Willingham lifts Twins with walk-off hit in 10th
MINNEAPOLIS — A walk-off single isn't as dramatic or exciting as a walk-off home run, although they both count just the same in the end.
Within the span of nine games, Twins left fielder Josh Willingham has managed to accomplish both dramatic feats in a pair of Minnesota wins at Target Field. Friday was the latest installment, as his 10th-inning single down the left field line scored Darin Mastroianni from third base and gave the Twins an 8-7 win over the visiting Chicago Cubs.
"It feels great," said Willingham, who has both walk-off Twins hits this season. "The biggest thing is we won. I don't really care how it got done."
Willingham's 10th inning single capped a crazy, back-and-forth night between Minnesota and Chicago. The two teams traded leads seemingly every inning. When one side scored, the other countered.
"I think every time they answered tonight, we had an answer for them," Willingham said.
The Twins fell behind 7-6 in the eighth inning after Alfonso Soriano's second homer of the game, but rallied to tie it in the ninth on an RBI triple by Justin Morneau. Yet with Morneau on third and nobody out, Minnesota failed to score a run in the inning, sending the game to the tenth.
After Twins closer Matt Capps pitched a scoreless tenth inning, the table was set for Willingham's late-game dramatics. Mastroianni drew a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Ben Revere. Jamey Carroll then reached on an infield hit to put Mastroianni at third and bring Willingham to the plate.
After taking a first-pitch strike against Cubs reliever Shawn Camp, Willingham rolled the second pitch down the third base line. Even with five infielders, Chicago couldn't stop Willingham's game-winning hit.
"I wasn't really thinking of anything," Willingham said of his 10th inning at-bat. "I usually get in trouble when I start thinking. I was just trying to get a pitch to hit and not try to do too much with it, just try and make it as simple as possible."
Willingham, signed by Minnesota as a free agent in the offseason, has provided plenty of offense for the Twins in the first two months of the season as he leads the team in home runs (11) and RBI (40). Willingham's .573 slugging percentage is also tops on the Twins.
Prior to Friday, Willingham was batting .339 and slugging .643 with runners in scoring position. So when he stepped to the plate with a chance to win the game Friday, his teammates and manager felt pretty confident.
"Willy just seems to have that flare for being up late in the game and getting that three-run homer he hit the other night," Mastroianni said. "Obviously when Jamey got that hit and we were first and third and they had the five infielders in there, I was pretty excited. I really felt Willy was going to do something there to end the game."
Willingham's other walk-off this season came on May 29 against Oakland in a game that the Twins trailed 2-0 heading into the ninth. With Minnesota down to its last out, Willingham hit a walk-off three-run homer against A's reliever Brian Fuentes to give the Twins a 3-2, come-from-behind win.
Friday's base hit to left field didn't travel nearly as far as that homer, but Willingham once again showed he has a flair for the dramatic and a knack for the big hit.
"He's been pretty good for us, pretty much from Day 1," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's swinging good and playing very good. We feel pretty good. A nice win for us."
The Twins have now won eight of their last 10 games to improve to 23-34 on the season. Willingham has been a big part of that. Now, he and Minnesota are slowly gaining some momentum as they're putting together win after win.
"I think winning brings confidence in everybody," Willingham said. "We've been doing more winning lately, so I think everybody's more confident. . . . That's the mark of a good team when you can battle back and answer them."
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