MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Milwaukee Brewers needed a game like this after three straight one-run losses.
None more than John Axford.
Martin Maldonado’s two-run, tiebreaking home run in the ninth inning off Matt Capps pushed the Brewers past the Minnesota Twins 5-3 on Friday night, and Axford bounced back from consecutive blown saves to preserve the lead.
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“I want to be there as many times as possible,” Axford said, smiling, “because then we’re always winning, right?
Corey Hart doubled to start the ninth against Capps (1-4). Then with two outs and two strikes, Maldonado drove a fastball into the bullpen.
“I’ve got to get the heater down,” Capps said. “I get it down, it’s a groundball to short.”
Axford promptly pitched a 1-2-3 inning for his 11th save, and those excruciating defeats in Kansas City were quickly forgotten.
“It can hurt the team, and it can hurt the guy that’s out there closing. So all that was very important to me,” manager Ron Roenicke said.
Ryan Braun ended Francisco Liriano’s no-hit bid with a one-out, three-run homer in the sixth inning on the left-hander’s 97th pitch after a pair of walks. Trevor Plouffe tied the game at 3 off Yovani Gallardo in the bottom of the frame with his second home run of the night, his seventh in seven games and 14th of the season. But Manny Parra, Kameron Loe (3-2) and Axford allowed the Twins only two singles over the final three innings.
Braun said he never “ever” expects Axford to blow a save.
“I still feel 100 percent with him out there closing the game. You saw he proved it tonight,” Gallardo said. “The past few days things haven’t gone his way, but you couldn’t notice it out there on the mound.”
Liriano struck out six in six innings, walking four, hitting one batter and allowing just the one hit. He was sharp from the start, striking out the side in the second and recording six groundball outs over the first five innings.
The Twins had a prime opportunity to further pad their lead by following Plouffe’s home run, on his 26th birthday, with three straight singles, the last by Casilla that made the score 2-0. `
But Denard Span gave Gallardo his first out with a sacrifice bunt. That put both runners in scoring position, but Ben Revere bounced out and after an intentional walk to Mauer, Josh Willingham’s fly ball to center field didn’t quite reach the warning track.
After taking all that time to only produce two runs, with Liriano sitting in the dugout and losing his rhythm, the Twins lost some of their edge. Liriano walked ninth hitter Edwin Maysonet and then Carlos Gomez — he of the .303 on-base percentage entering the game — for a second time with one out.
Pitching coach Rick Anderson visited Liriano on the mound, Brian Duensing began warming up in the bullpen and … Liriano hung an 0-2 slider that Braun hit over the center-field wall.
“Honestly? Just hoping not to strike out. His stuff was so good tonight,” Braun said.
Gallardo needed 109 pitches to finish six innings, but after allowing a pair of infield singles following Plouffe’s second homer he struck out Span to end that threat. Gallardo struck out seven and walked two while giving up eight hits.
“That’s as good as he’s thrown this year,” Roenicke said.
This is the Liriano the Twins have had to settle for, six years after his sensational rookie debut and subsequent elbow injury. In four starts since returning to the rotation last month, Liriano has a 3.04 with 29 strikeouts and just 12 hits allowed in 23 2-3 innings. But he’s still struggling to bear down and get that critical out when he and the Twins need it.
“When you walk the leadoff guy, you end up getting yourself in a little bit of a jam,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
NOTES: RH Mike Fiers (1-2, 4.50 ERA) pitches for the Brewers in Saturday’s matinee against fellow rookie RH Liam Hendriks (0-2, 9.00) of the Twins. Fiers will make his fourth start for the Brewers. Hendriks will be recalled from Triple-A Rochester to rejoin the rotation after four starts at the beginning of the season for the Twins. … Braun has at least one hit in his last 20 interleague games, batting .408 in that stretch. … Plouffe is hitting .396 with four doubles, nine homers and 16 RBIs in 12 games this month.