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OAK@MIN: Willingham wins it with a three-run shot

MINNEAPOLIS -- For 8 2/3 innings, Minnesota couldn't find a timely hit. But Josh Willingham finally provided the biggest hit of all in the ninth inning.

Willingham crushed a Brian Fuentes pitch to left-center field for a walk-off, three-run homer as the Twins defeated the A's, 3-2, in front of 31,781 at Target Field.

The win is the Twins' first this season to come in walk-off fashion. They were previously 0-29 when trailing after eight innings.

Though it was Willingham's fifth-career walk-off home run, he said he doesn't approach the at-bat trying to hit the ball out.

"I go up there to have a good at-bat and try to hit the ball hard somewhere," Willingham said. "I've tried to hit home runs before and it doesn't work out. I was trying to keep it simple and get a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it and that's what happened."

Fuentes simply missed his spot with the 91-mph fastbsll.

"It's not where I'm trying to put it," Fuentes said. "Just up and down the middle."

Oakland appeared to have sealed a victory in the seventh. Brian Duensing surrendered an RBI single to Collin Cowgill with two outs, breaking a scoreless tie. Oakland tacked on an extra run in the eighth on Coco Crisp's RBI single.

But the A's lost their seventh consecutive game in heartbreaking fashion, while the Twins celebrated an unlikely victory. The Twins put runners at first and second with nobody out in the ninth before making two outs, but still walked off with the win on Willingham's homer.

Jamey Carroll sparked the Twins' ninth-inning rally by leading off with a single before Denard Span walked. Willingham came up after Ben Revere popped out on a bunt attempt and Joe Mauer grounded into a fielder's choice.

Cole De Vries struggled to find the strike zone in his second career start for the Twins. The Eden Prairie native didn't allow a run and only gave up two hits in five innings. But he walked five, repeatedly pitching himself into trouble.

The 27-year-old said he had to calm his nerves throughout the game, as multiple family members and friends looked on from the stands.

"I did a good job getting myself out of jams today," De Vries said. "But you can get burned in those situations. So you try to limit those for the next start."

De Vries faced his most perilous situation in the third, when he walked the bases loaded. He eventually put an end to the 36-pitch inning by getting a groundout from Seth Smith.

Brandon Inge got Oakland's first hit against De Vries with a single to lead off the fourth. De Vries retired the next two batters before Crisp lined a double down the line past Justin Morneau at first. But De Vries again squirmed his way out of trouble, retiring Cliff Pennington via groundout to end the threat.

De Vries found his easiest inning in the fifth, retiring the side in order. But with his pitch count at 92, Jeff Manship came on to start the sixth.

No one was more concerned over De Vries' lack of strikes than Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. The skipper said he was "baffled" by how his club didn't allow more runs.

"I was just wanting him to throw the ball over the plate and I think Cole knows that," Gardenhire said. "He's trying to be too careful. He's got to attack the strike zone -- that's what he did in the Minor Leagues. That's why we brought him up here.

"He did some damage control, but he's still got to attack the strike zone."

After being swept by Detroit over the weekend, Minnesota will look to obtain a sweep of its own against Oakland on Wednesday. Coming off of back-to-back come-from-behind wins, the Twins should have plenty of confidence.

"We weren't able to do a lot offensively," Willingham said. "We had some chances early but didn't get any big hits. So any time you can come back late like that is great. These are the kind of wins that can kind of springboard you a little bit. So hopefully that will happen."

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