Boof saves his best for hometown

TWINS 2, RAYS 1: The ex-Gibbs star makes a case to keep his job in the midst of his club's playoff pursuit.

Published September 5, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Boof Bonser didn't have a bit of trouble sleeping Sunday night. The St. Petersburg native didn't concern himself with the friends, relatives and former Gibbs High teammates seeking tickets for Monday's game. He didn't get distracted by the fans waving signs with his name or screaming "BOOF!" starting with his first warmup toss in the bullpen.

Coming home to pitch against the Devil Rays at Tropicana Field for the first time was special.

But pitching well - to keep his spot in the Minnesota rotation and keep the Twins in the middle of the AL wild-card race with a 2-1 victory - was even better.

"It was nice to finally pitch in front of the home crowd," Bonser said. "Don't get me wrong, I thought about it, but I had to approach this one like any other game. I'm just trying to keep my job up here. I've got a lot of other things to worry about besides coming home."

Bonser, 24, couldn't have done much better, holding the Rays to one run - a Dioner Navarro homer in the fifth - and five hits while pitching into the seventh as the Twins moved a half-game ahead of the White Sox in the wild-card race.

He got some help, too. Centerfielder Torii Hunter made his weekly spectacular, gravity- defying catch to rob Kevin Witt of at least extra bases if not a tying homer; Rondell White hit what might have been the only pitch Rays starter Tim Corcoran didn't get where he wanted it for a two-run homer in the seventh; and the Minnesota bullpen did its usual tidy work.

The Twins have been the best team in the majors since June 8, playing 78 games and winning 54, one fewer than the Rays have all season.

And as many things as manager Joe Maddon liked Monday - Corcoran's seven-inning start, Shawn Camp's relief work, Navarro's home run - he said his Rays (55-83) could learn something by watching the Twins, who have beaten the Rays 13 straight times since June 2004.

"They're a bunch of grinders over there," Maddon said. "They come to play every day. You've got to have your A game out. If you don't, they're going to just trample all over you. If you don't pay attention, they will do that also. I've been around them for a while, and I get them. I've been a big admirer of Twins baseball for many years."

The Twins went ahead 2-1 when White reached for a 1-and-2 curveball and - with a swing Maddon called "a one-hand Fred" - knocked it over the leftfield fence, extending Corcoran's months-long streak of winless starts to 10, despite an ERA that is down to 3.84.

Witt opened the eighth with a drive to center that could have been at least a rally-starting double, but Hunter raced back, soared up and came down with the ball.

"It seems like every time you turn on ESPN, he's doing it," Witt said.

Relievers Jesse Crain, Dennys Reyes and Joe Nathan took it from there as the Twins improved to 59-1 when leading after seven innings (and 67-0 after eight).

The Twins were pleased not only with what Bonser did, but how he handled himself.

"You never know what's going to happen coming home pitching in front of a lot of friends," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I saw Boof signs everywhere. He was getting booed when he went out there and then I (realized) it was BOOF! I knew there were people here, but I just think the way he's throwing the baseball, he's past that kind of stuff."

With his former Gibbs teammates in a suite, the grandparents who raised him behind home plate and dozens of friends scattered throughout the stands, Bonser seemed very much at home.

He had attended a few Rays games growing up, thinking he might one day be on the field, but he refused to get caught up in the emotion.

"I heard all kinds of people. They were hollering at me when I was in the bullpen warming up," he said. "It was pretty wild, but I'm home so I've got to expect that."

Bonser (4-5, 4.83) didn't make too much of the victory, saying he would probably spend the night with his family, watching the FSU-Miami football game "like the rest of Florida."

But his grandfather, Richard Bonser, acknowledged how special it really was.

"I've been to so many of his games, but this was the top," he said. "This was awesome. This makes all of those years, all the work he did, worth it."

Times columnist John Romano contributed to this report.