Denard Span did it all on Friday night at Target Field, leading the Twins to a much needed 4-3 victory over the Texas Rangers with his play both in the field and at the plate, a welcome sight for Twins fans who have been waiting for this kind of a performance from the speedy center-fielder all season.
A spectacular leaping grab to save a potential home run off the bat of the Rangers David Murphy in the first inning set the tone for his active evening.
It was primarily a pitchers duel through the games first five innings and it came from two little known starters who were essentially late season fill-ins to rest tired arms in both rotations.
Matt Fox made his major league debut for the Twins, and he pitched admirably. The rookie lasted 5 2/3 innings, giving up only two runs and walking one. Most importantly, he gave the Twins regular starters a much needed extra day of rest, but the theme from the night was Span's heroics.
And he got things going right away. He led of the bottom of the first inning with a double down the third base line and later came around to score the game's first run on a sacrifice from Joe Mauer. The Rangers came back and got one in the top of the second with a sacrifice off the bat of Mitch Moreland to score Josh Hamilton and tie things up 1-1.
The Twins bats then quickly settled back into the cold spell that has plagued them as of late and has kept their run totals at a bare minimum during most of the second part of August.
In fact, there would be no more hitting or scoring until the sixth inning for both ballclubs who were playing in brisk temperatures that dipped into the 50's at Target Field.
The Rangers took the lead 2-1 in the top of sixth thanks to an RBI-single by David Murphy to score Elvis Andrus, but the Twins answered back in the bottom of the inning with an RBI grounder from Michael Cuddyer to knot things up 2-2. It was a seesaw battle all night between the two division leaders fighting for playoff positioning.
A perfectly executed squeeze play in the top of the seventh put the Rangers back up 3-2, but like they did all night, the Twins answered back in the bottom of the inning. An big RBI-single from J.J. Hardy tied it up at 3 and then it was Span time again.
With two runners on, Span slapped a single into right field that drove in Jason Repko for the go-ahead and eventual winning run and put a cap on a great night from the Twins center-fielder. He hustled into second on the throw and got the Target Field faithful up off their seats.
Closer Matt Capps came on to get the games final five outs and record his eighth save with the Twins, lowering his ERA to 2.44 in the process.
Danny Valencia had another great game, notching two more hits and raising his average to .343, but he had to be taken out of the game in the seventh with a tight hamstring. The injuries keep mounting for the Twins. He is officially listed as day-to-day, hopefully it's not worse for the already injury-riddled ballclub. They keep finding a way to win nonetheless, but a glance at the injury report and one has to wonder, how? And when will it finally catch up to them?
Regardless of the mounting injuries, the Twins pushed their lead in the division back to four games. The White Sox play a double-header Saturday in Boston and if they lose both, things could really swing in the Twins favor as we near the last few weeks of the season.
Josh Hamilton went 2-3 with a walk for the Rangers to raise his average to a league-leading 3.62, but left late in the game with a sore back. Vlad Guerrero didn't start but came on as a pinch-hitter in the ninth and singled of Capps.
Play of the night: Repko's gundown of Rangers pinch runner Alex Cora at third base in the ninth saved the game for the Twins and might have even been better than Span's catch.
Here's a quick glance at some numbers:
3: Thursday's 10-9 loss to the Tigers was just the third time the Twins have lost a game this season when leading after seven innings (71-3).
15: Hits the Twins had last night (all singles). It marked the first time since Sept. 5, 1971 that the Twins had as many as 15 hits in a game without any going for extra bases.
2: Extra base hits by the Twins Friday night. Michael Cuddyer and Span both got doubles. They have yet to hit a home run during the current homestand, still they are 3-1. The Detroit Tigers hit five last night alone.
42: Twins record for doubles by a catcher, accomplished by Brian Harper in 1990. Joe Mauer is just one away from topping that mark already this season. He is on pace to collect 46 doubles, putting him one short of All-Time leader Justin Morneau's 47 in 2008.
.343: Danny Valencia's batting average after Friday night's game, tops among all Major League rookies this season with at least 200 at-bats, even better than San Francisco's uber-prospect Buster Posey's .329 average. The fabulous Twins rookie is batting .441 at Target Field, including 14 multi-hit games.
0: WIns at Target Field for the Texas Rangers in four attempts. The Twins are now 5-3 against Texas and the worst they can do is split the season series with them after tonight's win.
84: Extra-innings wins for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire since taking over in 2002. His career record is 84-56.
8: Twins starter Matt Fox made his Major League debut on Friday night. He is the eighth Twins player this season to make his debut. The others are Alex Burnett, Drew Butera, Luke Hughes, Trevor Plouffe, Wilson Ramos, Anthony Slama and Valencia.
.218: Batting average for Delmon Young in the month of August, coming at the heels of an explosive July in which he hit .434. To be fair, no Twins hitter put up big numbers in August, except for Joe Mauer, who was the only player that hit over .300 during the month. Jim Thome batted .298.
1: Michelbob's Ribs just took over the number one spot on my list of best ribs I've had the pleasure of inhaling. The family owned restaurant that started in Florida were kind enough to treat us press guys to a plate of ribs during the fifth inning of tonight's game, and even seconds! The bones were like toothpicks, now that's a good rib.
Carl Pavano (15-10, 3.52) will take the hill for the Twins tomorrow at 3 pm opposite the Rangers Colby Lewis (9-11, 3.56).