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Struggling Twins the victim of timely Red Sox sweep

By La Velle E. Neal III, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

MINNEAPOLIS — There is no doubt that, this week, the Twins have been very good for Boston’s ego.

The Red Sox came to town skidding, with key players on the disabled list and a manager under fire for criticizing team leader Kevin Youkilis publicly.

(PHOTO: The Minnesota Twins’ Alexi Casilla is safe stealing second base in the second inning when the throw to shortstop Mike Aviles, top, was off target at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Wednesday, April 25, 2012.)

After three days with the Twins, Boston has a three-game winning streak. In the ultimate slump-buster, the leaky Red Sox bullpen even stepped up in a 7-6 win over the Twins on Wednesday night, finishing the series sweep in front of an announced crowd of 32,254.

Boston’s relievers entered Wednesday with the worst ERA, at 7.55, in the majors. Except for a five-run rally in the sixth inning, they handled a Twins offense that’s been ineffective in run-scoring situations. Denard Span struck out on a 1-2 pitch from closer Alfredo Aceves with the bases loaded to end the game.

“We were in good position at the end,” a somber Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We were just one hit away.”

The Twins head into an off day with their starting rotation shredded (7.09 ERA), their offense needing clutch hits and tied with Kansas City with the most losses in baseball. A weekend series with the Royals at Target Field will be the battle to determine who’s the caboose of the American League Central train.

Even worse, first baseman Chris Parmelee was struck in the helmet with a pitch thrown by Boston lefthander Justin Thomas in the sixth inning. Parmelee was down on the ground for a couple moments but rose and walked off the field. Gardenhire said there were no initial signs of a concussion, but Parmelee had a headache and doctors will continue to monitor him.

Fans groaned, fidgeted and booed in the early innings as Boston raced to a 7-1 lead against rookie Liam Hendriks, who was knocked out in the fifth after giving up seven runs and nine hits, including a three-run homer by Mike Aviles. Hendriks needed 31 pitches just to get out of the first inning.

Pitching coach Rick Anderson talked with Hendriks moments after he was pulled from the game. After Anderson was done, Hendriks sat back on the bench with his hands on top of his head, looking like someone out of answers.

“Without a doubt, I let the team completely down tonight,” he said.

But the Twins came back with five runs in the sixth. Span drove in a run with a single. Joe Mauer had a two-run single. Justin Morneau, 0-for-16 against lefties entering the game, hit a RBI double off of Thomas. Trevor Plouffe singled up the middle to drive in a run and pull the Twins within 7-6.

The Twins should have had the advantage in the battle of the bullpens, and showed it with three scoreless innings from Anthony Swarzak, three strikeouts by Glen Perkins in the eighth and a scoreless ninth from Jared Burton.

After Thomas left, the Red Sox  were just as efficient, although Aceves needed visits to the mound as he loaded the bases in the ninth inning on a walk, single and hit batter. He survived by striking out Span for his fourth save.

The Twins have lost five consecutive games with the Royals coming to town.

“It’s tough to get swept at home,” said second baseman Alexi Casilla, who was 3-for-4, “but we are going to continue playing. We’ve got a good team.”

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