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Twins inch closer to first place

By Josh Newman
Thanks to four crucial wins out of six contests last week, the Twins found themselves alone in second place in the Central Division at week’s end.

See what happens when you beat teams in your own division?

They also continued their strong pitching, something they have discovered keys their success. It all started with a three-game series in Kansas City, where the offense was apparently a no-show in the first two games. Minnesota put Nick Blackburn on the mound to start the first game. Yes, he did pitch well, but he was victimized for back-to-back home runs in the sixth inning by Royals second baseman Alberto Callaspo and catcher Miguel Olivo to put Minnesota in a 3-0 hole. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was ejected for disputing a call prior to the two long balls, forcing the Twins to go to the bench for managerial relief. Despite a late rally, the Twins could not recover and lost, 4-2.

One must tip their hat to the Kansas City pitching staff, especially starter Luke Hochevar. The righthander gave up just two hits in seven innings to earn just his third victory of the season. He wound up combining with two relievers on a five-hitter.

There was no need to worry, though. The Twins once again proved their ability to bounce back over the final two games of that series, as well as their ability to pick up the slack when other wheels are squeaky.

Game 2 saw the Twins’ bats neutralized, with the exception of a long ball off of the bat of Justin Morneau, which landed in the fountains in right field. The home run, which was Morneau’s 19th of the year, knotted the game at one apiece. A sacrifice fly in the sixth inning by Michael Cuddyer put the Twins ahead to stay, and starter Scott Baker lasted five long innings to earn his sixth victory of the season as the Twins prevailed in an ugly 2-1 victory.

Minnesota sent Glen Perkins to the mound for Game 3. Not only did the team get a start that was stout of heart from the lefthander, but the team’s defense came through in flying colors as the Twins closed the series with a 5-1 victory.

While it was not a brilliant outing from Perkins - who allowed 10 hits through seven innings to win his second consecutive start and pick up his fourth victory of the season – but the St. Paul native was backed by three double plays to help him out of several tough situations.

Perkins, who allowed 10 hits through seven innings to win his second consecutive start, did not even surrender his shutout until the sixth inning when Royals designated hitter Jose Guillen smacked an RBI single into left field. That made it 3-1, but there was no need to worry. After Perkins left, the bullpen shut down the opposing offense to help Minnesota close out their nine-game road trip with a 6-3 record.

The team ended the week with another important series, this time a three-game set against Detroit. Except for an embarrassing 11-9 loss in the opener, it was a decent overall series for Minnesota. It saw another solid start by Francisco Liriano, and another solid start by Blackburn – a victory this time – as the Twins once again won two out of three.

Nick Punto decided game 2 on a bloop single in the eighth inning, and Liriano pitched seven strong innings and allowed just three runs with eight strikeouts as the Twins rallied for a 4-3 victory.

Morneau had a perfect night at the plate. He went 4-for-4 and added another home run to his total. Cuddyer hit his 13th for the Twins.

In the series finale, Blackburn picked up a win for Minnesota in the form of a complete game. He had plenty of support to do so as the offense gave him six runs with which to work in the fourth inning, and he made all of them count as he scattered seven hits over nine innings as the Twins won 6-2.
Despite the solid performance by the players who suited up, the series was overshadowed by the news of Mauer, Morneau, and Joe Nathan earning berths in the All-Star Game. At week’s end, Morneau had a team-leading 21 home runs and 69 RBI to go with a .323 batting average. Mauer, who will be the AL starting catcher, had a team-best .389 batting average, and Nathan had converted 22 of 24 save opportunities.

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