MINNEAPOLIS -- Clay Buchholz and the bullpen were still less than sure things Wednesday night, when the Red Sox completed a three-game sweep of the Twins with a 7-6 victory at Target Field.
"Three wins is always big," said Mike Aviles, who homered for a second straight game.
For all the trouble the Sox (7-10) have had, they have an outside chance to come back to Fenway Park with a winning record following a four-game series vs. the White Sox that starts in Chicago on Thursday.
Alfredo Aceves recorded his fourth save in six chances during a rocky ninth inning after Boston saw a six-run lead shrink to one in the sixth. The Twins loaded the bases with two outs when Aceves hit Alexi Casilla, but Denard Span struck out on four pitches, the last an 80-mph changeup on the outside corner that Span waved at.
"They were aggressive swinging, so we were trying to throw some strikes, but mix it up with some sliders and curveballs and stuff," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "They were able to put it in play. [Matt] Albers came in and shut that [sixth] inning down. [Vicente] Padilla came in and did a great job. Ace ... came in and closed it."
Padilla and Morales pitched a perfect seventh and eighth inning, respectively, although Franklin Morales provided a scare when Justin Morneau flied out deep to center for the final out of the eighth. Manager Bobby Valentine purposely saved Padilla and Morales for the seventh and eighth, perhaps a hint of how he'd like his bullpen to shake out for the immediate future.
But the plan to use the Padilla-Morales-Aceves trio that way made for a perilous sixth inning, a frame that provided a reminder of the bullpen's meltdown against the Yankees on Saturday.
"The way it worked out, I thought we'd have more than a one-run lead," Valentine said. "And the one run was enough. They did their seventh, eighth and ninth the way we needed them, too. It's a great performance by them."
Clay Buchholz improved to 2-1 on the season, but once again, he did not seem to be the Buchholz of old. The right-hander worked around trouble nearly every inning, and Buchholz was gassed once he exited with the Sox leading 7-2 in the sixth.
Buchholz's 5 1/3 innings included 10 hits, five runs, three walks and two strikeouts on 107 pitches, 69 of which were strikes. His ERA in four starts is 8.87, and while his changeup was sparingly used Wednesday, his curveball and cutter were sharp.
"I felt like I had a really good cutter today," Buchholz said. "My cutter had more depth to it. With this team, there's a lot of guys that their swing paths are in the zone a long time, and it's not the right pitch to throw to a hitter like that. You need more depth to a pitch. That's why I went with a cutter-curveball and mixing it up. I probably only threw five changeups today. That's a rarity for me. I have five more days and get back at it."
When Buchholz was pulled in the sixth, the Twins had the bases loaded, one out and a five-run deficit. Joe Mauer, Morneau and Chris Parmelee, all left-handed batters, were coming up. Valentine brought in right-hander Scott Atchison to face Mauer, who this year has fared better against left-handers than righties. Atchison, who tossed two perfect innings Tuesday, gave up a two-run single to cut Boston's lead to 7-4.
Southpaw Justin Thomas entered to face Morneau with the tying run in the on-deck circle and gave up a first-pitch double, making it 7-5. Four pitches later, Thomas hit Parmelee in the helmet, loading the bases. Parmelee was down briefly, but he left under his own power and will be reevaluated Thursday.
"You never want to see that happen to anybody," said Thomas. "I sent a message over that hopefully he's doing all right and doesn't miss any time."
With the go-ahead run on first, Albers entered and gave up a first-pitch RBI single to Trevor Plouffe, cutting the lead to 7-6. The right-hander finally put out Minnesota's rally by getting Sean Burroughs to hit into an inning-ending double play. After Buchholz recorded the first out of the inning, neither he nor the first two relievers who followed recorded an out.
"We got a win," Valentine said. "It's what it's all about at the end."
Overshadowed in the victory was Dustin Pedroia's cycle bid, which included a double, single and triple during his first three at-bats. He hit into a double play in the seventh.
Aviles roped a three-run homer as part of Boston's four-run second inning. The Sox scored two more runs in the third and one in the fifth.
Minnesota right-hander Liam Hendriks, whom Valentine did not realize was a right-hander until he had already posted the usual lineup for left-handers, was charged with all seven Sox runs in four-plus innings.
Before grounding out in the first inning, Adrian Gonzalez helped wear down Hendriks with a 15-pitch at-bat.
"I think it really helped, 13 pitches, 15 pitches?" Valentine said. "I lost count after a while."