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06/12/08 12:20 AM ET
Five-run third inning helps end slide
Kubel's two-run homer, Morneau's night back Blackburn
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- Nothing has come easy for the Twins on their current road trip. The team watched the White Sox go through their hottest offensive stretch of the season as it was swept in a four-game series in Chicago. The Twins then headed to Cleveland, where their pitching finally rebounded only to be shut out, 1-0, by another dominant performance from Indians ace C.C. Sabathia on Tuesday. So thinking that the victory to end a season-high, six-game losing streak would be easy seemed to be a little optimistic. Sure enough, the Twins nearly watched an early five-run lead fall through Wednesday before the bullpen held on to secure an 8-5 victory over the Indians at Progressive Field. "We had a lead another time on this bad streak and lost that one," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "So with the way things are going, it's sad, but all the negative thoughts creep in and you're thinking that, 'We've got to finish the game off this time.' Because when you are going through streaks, funny things happen." Like in Sunday's game in Chicago, the Twins had appeared well on their way early to securing a victory. The team had a 6-2 lead heading into the seventh inning, thanks to one big offensive inning and yet another strong outing from its starting pitcher. After Scott Baker had gotten the pitching staff back on track with its first quality start in 12 games on Tuesday night, Nick Blackburn (5-4) followed suit with one of his own. The right-hander followed up a tough start in Chicago by allowing just two runs on seven hits over six innings. "It's just good to see a team that wasn't as hot as the White Sox when we were there," Blackburn said. "Those guys were hitting everything there. You get here, and it's more like a normal series. It's still a tough lineup, but those White Sox were just extremely hot at the time." It also helped Blackburn that his offense gave him quite a comfortable lead to work with early. With the game knotted at 1, the Twins delivered a five-run third inning that, at least for a period of time, allowed them to relax. A bunt single by Carlos Gomez got the offense going in the third off Indians starter Paul Byrd. Justin Morneau delivered a two-run double to center that was followed by Michael Cuddyer's run-scoring double to right. Jason Kubel then belted his eighth home run of the season, a two-run shot to deep center field, to finish out the five-run inning. But it was after Blackburn had exited the game that the team sat back and watched as it appeared that another letdown might be in store.
Boof Bonser started the seventh inning and issued a leadoff walk to David Dellucci. Bonser would then put runners on first and third with two outs before left-hander Dennys Reyes came in to face Grady Sizemore.
On a 2-2 pitch from Reyes, Sizemore belted a three-run homer to pull the Indians within one, 6-5.
It was a moment that had the entire club echoing a similar sentiment: Here we go again?
"As you felt them coming back, you definitely felt your chest get a little tighter," Cuddyer said.
But this time, the Twins found a way to bear down and get out of the jam.
Jesse Crain came in for the final out of the seventh and got Jamey Carroll to strike out swinging. With the team still holding onto that thin one-run lead, Crain got the call to come back in for the eighth since Matt Guerrier had just pitched.
And looking to be back in similar form to what he was before season-ending shoulder surgery last season, Crain attacked the Indians with a near 95-mph fastball and low-90s slider.
He struck out the first batter of the eighth looking and then issued a one-out walk to Ryan Garko. Crain then struck out Jhonny Peralta swinging for the second out of the inning, and Gardenhire admitted that he considered bringing in closer Joe Nathan to face David Dellucci.
With the way that Crain was holding runners and pitching with authority, Gardenhire struck with his right-hander. The decision paid off, as Crain struck out Dellucci to finish out the inning.
"Jesse getting those two big strikeouts allowed everyone to loosen up," Cuddyer said. "I think it's the most aggressive he's been. He said, 'Here, hit it.' That's what he needs to do, because when he's like that, he's dominating."
Crain's ability to hold the game allowed the Twins to go to Joe Nathan in the ninth for the first time in seven days. The club's offense helped by adding two more runs in the top of the ninth to give the closer a three-run advantage. He held on to it, recording his 17th save of the season.
"It seemed like a real long week," Nathan said of his time off. "I think mainly because we were getting our brains beat in. ... It's been a long week, but fortunately it came to an end. Hopefully we can get a little more consistent work and not go through that again."
Ending what has been the most difficult stretch so far this season seemed to release a collective sigh of relief throughout the clubhouse. Gardenhire even pointed out how nice it was to finally shake hands on the field once again.
But while any victory would have been welcome, it was the way the Twins held on to this one -- in which their opponent rallied again -- that put the best ending mark on the difficult slide.
"We know it's baseball and you play 162 games and you are going to go through streaks, hopefully more good than bad," Crain said. "It wears on you, but we knew it was going to end. We just wanted to make sure tonight that we won that game. It's a big win for us to keep the lead."
|"So with the way things are going, it's sad, but all the negative thoughts creep in and you're thinking that, 'We've got to finish the game off this time.' Because when you are going through streaks, funny things happen."|
|-- manager Ron Gardenhire|
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.