As Aaron Hicks rounded first on his game-winning, two-out RBI single in the 10th inning Thursday, he high-stepped his way toward second with his arms flailing.
The 24-year-old center fielder stopped to stare, yell at his teammates as they emptied the dugout and spike his batting helmet in the Twins’ 4-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Target Field.
That poor helmet took the brunt of Hicks’ pent-up frustration this season, vented in a split second in the celebration following his first career walk-off hit.
“A lot of stress did [release]; I think I might have broke that [helmet],” Hicks said. “That was just how much I love and appreciate this game. To come up with a big hit like that against a great team, especially with the way things were going, it definitely means a lot to me to come [through] in the clutch for my team.”
Only 48 hours earlier, Hicks sat in Twins manager Ron Gardenhire’s office to discuss his daily approach to the game. He was publicly criticized by Gardenhire and Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony on Wednesday for his lack of preparation, which they felt was reflected in Hicks’ .167 batting average entering Thursday’s game.
After a one-out double down the left field line by Kurt Suzuki and a strikeout by Chris Parmelee (who hit a two-run homer in the second), Hicks worked Red Sox reliever Andrew Miller to a full count after falling behind 1-2. On the sixth pitch, Hicks hit a soft line drive to left to score Suzuki from second and give the Twins their second walk-off victory this season — both in this three-game series, both with Miller on the mound.
“[Hicks] took some great pitches; that was tough,” Gardenhire said. “[Miller] is filthy. … For him to get two losses here is pretty amazing, to tell you the truth.”
Hicks’ triumphant moment was a result of closer Glen Perkins’ second blown save this season, stopping a 10-game consecutive save streak. Up 3-1 with two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth, third baseman Will Middlebrooks grooved a two-run single to right that tied the score.
The blown save gave Phil Hughes a no-decision and stopped his four-game winning streak after recording a career-high eight strikeouts against the defending World Series champions. He allowed one run on five hits in six innings, and it was his fifth consecutive start of at least six innings. He has not allowed a walk in the past four games (119 batters).
“He’s not really throwing a lot of breaking balls or anything like that; he’s keeps pounding in and out and locating the heck out of it,” Gardenhire said. “Against a team like that, that’s pretty doggone good.”
Hughes held the Red Sox’s 3-4-5 hitters — designated hitter David Ortiz, first baseman Mike Napoli and right fielder Jonny Gomes — to a collective 1-for-9 at the plate with two strikeouts. Ortiz dominated his former team in the first two games of this series, going 7-for-10 with four home runs and six RBI, but he finished only 1-for-4 in the rubber match.
“They’re tough; up and down, they’ve got some guys who can hurt you,” Hughes said. “Obviously, Ortiz had a big series. You just try to limit the damage and make sure there aren’t too many guys on base when you’re facing the middle of the order.”
Reliever Brian Duensing (1-1) earned the victory after pitching a scoreless 10th inning.
It was the Twins’ fifth game in the past 10 decided by one run, and they are 4-1 in those five games. They’ve also have consecutive series victories over the Red Sox, the defending champions, and the Tigers, the defending American League Central winners.
“We’ve lost a lot of baseball games over the last three years, so you have to earn respect,” Gardenhire said. “And that’s what our baseball team is trying to do. We’re trying to earn respect around here.”