MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Joe Nathan has been itching for some work all season.
His Minnesota Twins aren't winning a whole lot, and when they do, they seem to win big, leaving one of the dominant closers in baseball stewing in the bullpen most days.So when he does get in the game, look out.Nathan struck out five in two innings of perfect relief and Justin Morneau's sacrifice fly in the 10th inning lifted Minnesota to a 6-5 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night, the Twins' first win over their AL Central rivals in seven meetings.Nathan has made only 14 appearances in 45 games this season, and just five of those have been in save situations. A save wasn't on the line when he took the mound on Tuesday night, but that was fine by him."It's just satisfying to get out there right now," Nathan (2-0) said. "Just getting out on the mound right now is good for me."After Guillermo Mota (0-3) got Joe Mauer to fly out to start the inning, Torii Hunter walked for the third time in the game. He advanced to third on a single by Michael Cuddyer, and then scored when Morneau lifted a lazy fly ball to fairly deep center.Grady Sizemore had no chance to throw out the speedy Hunter, who touched off a spirited celebration for the reeling Twins when he reached home plate. Minnesota had lost six of eight coming in to fall 11 games behind AL Central-leading Detroit."We have a base to work with and we don't want to give Morneau anything good to hit," Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. "He's a free-swinger. Mota got ahead, but he didn't execute. He gave him a pitch to hit."Sizemore had two hits and two RBI and Eduardo Perez homered for the Indians, but their bullpen couldn't hold a 5-4 lead.In a rare two-inning stint, Nathan struck out five in a game for the first time since June 29, 2000, at Colorado, when he was a starter for San Francisco."He was filthy," Cuddyer said. "I didn't think any one of their batters, at any point, knew what was coming."Using a devastating breaking ball and a pinpoint fastball, Nathan struck out Aaron Boone and Sizemore in the ninth. He then blew away Jason Michaels, Casey Blake and Travis Hafner in the 10th to help the Twins overcome an unusually ordinary start from ace Johan Santana and beat the Indians for the first time since Sept. 4.Santana was spotted a 4-0 lead after three innings, but he gave up five runs and nine hits with just five strikeouts in seven innings.Prior to this outing, Santana had been simply outstanding in May, going 3-1 with a 1.86 ERA and 42 strikeouts in four starts. This was the first time in four starts he failed to strike out at least 10."He's not Superman," Cuddyer said. "Sometimes he looks like he is, and sometimes we think he is, but it shows where we are as a team. We're still not going to quit. We're going to fight until the last out."After the Twins made it 4-0 in the third on a two-run homer by Cuddyer, Santana appeared well on his way to racking up another victory.But Cleveland got on the board with Sizemore's two-run double in the fifth.Perez's towering two-run homer highlighted a three-run sixth inning that gave the Indians a 5-4 lead.The Twins tied the game when Morneau scored from third when Tony Batista hit into a double play against reliever Fernando Cabrera. The run was charged to starter Cliff Lee, who gave up five runs and seven hits in five-plus innings.Cabrera, Scott Sauerbeck and Rafael Betancourt combined for four innings of scoreless relief, but Mota allowed just the second run by the Indians' bullpen in the past 24 2/3 innings."Our guys did a good job against one of the best pitchers in baseball," Wedge said. "We had a good opportunity to win a game with one of the best pitchers in baseball out there and we let it slip away."
The Twins' first three hitters were a combined 1-for-14. ... Hunter extended his hitting streak to eight games with a single in the second. ... Lou Merloni's single in the fifth was his first hit in eight at-bats since being called up by the Indians on May 17. ... Lee has gone at least five innings in 41 consecutive starts.