Twins roughed up in finale vs. O's
Starter Blackburn taken deep four times in loss
BALTIMORE -- The Twins have seen all weekend the way Baltimore's stifling humidity, combined with Oriole Park's reputation as a hitter's ballpark, can work together to provide lopsided scores. After all, Minnesota put up 24 runs in two games on Saturday, 12 in each contest.
But Sunday afternoon, playing in 95 degrees heat with stifling humidity, the Twins and starting pitcher Nick Blackburn witnessed just how easily the ball can fly out of the park when they allowed five home runs to the Orioles lineup, four of which came off the bats of Nick Markakis and Oscar Salazar, and dropped the final game of the series, 7-3.
"[Blackburn] just couldn't keep the ball in the ballpark," said manager Ron Gardenhire. "What did we give up, four total? Five total? I lost count.
"It just flies here, it's not like in the Metrodome. In the Metrodome, you've got to hit it. Here, the ball flies. We've known that. It flew for us yesterday all day. And it's just one of the days -- you get the ball up, you make mistakes and they hit it out."
The loss dropped the Twins back into second place in the American League Central, one-half game behind the White Sox, whose doubleheader vs. the Tigers in Chicago was delayed at the start by rain.
Blackburn was never able to get comfortable on the mound Sunday, surrendering a two-run homer to Markakis in the first, putting the Twins in an early hole they would not be able to climb out of. Blackburn went on to give up another two-run shot in the second, this time to Salazar, who more than doubled his season home run total this weekend against the Twins, and now has five on the year.
Blackburn pitched just one scoreless inning in his four frames of work, the third, finishing his day by allowing back-to-back homers to Salazar and left fielder Lou Montanez in the fourth. Markakis added his second long ball when he led off the fifth with a solo shot to right field. The Twins gave up 11 hits on the day -- five of them left the park. Blackburn (10-9) was tagged with the loss and finished with four innings, allowing six runs off nine hits.
Sunday's start was the latest in a string of somewhat mediocre trips to the mound for Blackburn, who has just one win in his past seven starts. Over that stretch, the only time the right-hander has handed over a lead to the bullpen was the one start he came away a winner -- a 7-2 victory over the Royals in his previous start.
"I just didn't feel right all day," Blackburn said. "My mechanics weren't where they had been recently. ... I just couldn't make an adjustment and I paid for it today.
"Today definitely was a day where I felt like I couldn't do anything right. It's frustrating, obviously, but unfortunately it happens. Like I said, I knew what I was doing wrong, I just couldn't change it."
Blackburn's pitches were up in the zone all day -- part of the reason for the gaudy number of Orioles home runs -- a problem the right-hander attributed to an issue with his pitching mechanics
"I know exactly what I was doing," he said. "My back leg balance -- I wasn't coming through and it was causing me to leave pitches up."
The Twins' ineffectiveness in limiting the Orioles was countered by their own struggles at the plate, seemingly mystified by Orioles right-hander Radhames Liz, who prior to this start, hadn't made it through the sixth inning since July 1.
Liz, generally a pitcher who struggles with his control, consistently threw first-pitch strikes to waiting Twins batters and kept the Twins lineup off balance all afternoon. Liz threw eight innings of shutout baseball and allowed just one walk, forcing the Twins into 10 fly outs.
"He's got good stuff," said first baseman Justin Morneau. "[When] he can throw [his pitches] all for strikes he's hard to hit. He's got a lot of walks on the season and we were hoping to take advantage of that, but he threw strike one a lot and went ahead in the count, and then did what he wanted to."
The Twins didn't plate their first run until a brief ninth-inning rally off Orioles closer George Sherrill that saw them send eight batters to the plate and score three runs. Ultimately it wasn't enough to overcome the damage the long ball had already done on the scoreboard.
Minnesota did, however, still leave Baltimore with a series win, its first victorious series on the road since Aug. 18-20, it they took two of three from the A's.
Amanda Comak is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.