Published April 03, 2011
TORONTO – Joe Nathan's first save since 2009 was a high-wire act that left his manager's heart pounding.
Danny Valencia and Denard Span homered, and the Minnesota Twins held on to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 4-3 on Sunday, avoiding a three-game sweep.
Nathan worked a nervous ninth for his first save since missing last season following Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
"An exciting win and exciting to see Nathan get back out there and make my heart skip a beat again," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's nice to have him back."
Maybe so, but the stressful save wore Gardenhire out.
"It was a very intense game," he added. "Right now I don't really like (Nathan) that well. Tomorrow, or maybe tonight on the airplane, I'll tell him 'Good job.' He made us all really, really nervous but he got them out."
The save was Nathan's first since Oct. 3, 2009, against Kansas City.
"Obviously, I would have rather it been a lot cleaner and shorter," he said. "But when you're facing that lineup, they've done damage, especially against us. To be able to get through that inning and get out of here with a 'W' was the most important thing."
Jose Bautista hit his second home run of the season but it wasn't enough for the Blue Jays, who left the bases loaded in the ninth when Adam Lind grounded out.
"We gave ourselves multiple opportunities," Toronto manager John Farrell said. "We just came up short here in the ninth."
Nick Blackburn (1-0) pitched 5 2-3 innings for the win, but it was Nathan's return that everyone was talking about.
"He's been through a lot in the last year," Blackburn said. "For him to go out there and be in a tight game, a tight situation and be able to get out of it was great."
That didn't mean Blackburn wasn't biting his fingernails as he watched the final half inning from the clubhouse.
"We were talking about how it's the third game of the season and we're already stressed out," he said.
Travis Snider reached on an infield single to start the ninth and J.P. Arencibia followed with a drive to deep left, but Delmon Young made a leaping catch at the wall.
Mike McCoy hit a double down the line in right, narrowly sliding in ahead of the throw from Jason Repko. Yunel Escobar followed with a liner to right-center but Span made a great running catch, limiting Escobar to a sacrifice fly.
"As soon as I saw it off his bat I was going full out, trying to catch the ball, because I knew if that ball dropped that they were going to tie the game," Span said. "I was able to jump for it and reach and get it."
Juan Rivera walked, putting runners on the corners for Bautista. He fell behind 0-2 before drawing a walk that loaded the bases for Lind. Nathan said he was "running on adrenaline," but had enough left to get Lind to ground out on the first pitch.
"It was a situation where I was trying to do anything I could to get somebody out," Nathan said. "Fortunately, I was able to get Lind to swing at a breaking ball and get a groundball."
Blackburn gave up two runs, one earned, and six hits. He walked one and struck out two, helping the Twins snap a four-game losing streak in Toronto.
After the first six batters went down in order, Valencia got a 10-hit attack started with a leadoff shot in the third against Blue Jays lefty Brett Cecil (0-1). Span added some insurance with a one-out drive to right in the ninth off former Twins closer Jon Rauch.
Valencia gave the Twins their first lead of the season with his first homer of the year but Toronto tied it in the fourth when Lind scored on a throwing error by second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
Minnesota reclaimed the lead with a two-run fifth but should have had more against Cecil. Jason Kubel led off with a single and Valencia walked before Drew Butera reached safely on a bunt single. Matt Tolbert followed with an RBI single to left but Valencia was thrown out easily at home plate by Snider after being waved home by third base coach Steve Liddle.
Span loaded the bases again with a base hit and Nishioka followed with an RBI single to left, scoring Butera. But the Twins left the bases loaded, with Delmon Young popping out and Justin Morneau lining out to end the inning.
Cecil allowed three runs and six hits in five innings. He walked two and struck out three.
The Blue Jays chased Blackburn in the sixth. Bautista led off with a homer that hit off the facing of the second deck in left. Two outs later, Jose Mijares came on in relief after Edwin Encarnacion reached on Valencia's fielding error at third. Mijares caught Snider looking to end the inning.
After starting his return from a concussion with nine hitless at-bats, Morneau reached on a broken-bat single in the eighth.
NOTES: Encarnacion made two errors at third base and already has three this season, but Farrell said he won't take him out of the lineup. ... Toronto OF Rajai Davis (right ankle) missed his second straight game but is expected to return Tuesday to face his former club, Oakland. ... Blue Jays RHP Brandon Morrow (right elbow) threw a bullpen session before the game and will make a rehab start for Class-A Dunedin on Thursday. ... RHP Frank Francisco (sore right pectoral) is also expected to pitch for Dunedin on Thursday. ... Twins C Joe Mauer got the day off with Butera starting behind the plate. ... Morneau started at DH, with Michael Cuddyer at 1B and Kubel in RF. ... Attendance was 35,505, pushing the total for the three-game series to 110,683.