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Twins rebound from rough beginning

by Josh Newman
At the end of last week, the Minnesota Twins displayed a quality common in many contenders: resiliency.

After dropping three of four against Toronto, the Twins closed out the week with a three-game sweep of the Anaheim Angels to boost their record to 7-7.

The seven-game home stand began with something that has plagued the Twins off and on during this young season: the absence of pitching. Despite eight of its nine starters getting hits, the defense was unable to stop Toronto’s potent attack. The Blue Jays smacked 19 hits – including three homers - and left fielder Travis Snider belted a two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning. The shot broke a 6-6 tie and capped a rally that resulted in an 8-6 victory for Toronto.

Twins starter Kevin Slowey, thought by many to be one of the strengths of the starting pitching staff, had another rough outing in giving up five earned runs on 13 hits in 5.1 innings of work.

Game 2 was slightly different. Lefthander Glen Perkins tossed eight solid innings, scattering seven hits and two earned runs, but Minnesota found itself in a dogfight at the time.

As the stars came out and the time passed, it was the 11th inning and the teams were tied at 2. With two out and a runner on first, Joe Crede stepped to the plate facing reliever Jesse Carlson. He drilled a double to right-center field to score Justin Morneau from first base, allowing the Twins to snap a 10-game losing skid to Toronto.

But Minnesota’s joy was short-lived. The Blue Jays returned to normal form over the final two games of the series. Wednesday, the Twins took an early two-run lead but could not hold on. Scoring runs in all but three innings and outhitting the Twins 16-4 and smacking four home runs, the Jays cruised to an easy 12-2 victory.

Thursday, the Twins got six strong innings from Francisco Liriano, who left with his team trailing 2-1. He was replaced by reliever Matt Guerrier, who was victimized for four runs – all earned – in 0.2 innings, and the Blue Jays pushed three more runs across the plate in the inning to cap the rally. Meanwhile, Toronto starter Roy Halladay allowed one run on eight hits on seven innings. More impressive was his no walks and eight strikeouts, as the Jays rallied to beat the Twins 9-2.

Minnesota has now lost 12 of its last 13 games against the Blue Jays dating back to July 23, 2007.

Friday, the Twins got set to entertain Anaheim for a three-game series. The Angels came into town with a 4-5 record and the second-worst offense behind Kansas City. After the first game – an 11-9 win for the Twins – Minnesota finally settled down defensively and shut down Anaheim’s offense. In the opener, Jason Kubel offset his team’s pitching woes nearly all by himself. It wasn’t enough that he hit for the cycle – becoming the ninth player in Twins history to do so – he also hit a round-tripper with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth. The hit capped a seven-run inning that gave the Twins an improbable victory, and a badly-needed one at that.

Saturday, the team looked to build on its success. In doing so, they tried something new: putting together a good offensive game with a good defensive game. It was a winning formula: Kubel delivered four more hits in a game when Twins manager Ron Gardenhire contemplated giving him the night off, and Slowey rebounded from a rough start against Toronto with seven strong innings as the Twins overcame an early two-run homer by Anaheim’s Torii Hunter and cruised to a 9-2 victory before an announced crowd of 34,286.

Sunday, the Twins received another solid pitching performance from Perkins. This time, however, the Angels threw one right back at Minnesota with Shane Loux tossing seven solid innings. Loux may have been solid, but Perkins was outstanding: he retired 14 of the last 15 batters he faced and allowed just one run on four hits over eight innings - his third consecutive eight-inning game – despite taking a hard liner off of his left thigh. Reliever Joe Nathan pitched the ninth inning for his third save of the season.

In dire need of a good game at the plate, center fielder Carlos Gomez went 3-for-3 and swiped his second base of the season. He hit a clutch infield single in the fifth inning that scored Morales, who led off the inning with a double.

Morales finished 2-for-3 to life his average to .286, while third baseman Brendan Harris finished the week with his average at a stout .407.
This week, the Twins look to build on their success against Anaheim with a two-game series in Boston Tuesday and Wednesday, and close out the week with a three-game set at Cleveland Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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