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07/13/08 6:30 PM ET
Twins upbeat after loss to Tigers
Minnesota heads into break above .500 and in contention
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
DETROIT -- Just a month ago, the Twins were in the midst of a difficult road trip and some wondered if it was the end of the club's surprising early season run of success.
That certainly hasn't been the case with the Twins heading into the All-Star break as a legitimate contender in the American League Central race.
Minnesota couldn't manage to finish off a four-game series sweep of Detroit, losing the series finale, 4-2, at Comerica Park on Sunday. But there was no question that the team headed into its four-day break with a feeling that it is in a pretty good spot.
Since June 13, the Twins have won 21 of 28 games. That streak shrunk their deficit behind the White Sox in the division from 6 1/2 games to 1 1/2 games heading into the break.
It's certainly not the place that many would have envisioned for a young Minnesota team that lost two of its biggest stars over the offseason.
"We're better than all the great predictors said we'd be, I can tell you that," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They can eat their words for at least the first half, and we'll see how we do in the second half."
While the team capped off the first half with a loss, Sunday's game seemed to be yet another example of things that are going right for Minnesota.
The Twins received another quality start from perhaps their most surprising young pitcher this season -- Nick Blackburn. The right-hander gave up just three runs, two earned, over seven innings. He scattered just five hits, walking two and striking out four.
"I felt good and I threw a lot of good pitches," Blackburn said. "Obviously, I made a couple of mistakes, but usually you take that start anytime. We kept it a close game, but just didn't come out on top."
Blackburn's first two runs came in the second inning after a missed call by the umpiring crew. With one out in the inning, Marcus Thames hit a ground ball to third baseman Brian Buscher. The throw by Buscher to first base required Justin Morneau to extend his reach to make the catch. First-base umpire Jim Wolf ruled Thames safe on the play, although replays clearly showed that Morneau's foot had remained on the bag.
Gardenhire went out to talk to Wolf and the umpiring crew met for a moment to discuss the situation. But the call stood because no other umpire saw the play.
"He told me he made a mistake and said, 'I'm just going to have to live with it. I made a call and no one else saw it,'" Gardenhire said. "How are you going to argue with that? He told me he screwed it up, and all you ever ask is for an umpire to be honest."
The call proved costly for the Twins, as Clete Thomas followed it with his first career Major League home run. The two-run shot to right field off Blackburn gave Detroit a 2-0 lead.
Still, Gardenhire didn't place blame on Wolf for the turn of events.
"He didn't throw the next pitch over the fence," Gardenhire said.
The Twins remained in the contest, scoring two in the top of the fourth off Tigers starter Justin Verlander. Joe Mauer scored from third on a wild pitch and Brendan Harris added Minnesota's lone RBI on a single that bounced off the mound and into center field, scoring Morneau from third.
But with the game knotted at 2 in the fifth, Curtis Granderson drew a leadoff walk from Blackburn (7-5). Two batters later, having advanced to third base, Granderson scored on a groundout by Miguel Cabrera to put Detroit up, 3-2.
Matt Joyce added a one-out solo home run to deep center field in the eighth off right-hander Brian Bass to complete the victory for the Tigers.
While the loss dropped the Twins' record for the road trip to 3-4, the club felt pretty good about turning things around after losing the first three games of the trip in Boston.
"To win three out of four here is huge, especially after how we got swept," Morneau said. "We go into the break and our minds are fresh. We're right there. Not too many people would have said we'd be 1 1/2 or 2 1/2 games behind Chicago at the All-Star break."
Considering that position, it's no surprise that the mood inside the Minnesota clubhouse after the loss to Detroit was jovial. The focus was not upon the one game, but rather what the team has accomplished in the first half. Following an impressive month that made all of baseball take notice of this Twins team, the club likes where it stands at this point in the season.
"I think we made a great push here," Gardenhire said. "We've always said at the All-Star break, you want to be in a race and have some fun in the second half. I think we accomplished that. It wasn't like the straight path. We went through the woods, and around trees and over bumps and hills, but we got here."