Joe Mauer hit a three-run, inside-the-park homer in the eighth inning to lift the Minnesota Twins to a 5-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night.
With the score tied and runners on the corners with one out, Mauer drove a 3-2 pitch from Scot Shields over the head of center fielder Gary Matthews Jr., who tried desperately to make a circus catch but slammed into the left-center wall.
The ball squirted away and Matthews crumpled to the warning track. He watched helplessly while Mauer streaked around the bases as the crowd of 33,868 shrieked in delight. Left fielder Garret Anderson came over to retrieve the ball, but it was way too late. Mauer scored standing up without a throw home.
It was the first inside-the-park home run for a Twins player since Torii Hunter did it at Oakland on July 26, 2001. The previous major league catcher to hit an inside-the-park shot was Kelly Stinnett with Arizona in 2005, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Hunter and Jason Bartlett also homered for the Twins, who are trying to stay within striking distance in the AL Central race.
Pat Neshek (5-1) got one out for the win after a strong start by Boof Bonser. Joe Nathan pitched the ninth for his 20th save in 22 tries.
It was another rough outing for Shields (2-3), who gave up three runs, three hits and one walk. He managed only one out after the Angels rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie the score in the eighth.
One of the best setup men in baseball, Shields failed to protect a lead on Sunday, when he allowed two runs and three hits in a 5-4 loss to Texas.
His latest misstep cost the Angels a chance to extend their slim AL West lead over the hard-charging Seattle Mariners.
The Angels led the Mariners by eight games just 20 games ago, a lead that has shrunk to just one.
Chone Figgins had two hits, including an RBI triple in the eighth that cut Minnesota's lead to 2-1 and chased Bonser.
Neshek took over and Orlando Cabrera hit a soft single to left to tie the game, just the fifth of 33 inherited runners Neshek has allowed to score this season.
But the Twins came right back in the bottom of the eighth, a rally for their second consecutive victory after a demoralizing three-game sweep at the hands of the Tigers.
Bonser and Jered Weaver pitched to a virtual draw to start the game. Bonser allowed two runs and five hits in a career-best 7 2-3 innings for the Twins. Weaver gave up two runs and five hits in seven innings for the Angels.
Notes:@ Matthews made an outstanding, twisting catch to rob Mauer of an extra-base hit in the fourth. ... Minnesota's Jason Kubel reached base in seven straight plate appearances before grounding out to the pitcher in his first at-bat in the second inning. ... A rare sight: Hunter, one of the best CFs in the game, lost a ball off the bat of Anderson against the white Metrodome roof in the fourth that fell in for a double.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)