Red Sox-Twins Preview

The Associated Press

It's been a long time since the Boston Red Sox swept a series.

The Minnesota Twins can relate.

The Red Sox go for their first sweep in nine months and their first in Minnesota in nearly 12 years Wednesday night when they conclude their three-game series against the Twins.

Always fickle, Red Sox Nation appeared to be in crisis mode after the Red Sox (6-10) dropped the final five games of their first homestand, culminating in Saturday's blown nine-run lead en route to a 15-9 loss to the New York Yankees. However, Boston has gotten well in its first two games at Target Field, rallying to beat the Twins 6-5 in Monday's series opener before cruising to an 11-2 win Tuesday night.

With another victory Wednesday, Boston will achieve its first series sweep since July 22-24, when it took three home games from Seattle. The only longer such drought among AL clubs belongs to the Twins (5-13), who won three straight against San Diego from June 17-19.

The Red Sox haven't swept a series in Minnesota since July 3-6, 2000, when they won four in a row at the Metrodome. One of the few bright spots for the Twins in that series was a 24-year-old David Ortiz, who went 5 for 8 with two homers, two doubles and nine RBIs against the club he'd later help win two World Series.

The only player from that series in this week's set, Ortiz is now tormenting his original club and helping revitalize the Red Sox. He has two hits in each of the first two games of this series, including a two-run homer Tuesday that traveled an estimated 429 feet.

Boston's designated hitter is riding a streak of four consecutive multihit games, going 10 for 16 in that span to raise his season average to an AL-leading .444. His 28 hits are a career high for April.

"I didn't learn how to hit yesterday,'' Ortiz said. "I've been doing this for years. Just taking what they give you."

Ortiz has merely been the biggest bat in a Boston lineup averaging 8.7 runs over its last three games, batting .395 with six homers and 13 doubles in those contests.

The Red Sox may need another big offensive showing Wednesday if Clay Buchholz (1-1, 9.00 ERA) can't shake his early season struggles. The right-hander has looked rusty in his first three outings after missing more than half of last season with a lower back strain. He's given up at least five runs in each start, and surrendered five homers in six innings of Friday's 6-2 loss to the Yankees.

"He's still building,'' Boston manager Bobby Valentine said. "He's still getting his feet underneath him.''

Twins first baseman Justin Morneau is 4 for 8 off Buchholz, while catcher Joe Mauer is 2 for 4 with a double and two walks.

Minnesota starter Liam Hendricks (0-0, 3.86) is set to face Boston for the first time. The 23-year-old right-hander, still seeking his first win entering his seventh career start, allowed four runs and five hits - two homers - over 5 2-3 innings Friday at Tampa Bay. Minnesota rallied for a 5-4 victory in that contest, but has not won since.

The Twins have dropped four in a row for the second time this month, matching their 0-4 start. The starting rotation has been a problem, compiling a 6.73 ERA on the season and lasting through the sixth inning only twice in the last eight games. Nick Blackburn yielded five runs in three innings Tuesday.

"We have to get them straightened out,'' Gardenhire said of his starters. "We can't go out and buy people. We've got to make this work. You understand? I can't rub a bottle to make somebody pop out. We have to make these guys work.

"Confidence level? I have a lot of confidence in these guys. But they have to get it done in the field. It doesn't matter what I say in here.''

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