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Escobar, Twins break through in extra innings

Shortstop's 10th-inning homer provides Minnesota margin of victory
Special to

CLEVELAND -- The pitchers' duel gave way to a battle of the bullpens.

Eduardo Escobar made sure the Twins' relievers weren't battling in vain.

View Full Game Coverage

CLEVELAND -- The pitchers' duel gave way to a battle of the bullpens.

Eduardo Escobar made sure the Twins' relievers weren't battling in vain.

View Full Game Coverage

Unable to get on the board all night, Escobar knocked Indians closer John Axford's second pitch into the right-field stands in the 10th inning, as Minnesota opened its series at Progressive Field with a 1-0 win Monday night.

"Obviously, I'm trying to put a good swing on the ball, take a good aggressive swing," Escobar said through a translator. "That's who I am. I'm not really trying to hit homers."

For Escobar, it was a chance to make up for a missed opportunity in his first at-bat.

Coming on to replace Pedro Florimon in the seventh inning, Escobar had two runners on, but Bryan Shaw got Escobar to ground out, ending the threat.

"Watching those games unfold, you know it's going to take one run, and we tried just about everything we could to get it even earlier using our whole bench," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "A [heck] of a baseball game."

After his second at-bat, Escobar had an ear-to-ear grin by the time he got back to the dugout.

Leading off the 10th inning and facing Axford, who blew a save on Sunday against Chicago, Escobar took the first pitch for a ball, then hit his first home run of 2014.

"The kid likes to play, can play, he's a good player, can play anywhere," Gardenhire said. "It's a big moment. It's cool to see a big smile on his face and everyone else's when he hit that home run."

Axford knew he made a mistake, and on a night where the wind knocked down a lot of fly balls, Escobar still managed to make Axford pay for it.

"Bad pitch," Axford said. "It was just a fastball that I think cut back over the plate. A few pitches were cutting tonight. That was one of them."

Unfortunately for Kyle Gibson, Escobar's tater didn't arrive in time to reward his solid outing with a win.

Gibson went seven scoreless, walking three and allowing just two hits, setting the tone for Minnesota's shutout. The right-hander showed solid progress from his recent form. He had given up 12 earned runs in his two previous starts, but he was able to lock down the Indians lineup.

"This is probably the best I've felt all year," Gibson said. "I don't know I did too much different out there, just one of those nights they were hitting balls at guys and they were hitting fly balls. Thankfully the wind was blowing in, otherwise I'd have given up a couple doubles."

Normally living or dying by the ground ball, Gibson managed to dominate Cleveland's order despite recording the majority of his outs through the air.

"I think their approach, from what I saw, they were trying to get under the sinker quite a bit," Gibson said. "Some of those were sinkers that were not moving.

"I think 14 flyouts to six ground balls is a career high for me, being a ground-ball pitcher."

Gibson and Indians starter Zach McAllister both pitched deep into the game, with McAllister striking out eight and walking just one in 6 2/3 innings.

Neither pitcher factored into the decision, but both had their good stuff.

"Both starting pitchers really threw the ball very well," Gardenhire said. "Gibby for us was outstanding, used all of his pitches, moved it in and out.

"McAllister was pretty tough on us, too. That ball was moving all over the place on us. Great movement on the fastball, backdoor and the plate. He locked up a lot of hitters."

Gardenhire leaned on his lefties when it was time to pull Gibson.

Caleb Thielbar (2-0) pitched a scoreless inning of relief for the win, and Glen Perkins grabbed his eighth save. Along with Brian Duensing, each reliever threw an inning apiece to finish off the shutout.

Pitching ruled the night, but the Twins had their chances.

In the third inning, with two outs and runners on the corners, Kurt Suzuki flied out to right field, stranding a pair. Two innings later, McAllister got both Trevor Plouffe and Chris Colabello to watch strike three, leaving Sam Fuld standing on third.

Escobar missed his first chance to change the game in the seventh. But he was ready in the 10th, and he had the smile to prove it for the rest of the night.

Stephen Ellsesser is a contributor to

Minnesota Twins, Eduardo Escobar, Kyle Gibson