Lamb's two-run single lifts Twins over Papelbon, Red Sox

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Mike Lamb was looking for a hit like this.

Jonathan Papelbon? He's not used to this.

The struggling Lamb lifted the Minnesota Twins past the Boston Red Sox 7-6 on Friday night with a two-run single in the ninth inning against Papelbon, who blew his second consecutive save opportunity.

On Wednesday in Detroit, he gave up two unearned runs due to Julio Lugo's error and Placido Polanco's broken-bat single. Here in Minnesota, Papelbon (2-2) put runners on second and third before Lamb laced an opposite-field liner to left that ended the game.

"We can't defense that. You've got a professional hitter that put enough of the bat on the ball and hit it where nobody was," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.

Bad luck, sure, but Papelbon -- who has 82 saves and a World Series ring since the start of 2006 -- has not been as sharp as he's known for this week.

"It's frustrating as hell right now, just because the simple fact is I'm throwing good pitches. I'm just not finishing them right now and executing them all the way through the strike zone," Papelbon said.

He added: "It's going to be a test for me these next few days to get back on the mound and regain that confidence, finish my pitches, and do a little bit better job of it."

Lamb wasn't complaining.

Signed as a free agent to enhance Minnesota's sparse left-side-of-the-infield offense, he's batting only .213 with no homers and 13 RBIs in 94 at-bats. Utility man Matt Tolbert has begun to take some of his playing time at third base.

"He has to step up. We signed him to do some things offensively, and hopefully he'll get going," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's a veteran. He knows how to play. We know he can hit."

Delmon Young led off the ninth with a single, moved up on Tolbert's sacrifice and stole third without a throw. Carlos Gomez walked with two outs -- just his fourth free pass of the year -- and moved up on a steal.

Then Lamb, who entered the game after second baseman Brendan Harris left with a tight right hamstring, hit a two-strike split-finger fastball from Papelbon to win it and give Jesse Crain (1-1) the victory.

"That felt good. I haven't had too many balls fall in there, it feels like," Lamb said.

Gomez's patience, not yet one of his virtues, was the key.

"That was a great at-bat," Gardenhire said. "He had a chance to chase some of those pitches. That's a growing experience for him. That's learning and not trying to do too much."

After hitting for the cycle on Wednesday in Chicago, Gomez said he didn't think Papelbon -- who walked just his second batter in 17 2/3 innings -- wanted to pitch to him.

"So excited. I got my respect here," Gomez said.

Two perfect innings by reliever Hideki Okajima preceded Papelbon after a rough start by Jon Lester, who gave up eight hits and five runs -- three earned.

He was locked with Minnesota's Boof Bonser in what sure wasn't a pitching duel. Lester labored through 5 1/3 innings, Bonser through four-plus. Bonser gave up seven hits and three walks.

The Twins led 5-2 in the fifth inning when Dustin Pedroia reached on a single that resulted from a routine groundball to second baseman Harris, who hesitated on his throw and was too late.

Boston quickly loaded the bases, and Mike Lowell hit a two-run double. Kevin Youkilis tied the game at 5 with an RBI groundout.

Then Lowell, who is 10-for-24 with three doubles, two homers and seven RBIs in the last five games, raced home on Juan Rincon's wild pitch to give the Red Sox the lead. He slid underneath Rincon's tag and knocked the right-hander off his feet.

Young nearly tied it for Minnesota when he came from first and tried to score on Adam Everett's two-out double in the sixth against David Aardsma. But a perfect relay throw from Pedroia beat him to end the inning and preserve Boston's lead.

Lugo made his 12th error in 35 games, bobbling a soft grounder hit by Gomez with two outs in the second inning that preceded a two-run single by Harris that made it 4-2 Twins.

Manny Ramirez made a lazy play in left field that led to Minnesota's fifth run in the fourth, when Tolbert stretched a double out of a soft liner. He scored on a single by Gomez, before an inning-ending double play by Harris.

This start was a statistical regression from Lester's last two starts, over which he yielded one run and five hits in 14 innings and struck out 11. But Lester improved to 14-4 in 36 career games and walked only one after issuing seven over his last two appearances.

"A lot of good. A lot of positives. Every start something goes in the right direction," Lester said. "I don't think I took any steps back tonight. I threw a lot of strikes and executed a lot of pitches I wanted to."

Game notes
Stolen bases by Youkilis and Lugo gave Boston a team-record 22 consecutive swipes, a streak that ended when J.D. Drew was thrown out trying to steal second by Joe Mauer. ... Mauer matched a career-most three stolen bases allowed when Jacoby Ellsbury got one in the sixth. ... Boston's Triple-A team in Pawtucket was rained out Friday, preventing rehab assignees 1B Sean Casey (hip) and IF Alex Cora (elbow) from playing. Both players are still expected to come off the disabled list during this four-game series.