CHICAGO – Twins lefthander Scott Diamond fielded a grounder in the sixth inning Sunday, whirled and threw to first as if the 6-foot-4 inch Justin Morneau was there. He wasn’t. It was the 5-foot-11 Jamey Carroll.
The throw sailed into foul territory. That runner, Alejandro De Aza, went to third and scored the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly.
“I really thought I blew that one,” Diamond said. “I thought it would come down to one play, and I thought that was it in the sixth inning.”
But those mistakes have not been fatal for these Twins. They are getting enough hitting. The bullpen has been exemplary. They haven’t been blown out of games.
Sure enough, Josh Willingham cleared the bases with a double in the next inning, and Twins relievers put their foot on Chicago’s throats for nine outs while locking up a 5-3 victory and a sweep of this rain-shortened two-game series with the White Sox. The Twins come home with a four-game winning streak that has taken them over .500 at 8-7. Diamond, who led the Twins with 13 victories last season, is 1-1.
The Twins were forced to take three days off last week because of two postponed games but returned to action this weekend by taking two games from the White Sox, their once-fierce rival.
Vance Worley gave up one earned run Saturday on seven days’ rest. Sunday, Diamond gave up two runs (one earned) while coming off eight days off.
Aaron Hicks ended a 0-for-23 skid on Sunday with an RBI single and also drew a walk.
The bullpen took a blow when Adam Dunn homered off Josh Roenicke. Still, Twins relievers have a sparking 2.15 ERA. They should get three days off every couple of weeks.
“It’s huge, just knowing you have that back-end bullpen,” Joe Mauer said. “You get a couple runs and give them a lead they can take it from there. It’s a nice thing to have.”
Down 2-1 in the seventh, Trevor Plouffe walked and went to second on a passed ball. Hicks rolled a 3-2 sinker between first and second, scoring Plouffe with the tying run. Hicks stole second. Jamey Carroll reached on an infield single. Lefthander Donnie Veal replaced Matt Lindstrom, but Veal, who has had eight of his last nine pitches called balls, walked Mauer to load the bases. In came former Twins reliever Jesse Crain to face Willingham.
Crain hung a slider, and Willingham doubled over center fielder DeWayne Wise, emptying the bases to make it 5-2. The bullpen gave a run back but still performed, with Glen Perkins getting his fifth save in as many chances.
Embracing early trends is risky, but the Twins are encouraged by being 4-0 in one-run games, with three of those victories coming on the road. And Sunday’s victory was another close game they came through in.
“I said before the game, ‘Let’s win this thing 8-2 and make it a little easier on ourselves,’ ” Justin Morneau said. “Oh well. One of the main reasons Baltimore got in the playoffs last year was that they were good in one-run games. You have a winning record in those, you have a chance to finish the season with a winning record.
“It gives you confidence to get those early and, for a young team, it’s important to get off to a fast start.”