The Twins went 12 innings to defeat the Los Angeles Angels 2-1 on Aug. 21 in Anaheim. They won only 12 of the next 30 games, and only one of those came with fewer than six runs.

That was a 4-1 victory Sunday in Tampa Bay -- and it was against a Rays lineup that featured many irregulars and perhaps a mass hangover from the previous night's celebration of a first-ever playoff berth.

Basically, the Twins had not won a tight, low-scoring game in five weeks, and that's what they were in on Wednesday night, and with nothing more at stake than the entire season.

Last month in Anaheim, manager Ron Gardenhire followed Scott Baker's eight innings with Matt Guerrier for two, Jesse Crain for one and then Joe Nathan to get a save.

And, if the manager had required a lefthander on that Thursday night at the Big A, he would have gone with Dennys Reyes.

A few days later, General Manager Bill Smith traded for veteran Eddie Guardado as another late-inning option.

Many problems would befall the Twins' bullpen in the losing weeks that followed. Reyes was so-so, Guerrier and Crain were largely ineffective and Guardado quickly was pushed back to a secondary role.

On Wednesday, the Twins received five stout innings from rookie Nick Blackburn. The righthander managed to work through two bases-loaded situations and departed with a 3-2 lead.

This left Gardenhire needing three innings of relief in order to get the lead to Nathan -- a bit woozy on the mound these days but still a good bet to get three outs before giving up a run.

Guerrier, Crain, Reyes and Guardado were not included in the manager's choices for these three innings. Instead, he went with Craig Breslow, Boof Bonser and the fresh rookie, Jose Mijares.

They combined to retire nine of 10 White Sox, getting three outs apiece.

So, it still was 3-2 entering the ninth, and all it took for Nathan to get his 39th save was this: a tremendous catch by Carlos Gomez in left-center field to take away extra bases from A.J. Pierzynski. That was the second out, and Nathan messed around a while longer before getting DeWayne Wise on a bounce out.

The Twins are within a half-game of first place. They try for a sweep tonight -- and they received this big chance with their first gut-twisting, low-run victory in weeks.

Breslow cruised through Chicago's sixth on seven pitches. Bonser pitched around an Orlando Cabrera single in the seventh. By then, White Sox starter Mark Buehrle was in cruise mode and the Twins had only a one-run lead to protect in the eighth.

Gardenhire went to Mijares, 23, a surprising September callup. He had a limited minor-league season after breaking his left elbow in a car accident this winter.

Mijares had pitched the eighth in a victory for the first time Sunday. This was a one-run lead, a crowd announced at 42,126 was screaming and the White Sox were bringing up Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, Ken Griffey Jr. and their combined 1,345 home runs.

Mijares opened with three balls to Thome. What were the young man's thoughts?

"He says, 'I knew I had to throw strikes,'" said Reyes, interpreting for the Venezuelan.

Mijares came back to get Thome on a sky-high fly to center. Konerko and Griffey went out easier.

Could Mijares have imagined -- as he was recovering from his accident -- pitching in a big-league division race?

"Not at all,'' he said through Reyes. "He says, 'I just wanted to be able to come back and pitch again this season.'"

Mijares' solid eighth rivaled Gomez's long run to retire Pierzynski and save a mess for Nathan as the game's highlight.

"I never saw a guy close on a ball like that,'' Nathan said of the Gomez catch.

Down the corridor, affable A.J. was asked if other outfielders might make that catch, and he said:

"Not too many. I don't know if anybody ... maybe him, but that's it.''

Gardenhire had a more emotional reaction to the catch.

"I went running behind the dugout,'' he said. "I screamed, 'Get out of the way, boys. I just ... "

Interpretation: Think dogs and fire hydrants.

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. •