The Twins were finally able to shake the monkey off their backs tonight, breaking over .500 for the first time since May 14. Since then, the Twins won a game to get to .500 mark, but then lost the next game 4 times, losing to the Pirates, the Cubs, the Mariners, and the Red Sox. Perhaps fittingly, the Twins victory over the Astros that did the job last night was about as far off script as we could guess.
If before last night's game you were told Kevin Slowey would walk 4 and Roy Oswalt would throw a perfect game, you would not have foreseen a Twins win. But Slowey was tough, working his way through 6 innings surrendering only 3 hits and one lone run while recording six strikeouts. Slowey was able to wriggle out of jams for most of the evening thanks to frequent help from the Twins' defense. Mauer caught a leadoff walk stealing in the first, Punto and Harris turned a double play to end the 4th, and Mauer threw out another baserunner to end the 5th. Slowey was quick to close the door in innings too, retiring his first two-out hitter with a strikeout in each of the first three innings.
We found out in the 6th that Slowey was battling side pain the whole game. He was visited during that inning by Twins coaches, but elected to stay in the game and finish the frame. Team quotes after the game don't indicate any likelihood of a DL stay, but we'll have to watch for Slowey's name as more news comes out over the next couple of days.
Meanwhile, the Twins offense was scraping up enough to keep just ahead of the Astros. Justin Morneau was able to deliver a sacrifice fly in the first to give the Twins an early 1-0 lead, and Nick Punto was able to put the Twins back on top 2-1 in the 5th when he perfectly executed a squeeze bunt with Delmon Young charging home. That's the second time in a week Punto has scored a runner from third with the bunt as he did the same on Sunday in Chicago. Punto isn't the first guy I would have expected to be doing this for the Twins as he's had trouble executing bunts over the years, despite his "little things right" reputation. Anything the bottom of the order can do to help put up runs will go a long way for the Twins, and might help them win a few cloe ones when the team's best hitters are having a slow day.
In the sixth, Oswalt hung a slow 0-2 curveball over the plate to Michael Cuddyer, who bounced it down the line to plate Morneau, bringing the score to 3-1 for the Twins, but Oswalt was able to escape further damage when Delmon Young ground into a double play with the bases loaded. Delmon Young struck back later in the 8th when his hard liner right at left fielder Jason Michaels was lost in a light bank and went to the wall for a 2-run double.
The Twins bullpen was effective enough to get the last nine outs for Kevin Slowey without exploding. The only damage came when Jose Mijares surrendred a two-out solo bomb to left to Jeff Keppinger in the 8th, but Joe Nathan was quickly brought into the one-run game to shut the door, and he quickly ended the inning on three pitches, striking out Miguel Tejada on a high fastball. A 1-2-3 ninth gave the Nathan his 16th save and the Twins their 35th win.
The win gave the Twins their 8th win in 10 tries this year against an NL opponent and surely left them licking their chops at the prospect of over a week more of interleauge games.