MINNEAPOLIS -- After watching his team get swept coming out of the All-Star break, Minnesota Twins left fielder Josh Willingham made sure the Twins' second post-break series got off on the right foot. Willingham's solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning lifted the Twins to a 4-3 win over the Cleveland Indians on Monday at Target Field.
"We needed it," Willingham said. "Coming out of the All-Star break losing three in a row, you don't feel good about yourself. We needed a big win."
Minnesota had as many hits with runners in scoring position Monday (two) as it did in all three losing games against the Tampa Bay Rays over the weekend.
The Twins scored three early runs to take a 3-1 lead. But with the game tied at 3-3 with one out in the bottom of the eighth, Willingham decided to score one the fast way, hammering a 3-2 hanging slider from Indians reliever Bryan Shaw just over the wall in left field for his ninth homer of the season.
"[With the count] 3-2, I'm just looking to get on base somehow," Willingham said. "Really, you're just battling. I wasn't looking for a slider, just for something out over the plate. I recognized it and got the barrel on it."
Shaw said he was trying to throw Willingham something soft because he had caught up to his fastball earlier in the at-bat, fouling it off.
"Not where I wanted to put it," Shaw said. "Tried to flip a slider in there, he had bounced a couple of those earlier in the at-bat. I wanted to get it down and away and just left it middle."
The late heroics from Willingham picked up Twins right-hander Casey Fien, who earned his fifth win despite allowing the tying run to score in the top half of the eighth.
With Cleveland trailing 3-2, a one-out double by Indians pinch hitter Michael Brantley gave them life. Brantley moved to third on a groundout to first and scored the tying run on a single to right by catcher Roberto Perez.
The run spoiled the pitching effort of Twins lefty Kris Johnson, who was in line for the victory after tossing five innings of two-run ball, allowing five hits and three walks while striking out four. The win would have been Johnson's first in the big leagues.
"It always creeps in your mind, but it's the end results," Johnson said. "It's the Twins got a victory that counts. Maybe it'll come later, maybe not. You never know. It's the Twins' victory that counts most."
It also got Indians southpaw T.J. House off the hook. He pitched five innings as well, allowing three runs on six hits and three walks. The loss for Shaw dropped him to 4-2.
"I thought [House's] two-seamer was a little flatter than normal," said Indians manager Terry Francona. "He threw a lot of strikes, but not the quality strikes we've seen. There was a lot of contact. Fortunately, we executed a couple of plays to throw out guys and keep them off the bases."
Minnesota led most of the night, getting back-to-back singles to start the second inning by first baseman Kendrys Morales and Willingham set up catcher Kurt Suzuki, who slapped a double to the gap in right-center field, scoring both runners and giving the Twins an early 2-0 lead.
The Indians got one run back in the top of the third. Center fielder Mike Aviles came around to score on a single to right by pinch hitter Chris Dickerson, who entered the game for Asdrubal Cabrera. The Cleveland shortstop departed in the third inning due to lower back spasms and is day-to-day.
"It's going to depend a lot on how he feels when he wakes up tomorrow," Francona said.
Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe made it a two-run game in the bottom of the third, driving in center fielder Danny Santana with a double to the left-center-field gap.
Cleveland pulled back within one in the fifth, as a two-out walk followed by a double from designated hitter Yan Gomes into the left-field corner made it 3-2. The Indians stranded runners on the corners when left fielder Ryan Raburn flied out to right to end the inning.
NOTES: Twins 1B Joe Mauer continued to progress in his rehab of a strained oblique, taking grounders and throwing before the game. Mauer has been on the 15-day disabled list since July 2. ... Indians RHP Justin Masterson will join Cleveland in Minnesota this week before returning to Triple-A Columbus for another rehab start on Friday. Masterson is on the 15-day disabled list with a knee injury. ... Indians 2B Jason Kipnis was named the American League's Player of the Week. Kipnis hit .333 with two homers, six RBIs, four walks and three runs scored over the weekend in four games at Detroit. It was the third time Kipnis has won the award and the second Indian to do it this season.