Longing, forlorn looks at the scoreboard have been de rigueur in the Minnesota dugout lately. Three games against New York turned into three losses, and not once did the Twins manage a lead.
It must have seemed like a blessing from above, then, when Chicago starter John Danks gave the Twins a lead without the home team having to lift a bat. Danks walked the first four Minnesota batters of the game, scoring a run and loading the bases, and Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer slapped line drives to make the game 4-0 before late-arriving fans had even passed the turnstiles.
It wasn't long, though, before the long faces returned to the Minny bench. Cuddyer was picked off first for the game's first out, and Danks retired 16 of the next 19 men he faced, never allowing a Twins runner past first base and struggling through five and two-thirds innings.
At the plate, too, the Sox were clawing back the early deficit. Nick Blackburn didn't retire the Pale Hose in order in any inning until the seventh, and Chicago scratched out single runs in the second, fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, tying the game.
The Twins, stung by the comeback, had to go back to what worked early in the game: the free pass. Nick Punto worked a walk to start the seventh, and eventually scored on a big two-out RBI single by Joe Mauer, who was 1-3 on the night.
Minnesota pushed across an insurance run in the eighth as well, thanks to - of all things - a bunt single by Carlos Gomez, who laid a perfect roller down the first-base line to drive a run the last ninety feet home.
Blackburn hung in long enough to get his eighth win, but it took perfect innings from Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan to save it - as well has a whole bushel of sparkling defensive plays. Punto made a pair of full-stretch diving stops to save hits, Brendan Harris somehow did the same from deep at short, and in between Cuddyer saved a two-run with a running, leaping catch up against the right-field fence.
It was a gritty win for Minnesota, a much-needed end to the New York-caused slide that happened not because of sprinting - but because of leisurely strolls to first base. All hail the power of the walk.
The three stars of the game:
3. Nick Punto
Drew a walk that became the game-winning run, plus made two great plays in the field.
2. Nick Blackburn
Lost the early lead, but kept on battling - and got the victory.
1. Jason Kubel
The DH was 3-4, including a two-run double in the first inning that turned the early walks into runs.