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Red Sox 6, Twins 5

Save situation

Sox snap losing streak on Ross homer in ninth

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / April 24, 2012
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MINNEAPOLIS - The Red Sox were only two outs away from a victory they desperately needed Monday night. Cody Ross had hit two home runs, a two-run upper-deck blast in the seventh to tie the game and a solo shot in the ninth to give the Sox a lead.

But the Minnesota Twins had a runner on first base against Alfredo Aceves, who already has blown two saves this season.

Trevor Plouffe took a big swing at a high fastball and sent it soaring toward the bleacher seats in left field.

“My heart stopped,’’ Aceves said. “I thought it was out.’’

So did the crowd of 32,351 at Target Field, their screams the background music for what looked like a walk-off victory.

Even NESN announcer Don Orsillo believed it was a home run, his voice rising in anticipation.

But the ball was more high than it was far and was caught by Ross shy of the warning track.

Sox manager Bobby Valentine called time and gathered his infielders at the mound.

“Are you trying to give me a heart attack?’’ he asked Aceves.

Everybody laughed. A few minutes later, Aceves grabbed a ground ball back to the mound and the Red Sox had a 6-5 triumph.

Daniel Bard (1-2) was the winner, coming out of the bullpen with a runner on third base and getting two crucial outs.

It was the first relief appearance of the season for Bard, whose start was skipped when the Red Sox were rained out on Sunday. But it was not an unfamiliar situation for the former set-up man.

With Jamey Carroll on third base, Josh Willingham lined to Kevin Youkilis at third as Carroll dove back to the bag. The dangerous Justin Morneau was next and Valentine had him intentionally walked to get to Ryan Doumit, who never before had faced Bard.

Doumit swung at the first pitch and popped to shortstop.

“Same deal, just trying to get outs,’’ said Bard, whose stay in the bullpen appears to be temporary as he is scheduled to start on Friday.

Bard threw only 11 pitches, so Valentine could have kept him in for the ninth inning. But he went to Aceves, knowing that ignoring his closer would be a blow to his confidence.

“I had a guy down there who’s going to have to save a lot of games for us,’’ Valentine said. “I thought Daniel did his job and I wanted Alfredo to do his.’’

The Red Sox ended a five-game losing streak. At 5-10, they have the same record they did after 15 games last season.

It was then that the 2011 Red Sox took off. The schedule this season bodes well for that. Monday’s game was the first in a stretch of 22 in a row the Sox will play against teams that finished under .500 last season.

“You need all wins but this is another good team-builder,’’ said Valentine. “Rather than looking for things that went well in spite of the outcome, we can build on things that well because of the outcome.’’

Ross has five homers and 13 RBIs, leading the team in both categories. His first was a standard Ross blast pulled to left. But the game-winner was his first to the opposite field since Sept. 26, 2010. It came when Matt Capps left a low fastball over the plate.

“I was looking for a pitch out over the plate that I could drive the other way,’’ Ross said. “I’ve faced Capps quite a bit and he comes right at you. He doesn’t give in. I fortunately got it up in the air.’’

Sox starter Jon Lester was 1-3 with a 4.71 earned run average in seven career appearances against the Twins. He also had not pitched well at Target Field, allowing eight earned runs over 12 1/3 innings in two starts.

That trend continued as Lester gave up five runs over seven innings.

He sailed through the first three innings, facing 10 batters and striking out three. But with a 3-0 lead, Lester unraveled in the fourth.

Joe Mauer singled with one hit, slapping a 1-and-2 pitch into left field. Lester then walked Willingham on five pitches.

Lester struck out Morneau before getting ahead of Doumit 0-and-2. But a hanging curveball was lined into the left field corner for a two-run double.

Lester also got ahead of Danny Valencia. But his 1-and-2 fastball was high and over the plate and Valencia sent into the Minnesota bullpen and it was 4-3 Twins.

It was the 27th home run of the season allowed by Sox pitchers, the most in the majors.

Lester’s apparent lack of focus hurt him again in the fifth inning. He had Plouffe 0-and-2 and walked him on four straight pitches. None were close.

Denard Span followed with a single up the middle that moved Plouffe to third. Carroll grounded into a double play but Plouffe scored and the Twins led, 5-3.

Lester recovered and retired the final seven batters he faced.

“I told myself to go as deep as I can, to eat innings and give these guys a chance to swing the bat,’’ Lester said. “They bailed me out.’’

The Red Sox had not faced Twins starter Jason Marquis since Game 4 of the 2004 World Series. The righthander gave up three runs in that game and took the loss. He gave up five runs Monday.

Mike Aviles started the game with a single, took third on a single by Dustin Pedroia, and scored on a sac fly by Adrian Gonzalez.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia drove a two-run homer into the overhanging seats above the wall in right field in the second inning. After starting the season 3 for 30, it was his fifth consecutive hit.

Afterward, as music finally played again after a game, David Ortiz was smiling.

“We’ll take anything right now,’’ he said. “The whole team needed that one.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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