Blackburn allows first runs in loss to Cards
Two-run homer by Holliday the only blemish in five-inning outing
JUPTER, Fla. -- It's only Spring Training, of course, but the St. Louis Cardinals refuse to lose lately.The Cards have now won or tied eight straight games after beating the Twins 9-2 at Roger Dean Stadium on Sunday. The only thing that could stop them was the rain, which intervened on the proceedings twice during the sixth and seventh innings. Twins starter Nick Blackburn hadn't allowed any runs in either of his first two outings this spring, and he was perfect his first time through the order Sunday. His offense staked him to an early lead, as Luke Hughes smacked his fourth homer of the spring off Kyle Lohse in the first to make it 1-0. Hughes was on a tear this weekend. He went 5-for-5 with a homer in Saturday's 19-4 win over the Rays, and he kept the good vibes going with that solo shot. Blackburn was feeling some pretty good vibes as well, but he finally gave up his first hit of the afternoon in the fourth, when Carlos Beltran singled with one out.
Then up stepped the red-hot Matt Holliday, who extended his Grapefruit League hitting streak to 12 games with a two-run homer over the left-field wall. It was the third homer of the spring for Holliday, who is batting a scorching .469.
It was the only blemish against Blackburn, who allowed just the two runs on two hits with five strikeouts in five innings.
"I'm ready for spring to wind down, and I think all pitchers get that way," Blackburn said. "[You] look for the real season when you're pitching for something. I was excited to get over here today and face a pretty good lineup. It was good to go out there and see the swings we were getting and face a lineup one-through-nine that you'll see in the season."Lohse pitched six innings, allowing two runs on five hits with a walk and six strikeouts, and was happy with his outing. "I was pretty economical," Lohse said. "That's a good sign. It means my pitches were working well... Today was a touch-up. Going into each of my other starts, I had one big thing I was working on. Today was a mix of all of them." Holliday's blast off Blackburn gave the Cards a 2-1 lead. But the Twins would answer in Lohse's sixth with Hughes singling home Brian Dozier to tie the score at 2-2. In the bottom of the sixth, Brian Duensing relieved Blackburn and immediately found trouble, giving up consecutive singles to Daniel Descalso and Beltran, setting up Lance Berkman's RBI single that gave the Cards a 3-2 lead.
After Duensing struck David Freese with a pitch, the rain came down hard, halting the game. And perhaps the brief delay was helpful to Duensing, for he quickly escaped the jam he had created when play resumed.
Rain held things up again in the bottom of the seventh. But once the skies finally cleared, the Cardinals extended their lead to 5-2 on Shane Robinson's three-run blast off Brendan Wise. And they made it a blowout with a four-run eighth against Brad Thompson, highlighted by Jon Jay's three-run shot to right.Up next for the Twins: The Twins host the Rays in Fort Myers at 1:05 p.m. ET on Monday, with right-hander Scott Baker scheduled to make his second start of the spring. Baker pitched two scoreless innings against the Rays for the victory in a 3-2 game on March 6. He didn't allow a hit and walked one batter. Baker has been dealing with right elbow tendinitis. Right-hander Jeff Niemann will start for Tampa Bay
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.