You can only hope that an old dog can learn a new trick.

Manager Ron Gardenhire cost his team a lot of anxiety Saturday by using the same silly approach that he used with his previous closer, Joe Nathan.

Eventually, the Twins won 8-7 in 12 innings and got the manager off the hook for one of the strangest strategic days in his nine years on the job.

There were occasions -- three, maybe four a season -- when Nathan would start getting warm, the Twins would score a run to push the lead past three and Gardenhire would switch to another reliever.

Once in a while, this could be explained by Nathan being in a stretch when he had appeared with frequency. More often, it seemed a case of a manager building a save total for his closer.

This always seemed to be a dangerous and ridiculous strategy -- to be in the stats-building business for his closer -- but we can assume Nathan was grateful for the layups. He made four All-Star teams and was consistently labeled by Twins' observers of being the best closer in baseball.

Nathan was lost to the Twins in March because of an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. There was no obvious replacement on the roster.

At the end of spring training, the Twins decided to go with Jon Rauch. The only certainty with the 6-11 righthander as the closer seemed to be this:

Gardenhire would not be messing around at the end of games. Four-run, 5-run lead ... if Rauch was fresh, he would be used to finish the game, saves be darned.

We thought.

Rauch was 10 out of 11 in save situations through the first 42 games. Apparently, this gritty start for Rauch was enough to earn him exalted status with his manager.

On Saturday, the Twins scored four runs in the first and still were holding that lead, 6-2, over Milwaukee in the ninth. The Brewers had lost 10 of 11, including the 15-3 embarrassment in their Target Field debut Friday night.

Sad as things have been, there are still a handful of potent hitters in the Milwaukee lineup -- meaning, the last thing the Twins wanted to do was to wake up their National League neighbors.

Rauch was rested. It was 100 percent certain that he would've been in the game with a three-run lead. But four runs? Here came Ron Mahay, always described in current jargon as a "situational lefty," which is right above "good makeup" on the asset list.

The lefthanded Jody Gerut opened with a single. Thanks for your effort, Mr. Mahay, but now we're going to get Rauch.

I guess not, hey, Gardy? It wasn't yet a save situation, so Mahay was allowed to face righthanded Alcides Escobar, followed by the lefthanded George Kottaras.

Escobar singled, and Mahay walked Kottaras, and now rather than starting the ninth with a clean slate and facing the bottom three hitters, here was Rauch with the bases loaded, no outs, and matched against the top of the order.

Rickie Weeks doubled and Carlos Gomez singled, both driving in two runs to make it 6-6. Later, Casey McGehee doubled for a 7-6 Milwaukee lead. The Twins needed a run in the ninth, then three scoreless innings from Alex Burnett and Jesse Crain to get the victory.

Gardenhire hates being second-guessed, so Twins fans can only hope that he learned a lesson Saturday -- namely, if Rauch is well-rested and you're certain to use him with a three-run lead, get him out there with a four-run lead.

It also wouldn't be a bad idea for someone sitting next to Gardy on the bench to say something if a scenario such as Saturday's bottom of the ninth reoccurs:

Game tied 7-7. Second and third, one out. Rookie Trevor Plouffe due, Nick Punto on deck. The skipper sends up Jim Thome to pinch hit, knowing he will be walked. And then he lifts Thome for a pinch runner, even with the winning run way across the diamond at third base.

Punto struck out, the Twins failed to score and Thome wasn't around to help in extra innings.

Somehow, the Twins pulled it out, and the manager was allowed to wrap up his bad day with a smile.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. •