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Twins inch closer to .500

by Josh Newman
In a week full of ups and downs, lefts and rights, and could-of-beens and should-have-beens, the Twins, if nothing else, moved closer to the winning side of the table.

Wednesday afternoon, the Twins had to play a doubleheader with the Boston Red Sox due to a wet and sloshy Tuesday evening. Doubleheader, one game each day, it mattered not. Whatever the Twins put onto the field was not enough as the older, more experienced Red Sox made short work of Minnesota in both games.

In Game 1, the Twins had to face Tim Wakefield. Looking for career win No. 180, the veteran allowed just one run on five hits in seven innings to keep the Twins’ bats quiet. In the meantime, Twins starter Scott Baker was hit hard, giving up six runs on 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings as Boston cruised to an easy 10-1 romp.

Despite being called off after seven innings due to rain, it was enough to call it a decisive loss for Minnesota. The Red Sox jumped out to an early 6-0 lead on a trio of two-run homers by Kevin Youkilis, Nick Green, and Mike Lowell.

The rain delay occurred with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning, but not before the Red Sox pushed four runs across the plate. All runs were charged to Juan Morillo, who faced four batters and failed to record one out.

The loss dropped Baker to 0-2. He has now given up 15 hits and 12 earned runs over 8 2/3 innings over his two starts.

In the nightcap, Minnesota was able to muster a little bit more offense. A homer by Justin Morneau was not enough to get starter Francisco Liriano out of a hole as the Red Sox completed the sweep with a 7-3 victory.

It was the seventh consecutive victory for Boston, who stood at 9-6 and in second place in the East following the victory.

The early hole was made possible by Liriano’s poor pitch placement. He allowed a three-run homer to Jeff Bailey in the second inning, followed by a two-run double to David Ortiz in the third inning.

Minnesota’s inability to hit with runners on base plagued them as well: the team hit into three double plays on the night and squandered numerous opportunities to put runs on the board.

A three-game series against division rival Cleveland was apparently just what the doctor ordered for the young and the struggling. While it was not quite a sweep, taking two out of three at Progressive Field was not too shabby.

Except for the series finale, it was the best baseball the team played all season. In the opener, the Twins combined a tireless effort by Nick Blackburn with Morneau’s fourth homer of the season and rode it to an easy 5-1 victory.

It was the first time this season Minnesota had not trailed in a game. Blackburn, whose mastery of the Indians has led to a 4-0 record and a 1.63 ERA against the Tribe, picked up his first win of the season. In doing so, he allowed a single run on six hits in seven strong innings.

Follow with Game 2, and it is now two games in which the Twins have not trailed. In fact, they seemed to have so much fun scoring runs in the series opener that they decided to try it again. Not only that, but starter and apparent ace Kevin Slowey tossed another gem for this third win of the season as the Twins cruised 7-1.

Kubel also slammed his third and fourth home runs of the season. His first put the Twins up 4-0 when he slammed a solo shot into the bleachers in the fifth inning. His second came in the ninth, and was followed immediately by an insurance home run by third baseman Joe Crede.

Gardenhire gave Slowey (3-0) a shot at his third career complete game when he sent him back out for the ninth. Three batters later and no outs recorded paved his way to the exit, but not before striking out seven and walking but not one batter for the second time this season. The righthander now has walked only two batters in 26.1 innings and has a staggering 9.5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Luis Ayala came in and got the Twins out of the jam.

With a chance to sweep a series from the Tribe for the first time in two decades, the Twins sent lefthander Glen Perkins to the hill. But the Indians sent him back almost as quickly as they built an early lead and never looked back to avert the sweep with a 4-2 victory in Perkins’ shortest outing of the season.

After falling behind early 4-0, Minnesota put on a rally of sorts in the seventh inning when they loaded the bases with one out. Denard Span got the call of duty as a pinch hitter for Carlos Gomez, and he answered with a single to center, scoring a pair of runs and cutting the deficit in half. But after Brendan Harris drew a walk, Morneau and Kubel were double downed by Cleveland rookie Tony Sipp.

The Indians called on new closer Kerry Wood, and the veteran thwarted a final rally attempt by Minnesota to help his club salvage the final outing of the series.
This week, the Twins entertain the Tampa Bay Rays for three games beginning Wednesday, effectively ending their April trek. They then close the week with an important three-game series against division foe Kansas City with a good opportunity to gain some ground.

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