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Danny Valencia (19) was mobbed by teammates after hitting a two-run single to win the game in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

TWINS 2, CLEVELAND 1 Up next: 12:10 p.m. today vs. Cleveland • Target Field • TV: FSN (1500ESPN)

Crisis averted: Twins strike for two in ninth

  • Article by: LA VELLE E. NEAL III
  • Star Tribune
  • July 20, 2011 - 11:12 AM

Less than an hour after driving in the winning runs in the Twins' 2-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night, Danny Valencia was waiting for a friend near the Champions Club entrance at Target Field.

That friend was Indians closer Chris Perez. "Look at you, smilin'," Perez said as he walked up.

Valencia had taken Perez's 2-1 fastball and yanked it to left field with one out in the ninth inning, allowing the only runs of the game for the Twins to score and setting off a nutty celebration during which Valencia's jersey was ripped by teammates.

But now, the two former University of Miami teammates were headed to Valencia's place for the night.

"We lived with each other for two years," Valencia said. "We played each other in high school. I've known him since I was 17 -- 10 years. He's a real good friend of mine. I was at his wedding.

"It's just nice -- it's huge -- to be able to compete with one of your friends, let alone come up with a huge knock against them."

It was a big lift for the Twins, who had lost the first two games of the four-game series and entered the ninth down 1-0 after killing the infield grass at Target Field while beating righthander Justin Masterson's sinkers into the ground.

Perez, who had blown just one save all season, was in the game to finish off the Twins and push them eight games behind the Indians in the AL Central.

But Joe Mauer drew a one-out walk and moved to third when Michael Cuddyer legged out a double on a blooper to left with some daring running. Cleveland then intentionally walked Jim Thome to get to Valencia.

Valencia leads the Twins with 50 RBI but is batting just .244 with runners in scoring position. However, he was 4-for-9 with the bases loaded when he stepped to the plate against his longtime friend, a moment they had talked about.

"All the time," Valencia said. "Except I envision me hitting the home run and he envisions striking me out."

Valencia knew Perez had to come to him. Perez broke Valencia's bat, but the ball fell in for a hit. Cuddyer was off at the crack of the bat and never slowed down as he rounded third, then slid into home safely.

The Twins have five walk-off hits this season -- three by Valencia.

"At least I got the bat," Perez said. "He can't be happy about that hit, just he's happy because they won. I'll take that swing every time, just fell in there."

Said Valencia: "Man, it's just huge. The team needed this win. We lost two games [Monday]. We at least needed to win one."

Masterson's gem was wasted. The side-arming righthander shut out the Twins on four hits over 7 2/3 innings with six strikeouts. His sinking fastball and four-seam (straighter) fastball were working so well he threw only one slider among his 104 pitches. The rest were heaters.

Twins lefthander Francisco Liriano battled with full counts and runners on base all night. Cleveland's only run came on Asdrubal Cabrera's sacrifice fly in the fifth.

It was enough to keep the game close, close enough for the Twins to win in the ninth.

Perez was furious after the game, throwing items around the visitor's dugout.

"I'm about ready to go over to his house right now," Perez said. "He's buying dinner."

Valencia had other plans.

"I will be tweeting a picture of me and him," he said. "We're just going to watch highlights over and over."

Valencia better make sure the guest room at his place is still in one piece in the morning.

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