Twins fall to Ross, Red Sox in series opener

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Twins couldn’t hold a late lead. Both starter Jason Marquis and reliever Matt Capps were culpable in coughing that up.

But yet again they left runners stranded on base at the most important times.

Cody Ross homered twice, tying the game with a two-run shot in the seventh inning and giving Boston the lead with two outs in the ninth to snap a five-game losing streak for the Red Sox in their 6-5 victory over Minnesota on Monday night.

Starter-turned-temporary-reliever Daniel Bard (1-2) recorded two critical outs in the eighth after the Twins put the leadoff batter on third. Alfredo Aceves picked up the save, his third in five tries, and all was right with the reeling Red Sox for at least one night.

Aceves gave up a one-out single and a high drive to the warning track in left-center to Trevor Plouffe, but Denard Span bounced back to the mound to end it.

“I knew I got it up in the air, and I was wishing it over the fence. But definitely didn’t think I absolutely got it,” Plouffe said. “It was one of those ones where it was going to be just barely over the fence, or he was going to catch it.”

The Twins are 8 for 47 with runners in scoring position over their last five games, an average of .170.

“We put ourselves in good situations and have opportunities, but lately we haven’t really been coming through. Teams that win games, they hit in those situations,” Plouffe said.

Ryan Sweeney misplayed Jamey Carroll’s single into a two-base error that put him at third with none out in that pivotal eighth, after the ball bounded down the right-field line, ricocheted off the padded facade of the seats in foul territory and skidded away.

But Franklin Morales got Joe Mauer to ground out weakly to first base, and Bard retired two of the three batters he faced sandwiched around an intentional walk to Justin Morneau. Josh Willingham greeted Bard with a sharp line drive, but it zipped straight at third baseman Kevin Youkilis for the second out.

Then Ross put the Red Sox in front with his drive off Capps (0-1), who threw a 92 mph, 0-1 fastball at the kneecaps, a tough one for anyone to hit, let alone far enough to reach seats to the opposite field.

“That’s where I wanted the pitch to go,” Capps said.

Jon Lester lasted seven innings for the Red Sox. Danny Valencia’s two-run homer, his first of the season, followed Ryan Doumit’s two-run double in a four-run fourth for the Twins. Then Plouffe drew a leadoff walk in the fifth, Span singled and a run scored when Carroll grounded into a double play.

Carroll got the Red Sox back for that in the sixth. With one out and runners at the corners, he dived to stop a grounder by David Ortiz up the middle and flipped to second baseman Plouffe from his stomach with one hand. Then Plouffe whirled around for a perfect relay throw to finish the double play.

“It seems like we’re always one big hit away. I know that I had an opportunity today with Carroll on third there in the eighth,” Doumit said: “We’re going through a pretty tough patch right now. But I think our offense is good enough that we’ll be able to turn this around.”

The Twins have more modest expectations than do the Red Sox for this season after last year’s 63-99 mess. Their starting pitching has emerged as a significant concern, if it wasn’t already this spring.

The rotation has a collective 2-9 record with a 6.46 ERA, last in the major leagues, with 114 hits allowed in 92 innings and only 53 strikeouts. Marquis settled in after a shaky start but gave away the 5-3 lead he had in the seventh.

“That’s what we want, seven innings out of these guys,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “This guy’s a veteran, a 200-inning guy. He wants the ball. He felt fine. He felt great. He made a terrible pitch to Cody. He had such a great sinker all night long. We trusted him.”

NOTES: Morneau played 1B for just the second game this year. He’s been the DH 14 times. … With sputtering LHP Francisco Liriano taken out of the rotation for his next turn, the Twins want him to relax. “Let him take a step back,” Gardenhire said. Liriano will start again May 1 after a couple of bullpen sessions and talks with pitching coach Rick Anderson. … Willingham will miss Wednesday’s game to be with his wife, who is about to have a baby. He could be gone through Friday, but the Twins will put him on paternity leave and be able to call up a minor league replacement while he’s away.