Blackburn delivers win for Twins
Starter yields one run over seven; Morneau goes yard
CLEVELAND -- The Twins came into Progressive Field on Friday having trailed in each of their first 16 games of the season. But for the first time all year, the club didn't have to worry about making a comeback.A solid start by Nick Blackburn, in which he held the Indians to just one run over seven innings, and Justin Morneau's fourth home run of the season helped propel the Twins to a 5-1 victory over Cleveland in the series opener. "It seems like every time we come here they score a bunch of runs on us early," Morneau said of the Indians. "Blackburn came in and shut them down. It was good to see." After watching his starters get battered around in their two-game series at Boston this week, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire's main wish heading into Friday night's game against the Indians was to get a strong performance from his starting pitcher. Blackburn (1-1) certainly did that, continuing his dominance against the Indians. By notching his first win of the season, Blackburn improved his career record against Cleveland to 4-0 with a 1.63 ERA in seven appearances (five starts). He's also 3-0 in the three starts that have come at Progressive Field. It was another solid outing, but one where Blackburn didn't really get things going until after the third inning. The Twins took a 1-0 lead in the first on Jason Kubel's two-out, RBI double to left field off Indians starter Fausto Carmona. The Indians then knotted the game at 1 in the third on Grady Sizemore's RBI single, but the damage could have been much worse. Blackburn had allowed three straight hits after recording the first out of the inning, and it looked to be a fourth when Victor Martinez lined a ball to left field. But Delmon Young came charging in on a ball that was slicing away from him toward the line and made the sliding catch. "I wasn't playing all that deep because if they hit it over my head, it's going to go off the wall anyway," Young said. "It wasn't all that far for me to get down low and make sure the ball didn't get by me." "A heck of a play," Gardenhire added. The catch prevented the Indians from doing any more damage as Blackburn got the next hitter, Travis Hafner, to fly out to center. It was a visit to the mound by pitching coach Rick Anderson in that third inning which seemed to initiate Blackburn's turnaround. Anderson told Blackburn that he wasn't changing speeds enough, throwing mostly fastballs and cutters and not using his curveball or his changeup. In the very next inning, Blackburn finally appeared to have settled in -- getting both Shin-Soo Choo and Ryan Garko to strike out looking. It was in Choo's at-bat that Blackburn may have gotten the best sign that he was starting to really find his groove. After throwing what he called a bad pitch that Choo fouled off in a 3-2 count, Blackburn froze Choo on a sinker that started off at the left-handed hitter's hands and moved back over the plate. "That's a pitch I want to be able to throw at any time, especially in that situation, 3-2, where the guy is probably not looking inside," Blackburn said. "It was probably the best pitch I could have made up there." Blackburn allowed just six hits in his seven innings with only two of those coming after the third. He did not walk a single batter and struck out four in the contest. "Once he started throwing his curveball and changing speeds, everything kind of settled in," Gardenhire said. "Then they couldn't sit on one thing. He got a nice groove going. A nice performance by him, and that always gives you an opportunity to win a game." Blackburn got some help in getting his first victory of the season as the Twins hitters finally started to heat up against Carmona, whose nasty sinker has given the club trouble in the past. The Twins tagged Carmona for five runs (four earned) on eight hits over his six-plus innings. After taking a 1-0 lead off Carmona in the first thanks to Jason Kubel's RBI double to left field, the Twins regained the lead on the first pitch thrown by Carmona in the fourth. On a 94-mph fastball that was down and in, Morneau blasted a 380-foot solo homer deep into the right-field seats. "I was trying to stay through the middle with how much sink he's got on that ball," Morneau said. "It just kind of came in, and I got the barrel to it." The Twins added one more run that inning. Joe Crede drew a one-out walk and, after advancing to third on a throwing error by third baseman Mark DeRosa, he was driven home by Jose Morales' RBI single. By the time Blackburn came out for his final inning, the lead was up to 5-1. That was thanks to two more runs by the Twins in the top of the seventh as Morneau and Crede each tallied an RBI. Jose Mijares pitched a scoreless eighth inning and Joe Nathan pitched the ninth to finish off the win for Minnesota. For the Twins, it was just a nice change to have not fallen behind in a game. "We were in control of the game," Gardenhire said. "And that all starts with your pitcher, that goes back to Blackburn. It all goes with your starting pitcher."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.