ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. - Jason Kubel hit a three-run homer in the first inning to present Glen Perkins with a lead. The Twins' rookie lefthander gave it back and then some, retiring only two Tampa Bay Rays and giving up five runs.

"We've given Perk some leads lately and he hasn't held them,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Tonight, he looked rattled from the start.''

This was the fourth consecutive lousy start in September and firmed up a decision for Gardenhire:

The Twins will take advantage of Monday's day off and skip Perkins' turn in the rotation when the Chicago White Sox come to the Dome next week.

That will line up Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey for the three-gamer against the Mighty Whiteys. And it's a series that regained what seemed to be dwindling importance Thursday night when the Twins did this:

Scored five runs in their ninth, then received a perfect bottom of the inning from Joe Nathan to close an 11-8 victory.

And how did the Twins look at this comeback?

"It was the biggest win of the season, without a doubt,'' Gardenhire said. "We needed that one so bad, after what we've been through. We've been in the same situation so many times lately, and we didn't get the hit ... didn't get the out we needed.''

Denard Span, the rookie right fielder, agreed. "Definitely, the best win since I've been here,'' he said. "We got pounded in Cleveland. We needed something good to happen.''

The Twins were down 8-6 entering the ninth. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon doesn't have an established closer. He went with righthander Dan Wheeler.

Span led off with his second hit, causing his family and friends from Tampa to shriek with delight. And then Alexi Casilla homered into the right field seats for an 8-8 tie.

Game-tying home run for Casilla ... and that wasn't the most dramatic event of the top of the ninth.

Joe Mauer reached on a double and Justin Morneau was walked. Maddon went to lefty Trever Miller, and Gardenhire sent up Adam Everett as a pinch-bunter for Kubel.

Miller and Everett were close friends during their days together in Houston. Wheeler was also a buddy.

Everett fouled back a bunt, then took two balls.

"The infielders were running all over on the wheel play,'' Gardenhire said. "When teams defense it that way, our hitter has the option to bunt or go with the Butcher Boy. Everybody in the dugout was yelling to Everett, 'Butcher Boy, Butcher Boy.' "

Question: What are you talking about?

"The old TV commercial, with the butcher pounding down and cutting up everything,'' Gardenhire said. "You know. The Butcher Boy play.''

Maybe bench coach Steve Liddle could explain?

"That's oldtime baseball,'' he said. "They have the infield wide open, so instead of bunting, the hitter chops down on the ball like a butcher on a block of wood.''

Everett was aware of the term the Twins use when encouraging a hitter to chop away when opponents are using the wheel play to defend a bunt.

"I think we call it 'Butcher Boy' because Carlos [Gomez] uses it all the time,'' Everett said. "I'm not sure.''

No matter. Everett didn't hear the dugout hollering.

He said the Rays used the wheel defense on the first two pitches, then took it off on the third.

"So, now I'm 2-and-1 and I know they are going to charge,'' Everett said. "I felt like this was a make-or-break moment ... swing and see what happens. I thought it was the right thing to do at that moment.''

An instant later, everyone in a Twins' uniform and the Span clan and a smattering of other Twins fans agreed.

Everett hit a double over the head of left fielder Ben Zobrist. It scored the lead run, two more would follow, the Twins ended a four-game losing streak and were back within 1 1/2 games of Chicago.

Butcher Boy? "I know what it is, not what it means,'' Span said. "I also know it worked ... got us the biggest win of the season.''

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