Baseball / Sports

Willingham's late homer lifts Twins over Indians

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins entered the late innings Monday trying to lock up Kris Johnson's first major league victory.

They succeeded in the seventh: Cleveland got a runner to third base with one out, but Caleb Thielbar struck out Chris Dickerson and Jared Burton struck out Yan Gomes to end the inning.

They failed in the eighth: Pinch hitter Michael Brantley hit a one-out double off Casey Fien and advanced to third on a groundout. Roberto Perez then slapped a 1-1 pitch up the middle for an RBI single, scoring Brantley to tie the score at 3-3.

Poof, there went Johnson's chance of getting the game ball and the lineup card. It ruined an outing in which Johnson fought through the fifth inning to qualify for the win.

The Twins still salvaged the game when Josh Willingham hit a one-out solo homer in the bottom of the eighth to lift them over the Indians 4-3. Glen Perkins pitched the ninth for his 23rd save.

Johnson, a lefthander, began the fifth by getting two routine fly ball outs to center field. He walked Dickerson, then Gomes launched a double into the right-field corner scoring Dickerson to make it 3-2.

Carlos Santana followed with a single to right. Twins right fielder Chris Parmelee pounced on the ball and got off a quick throw as Gomez was held to third.

Pitching coach Rick Anderson went to the mound to chat up Johnson, whose inning made a hard right turn. But Johnson got Ryan Raburn to fly out to Parmelee to end the inning. Now all Johnson had to do was wait and see if the bullpen could take it from there. No such luck.

Johnson made his major league debut on Aug. 18, 2013, when he went six innings against Arizona and gave up five runs. On Monday, he made his seventh career appearance and fourth career start. At age 29, Johnson's path toward his first major league win has been a long one.

Johnson reached the minimum five innings, giving up two runs on five hits and three walks while striking out four. Three of those strikeouts came in the first inning as Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera and Gomes all went down swinging.

It was a battle of finesse lefties, as the Indians went with T.J. House, a 16th-round pick in 2008 who made his debut earlier this season. He got in trouble in the second when Kendrys Morales and Josh Willingham hit singles to put runners on first and second. There was no speed on the bases, so it was going to take a mighty blast to score them.

Kurt Suzuki laced a double through the gap in right-center. The ball rolled to the ball, allowing Morales and Willingham to rumble home with the first two runs of the game.

Cleveland cut the deficit to 2-1 on Dickerson's single to right in the third, but Trevor Plouffe drove in Danny Santana with a double as they moved back to a 3-1 lead. Santana was back in the lineup a day after sitting out and working on his mechanics with hitting coach Tom Brunansky. It paid off in the third as he led off with a double to right before Plouffe batted.

That might be the Twins offense at its best. They are not a home run-hitting team but have had their moments when they get a key double here and there. They entered Monday third in the AL with 185 doubles with Plouffe (28) and Eduardo Escobar (25) among the top 10 in the league.

House lasted five innings, giving up three earned runs on six hits and three walks with two strikeouts.

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