By Jon Krawczynski, AP Baseball Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- Danny Valencia and Chris Perez have known each other since they were 17-year-olds playing in high school in South Florida.
They lived together for two years at the University of Miami before going their separate ways in the big leagues and talked about one day facing each other at the highest level with the game on the line.
Give this round to Valencia.
Valencia hit a two-run single off Perez in the ninth inning, sending the Minnesota Twins to a 2-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night.
With a wide smile on his face, Valencia said the two buddies discussed this scenario "All the time, except I envisioned hitting a home run and he envisioned striking me out."
This way will have to do.
The Twins trailed 1-0 heading into the ninth and were in danger of falling eight games behind the Indians in the AL Central when Perez (2-5), the All-Star closer with 22 saves in 23 chances, took the mound.
But the right-hander was a little off from the start, walking Joe Mauer with one out and giving up a bloop that Michael Cuddyer stretched into a double. Jim Thome was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Valencia came to the plate for the long-awaited showdown.
Valencia was in Perez's wedding, and said he was waiting for a slider.
"I'm sure he wants to throw a slider because he's always said that's what he's going to strike me out with," Valencia said. "Luckily enough he couldn't get ahead and he gave me a pitch I could hit good enough to get to the outfield and it fell in there."
Valencia's blooper fell in front of left fielder Luis Valbuena, scoring Mauer and Cuddyer to give the Twins a much-needed victory. Valencia was mobbed in the outfield by his teammates, but Perez refused to give him too much credit after the game, the surest sign of friendship yet.
"You can't be too happy about that hit," Perez said. "He's happy because they won, but I'll take that swing every time. It just fell in there."
Glen Perkins (2-1) picked up the win in relief of Francisco Liriano, who gave up one run and four hits in six innings.
It was a huge emotional lift for Minnesota, which was swept in a day-night doubleheader to start the series on Monday, falling seven games behind the Indians.
"We needed this really bad, especially since we're so close to getting back into this thing," Valencia said. "Especially dropping two games yesterday, hopefully this will give us some momentum here on out."
The Twins were dominated for most of Tuesday's game by Justin Masterson, who allowed four hits and struck out six in 72/3 innings. With a fastball that hit 97 mph and a heavy sinker that routinely was clocked between 93 and 94, the right-hander with the big, looping delivery mowed through Minnesota's struggling lineup.
He retired 13 straight hitters before running into trouble in the seventh when Mauer reached on an error and Michael Cuddyer singled to put two on with nobody out. But the big righty fanned Thome and got Valencia to ground into an inning-ending double play to preserve the lead.
A scary moment happened in the fifth inning when a 91-mph fastball got away from Liriano and hit Travis Buck in the helmet. The ball smacked just above Buck's ear flap and ricocheted into the stands as a sellout crowd held its breath.
A dazed Buck sat down in the dirt, but was able to get up and walk off the field under his own power a few moments later.
"I hope he's OK," Liriano said.
The Indians announced that Buck left with a head contusion and said there were no immediate signs or symptoms of a concussion.
Looking a little rattled, Liriano gave up a single to Ezequiel Carrera to load the bases with nobody out. But he wiggled out of the jam, only allowing a sacrifice fly to Asdrubal Cabrera.
Perez's night didn't figure to get any easier when he left the ballpark. Perez planned to spend the night at Valencia's place in Minneapolis.
"I will be tweeting a picture of me and him," Valencia said. "We're just going to be watching the highlight over and over again."
Perez figured he at least deserved something out of the deal.
"He's buying dinner," Perez said.
NOTES: Luis Valbuena came in to run for Buck and stayed in the game in LF, just the second time in his career he's played in the OF. The other came on Aug. 19, 2010, at Kansas City. ... Twins RHP Scott Baker is scheduled to throw a bullpen on Wednesday. Baker is on the DL with an elbow strain.