MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was blunt with the media on Wednesday, describing Aaron Hicks' early-season struggles after the two had a meeting on Tuesday to discuss Hicks being more prepared at the plate.
Hicks has been off to another slow start offensively this season after also struggling as a rookie last year, and Twins management openly questioned his ability to properly prepare for his at-bats.
But Hicks delivered in a big way on Thursday, as after closer Glen Perkins blew a two-run lead in the ninth, he connected on a walk-off RBI single with two outs in the 10th to give the Twins a 4-3 win over the Red Sox at Target Field.
The walk-off single, which scored Kurt Suzuki after he doubled with one out, was the biggest hit of the season for Hicks, who is still batting just .170, but took the words from Tuesday's meeting with Gardenhire to heart.
"He's working hard and it's all we asked, but it was a big hit for him and for our baseball team," Gardenhire said. "The ninth inning there, Perk is usually automatic, but that's a good team over there and they don't stop playing and tied the game up. But Suzuki came up with a big double and he comes up with a big base hit for us. It was perfect. Very exciting for him and our baseball team."
Suzuki started the rally in the 10th against reliever Andrew Miller with a one-out double before Hicks came to the plate with two outs. On a 3-2 fastball, Hicks dropped a single into left field to score Suzuki and hand the Twins their second walk-off victory in three days, with Miller taking the loss both times.
"Once I got to 3-2, I was just trying to battle," Hicks said. "I was lucky that I was jammed just enough to get the ball down and we scored the run."
Hicks added that Gardenhire's message to him was well received, and that he's going to make it a point to study more video and learn more about each pitcher's tendencies in certain situations. He said he was looking fastball on the 3-2 pitch from Miller and was able to do just enough to drop it in for the game-winner.
"It definitely feels good, especially it being my first one up here," said Hicks, who added that his last walk-off hit came in high school. "And it also feels good to win two out of three games against this team."
It came after Perkins entered the ninth with a two-run lead, but gave up a two-run single to Will Middlebrooks with two outs and the bases loaded to blow just his second save in 12 chances.
It spoiled another strong outing from right-hander Phil Hughes, who turned in his fifth straight quality start, but was saddled with a no-decision. The right-hander gave up one run on five hits while striking out a season-high eight batters. He also didn't issue a walk, and has walked just one batter over his last five starts in which he's 4-0 with a 1.94 ERA over his last five outings with 23 strikeouts over 32 1/3 innings.
"I was going right after them," said Hughes, who is 4-1 with a 3.61 ERA in eight starts on the year. "That's my gameplan and it'll continue to be. I've been using my fastball to get some flyouts and some strikeouts. So I've just been aggressive."
The lone run Hughes allowed came in the fourth inning, when Xander Bogaerts led off with a single and scored on a two-out infield single from Mike Carp.
Hughes ran into trouble in the fifth, allowing a two-out double to Dustin Pedroia, but was able to retire Bogaerts in a 14-pitch at-bat with a fly ball to center field to end the inning. But the at-bat added heavily to Hughes' pitch count, as he finished the afternoon at 97 pitches.
"That was tough," Hughes said. "I was drained after that."
Hughes outpitched Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz, who surrendered three runs on 10 hits and three walks over six innings.
"I'll tell you what, for the first six innings, that's as good as Phil Hughes has thrown the ball against us," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "He only threw a couple of curveballs in the 90-plus pitches he threw. He was very good at the top of the strike zone, as evident by the number of balls we hit in the air. He pitches more comfortably here it seems."
All three runs against Buchholz came in the third inning. Chris Parmelee brought home the first two with his second homer of the season, and his second of the series after his walk-off homer in Tuesday's series opener. Hicks followed with a walk and Eduardo Escobar singled before Brian Dozier plated Hicks with a sacrifice fly to right field.
The Twins had several chances to add to their lead but had trouble with runners in scoring position, going 0-for-6 in those situations before Hicks' hit in the 10th. The win gave the Twins back-to-back series wins over the Tigers and Red Sox and helped them improve to 6-0 in series-deciding games this season.