Trevor Hoffman returned to help Milwaukee's patchwork pitching staff Sunday, and Axford squeaked through for his first save of the season in the Brewers' 4-3 victory.
Hoffman pitched a perfect eighth inning in his 1,000th career appearance, then watched Axford go through a harrowing ninth for his second career save to give the Brewers just their second win in 13 games.
"I haven't done that in a while," Hoffman said of watching the ninth.
Trailing 4-2, Orlando Hudson led off the ninth with a double. Axford kept his composure to strike out AL batting leader Justin Morneau and cleanup hitter Michael Cuddyer before Jason Kubel's single made it 4-3. Delmon Young followed with a single to put the tying run at third, and Axford walked pinch-hitter Jim Thome to load them up. Trevor Plouffe struck out to end it.
"I was excited," Axford said. "I wanted to get in there and get it over with and get us back home with a win."
Morneau had two hits, two walks and an RBI to raise his average to .383, but the Twins left 14 runners on base to miss the chance for a sweep.
"We just left too many men out there," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's just too many left on base."
Carl Pavano (4-5) gave up four runs on six hits in eight innings for the Twins.
Hoffman had not pitched in five games since blowing his fifth save in 10 chances against Cincinnati on May 18. Manager Ken Macha gave him the time off to try and figure things out, and Hoffman sure looked good on Sunday.
"He threw strikes, he was crisp, he was hitting the corners," Macha said. "It's encouraging."
Hoffman buckled Plouffe's knees with his trademark changeup to start the inning, then made a backhanded stab on a comebacker from pinch hitter Joe Mauer before getting Alexi Casilla to fly out weakly to third base to end the inning.
"It was more the deception of the pitch," Hoffman said of the difference Sunday. "I don't think it's ever as easy as putting your finger on one thing."
After Carlos Villanueva blew a one-run lead in the ninth, the Brewers pitching staff was in such disarray that they had to use Parra, who was previously scheduled to start on Sunday, in the 12-inning loss on Saturday night.
Parra (1-3) pitched two scoreless innings for the win Sunday, though, and the Brewers also got strong performances from emergency starter Marco Estrada and left-hander Zach Braddock, who pitched two scoreless innings in his major league debut.
The Brewers got homers from Prince Fielder and Corey Hart, whose two-run shot traveled an estimated 440 feet to reach the first row in the third deck of left field.
The Twins certainly made life easier on the Brew Crew's beleaguered pitchers by letting them off the hook time and again. They had runners on second and third and no outs in the fifth when Kubel struck out. Delmon Young was intentionally walked to load the bases before Brendan Harris struck out looking and Plouffe ended the inning with a fielder's choice.
Cuddyer struck out with runners on second and third in the sixth and the Twins left the tying run on third base to end the game.
"When you've got bases loaded, I think we're worried about getting all three guys in at once," said Morneau, whose team is hitting .169 in those situations. "Do it one at a time instead of trying to get the big hit. I think sometimes we're trying to do too much instead of just keeping it simple."
Fielder got plunked twice in the game, once on a pitch by Pavano and once by Hudson, who made a leaping catch in the fourth and hit Fielder in the back while trying to double him up at 1B. ... Twins SS J.J. Hardy took some swings and said his injured wrist is still a little sore, but he's optimistic he will be able to come off the disabled list and play against the Yankees on Tuesday night. ... Twins 3B Nick Punto had an injection in the ring finger on his right hand to alleviate some discomfort. He hoped to be ready for Tuesday.