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07/22/08 12:03 AM ET
Pitching leaves Twins in big hole
Blackburn endures shortest start; Yanks too much for 'pen
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Nick Blackburn's memories of his first career start against the Yankees are not exactly positive. He left his June 1 start after 4 1/3 innings when he was struck in the face by a Bobby Abreu line drive. And when he faced the club for the second time in Monday's series opener at Yankee Stadium? Well, that wasn't quite one to remember either. Blackburn exited his start early once again, this time due to a poor pitching performance in a 12-4 loss to New York. He was unable to make it past the second inning, lasting just 1 2/3 innings and giving up six runs (three earned) on seven hits in his Yankee Stadium debut. "I wasn't making pitches at the time that I needed to," Blackburn said. "That's all there is to it." Twins catcher Joe Mauer said it was a night where Blackburn did not have all of his pitches working for him. That's not something that has happened often to the rookie, who has been one of the more reliable starters for the club this season. But on Monday night, he saw what a potent Yankees lineup can do when things aren't working. It all started in the first inning, when Blackburn (7-6) put the Twins in a 2-0 hole. He gave up a two-out single to Bobby Abreu before Alex Rodriguez came up to the plate. And it didn't take long for Rodriguez to record home run No. 21 on the season with a high towering shot to left-center field. The 1-0 pitch to Rodriguez was supposed to be low and away, Blackburn said, but ended up over the middle of the plate. Much like many of the other 50 pitches that the right-hander threw in his outing. "That was one of the many bad pitches I made," Blackburn said. "Just a bad night overall." Things snowballed for Blackburn in the next inning, after the Twins had knotted the game up at 2 off former Twins starter Sidney Ponson. Delmon Young led off the inning by reaching base when he was hit by a pitch from Ponson. Young scored from third base on a fielder's choice by Carlos Gomez. Alexi Casilla's single to right field brought Brendan Harris home from second base. On a close play at the plate, Harris was ruled to have slid under the tag of Yankees catcher Jose Molina to score the second run of the inning. But the tied game would quickly disappear as Blackburn struggled to find any way to get the Yankees out. He allowed seven straight batters to reach base, allowing four runs to score, before being replaced by Boof Bonser. It didn't help that after loading the bases with one out, Blackburn was the recipient of a mistake by Casilla at second base. On a ground ball hit to him by Johnny Damon, Casilla chose not to tag the runner heading to second or throw to first. Instead, he tried to make a quick throw home to beat out Melky Cabrera, who was running from third base. The throw one-hopped to Mauer, who seemed caught off-guard by the play, and the catcher never really appeared to have a chance to get Cabrera. The run was charged as an error on Casilla. "That's a play where if you get your feet underneath you and able to square up and then throw, you get something on [the throw]," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "If he makes the play, sure, it's a great play -- but early in the ballgame, you want outs. Just tag the guy or go to first and get the easy out. He was just trying to do too much early in the game." The offense never really had a chance to recover following that inning. Unlike previous contests over the past month, the Twins couldn't capitalize on many opportunities with runners in scoring position, going just 3-for-14 in those situations. And once again, it was Ponson who proved to be tough against the team that released him in May of last season. The veteran right-hander went 1-0 and allowed just one earned run in his two starts against the Twins when he was with Texas earlier this season. And though he's now donning pinstripes, Ponson came up with similar results. He held the Twins to just three runs on nine hits over 5 2/3 innings. Even when the Twins had chances to get back into the game against Ponson, he made pitches to keep them from doing just that -- something that he had trouble doing last season. "He looks like a new pitcher," Mauer said. "Especially when we played Texas, he was lights-out. Tonight we could have got him, but he threw well enough to get us out. He just is a different pitcher. His sinker has a lot more velocity and bite on it. He's put three pretty good performances against us this year." The Yankees fans certainly appreciated the effort. Ponson (6-1) received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 53,484 when he exited the mound in the sixth with New York leading, 8-3. From there, New York just added onto its lead. Bonser gave up a total of four earned runs in his 3 1/3 innings. Left-hander Craig Breslow and Matt Guerrier each gave up a run as the Twins fell at the storied ballpark for the 17th time in 20 tries since the start of the 2002 season. "It was pretty much an ugly night for us," Gardenhire said. "I think we were trying to do a little too much, and the game just got out of hand. We did the best we could to get through it. We'll just have to come back and see if we can do a little better."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.