were shut down in the ninth inning by Jared Burton, who picked up his fifth save of the year.

"Wow, what a finish for us," Gardenhire said. "Burton getting the save and Joe hitting the ball in the seats and some great at-bats by some setup guys to get it to him. A heck of a win for our ballclub."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.