CLEVELAND – Two out. Two on. An 0-2 count on Josh Willingham. It looked like another inning would end with a zero on the board. It’s the way Twins baseball has rolled this season.
“I was in battle mode from the get,’’ Willingham said.
He took a ball, then fouled off a 96-miles-per-hour fastball from Cleveland reliever Cody Allen. Then Allen threw a curveball on the outer half of the plate, and Willingham didn’t miss it. The ball was crushed to right-center and past outfielder Drew Stubbs for a double as two runs scored.
The Twins were on their way to a 5-1 victory over Cleveland.
The worst team in the American League with runners in scoring position got a big hit to help put the game away. It also was a bounceback moment for Willingham, who struck out with the bases loaded in the first.
“A big hit by Willingham, which he needed and we needed, to add on,’’ Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
The Twins have won three of their past four games, against the AL Central-leading Tigers and the Indians, who began the day 2½ games out of a wild-card berth.
Cleveland entered Friday with a .263 batting average with runners in scoring position. The Twins, in spoiler mode for the third consecutive season, entered batting .230 with runners in scoring position. So Willingham’s hit was significant.
“It was nice to help the team for once,’’ Willingham said. “I haven’t done very much lately to help us win games, and we have been playing pretty good. It was nice to be able to contribute.’’
Copy that. But The Hammer entered the game batting .253 in run-scoring situations, well above the team average.
Willingham was one of the culprits in the first inning when the Twins loaded the bases against Cleveland righthander Ubaldo Jimenez with no outs. Willingham struck out looking, Ryan Doumit went down swinging and Trevor Plouffe struck out swinging.
Maybe it took the bottom of the order to show the middle of the order how to get things done.
Clete Thomas led off the second with a double to left. Pedro Florimon, the No. 9 hitter, hammered a double over Michael Bourn in center to drive in the Twins’ first run. Chris Herrmann, who has made a lot of solid contact lately, doubled to right-center to drive in Florimon.
Jimenez walked three in the first inning. Twins righthander Samuel Deduno threw two wild pitches in the bottom half. But both found enough control to turn the game into a strikeoutfest. Deduno tied a season high with six. Jimenez set a season high with 10.
The Twins just needed to avoid a white-knuckle ninth, and came through in the seventh.
Florimon beat out an infield hit and Brian Dozier walked. As Herrmann batted, Florimon was caught in a rundown between second and third and tagged out. Then Hermann tapped to first. But the Indians bullpen got sloppy.
Justin Morneau dug in against lefthander Rich Hill, who promptly missed the plate three times then intentionally walked Morneau. Hill looked up into the night as if he knew that the walk would come back to haunt him. Allen entered to face Willingham, and Willingham made Hill and the Indians pay.
“I was just trying to stay on the ball,’’ Willingham said. “I was just trying to put it in play. Thank goodness [Stubbs] didn’t run it down.’’