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05/26/09 11:00 PM ET
Blackburn, five-run fifth lift Twins
Righty fans career-high seven; Morneau hits three-run tater
By Tyler Mason / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- The last time Nick Blackburn started a game at the Metrodome, he made a guarantee to a few of his fellow pitchers. "Last game here, I had six strikeouts," Blackburn said. "I guaranteed [Scott] Baker and [Glen] Perkins I wouldn't see more than that in my career." But the right-hander outdid himself in his very next home outing, striking out seven as the Twins evened up the series with the Red Sox, taking Tuesday night's game, 5-2. Blackburn (4-2) went seven strong innings -- for the second time in as many starts -- as he scattered eight hits and allowed just two runs -- one earned. "[Blackburn] was fantastic," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He gave us a great effort out there and a great start. ... A fantastic job of using all of his pitches -- his sinker, his changeup was really good tonight." It took a few innings for Blackburn to get rolling, but when he finally did, he was able to shut down the dangerous Red Sox lineup. The Twins starter faced an early test in the first inning, as Boston had two men on with just one out. But Blackburn fanned Kevin Youkilis and got Jason Bay to fly out to deep center field. Blackburn ran into more trouble in the second, but worked out of it after a leadoff double to designated hitter David Ortiz, who was dropped to sixth in the Red Sox's lineup. After running up his pitch count through two innings, Blackburn had the inning he needed in the third, throwing just five pitches to induce three flyouts. "I didn't make too many mistakes," Blackburn said. "I was able to just make timely pitches." The lone earned run given up by Blackburn came in the top of the fifth. Jacoby Ellsbury came around to score on a double down the left-field line by Dustin Pedroia. After falling behind, 1-0, it didn't take long for Blackburn's teammates to help out their starter. The Twins jumped on Red Sox starter Jon Lester in the bottom half of the fifth to score five runs, mixing in a little small ball with a Justin Morneau long ball. The bottom of Minnesota's order -- somewhat of an Achilles' heel for the team this season -- was able to manufacture a pair of runs and take the lead back from Boston. Brendan Harris led off with a base hit and moved to second on an infield single by Matt Tolbert. Nick Punto then snapped an 0-for-13 slump when he singled to right-center field. Punto advanced to second on the throw, and Harris crossed home to tie it at 1. "I'm off to a really slow start, so it was a big hit for me, personally," Punto said. Leadoff man Denard Span drove in the go-ahead run with a groundout, scoring Tolbert. Lester (3-5) then walked Twins catcher Joe Mauer to bring up Morneau with two men on. Morneau lined a 1-0 pitch just over the baggie in right for a three-run blast, breaking the game open and giving Blackburn a 5-1 cushion. The homer was measured at 367 feet, lined hard into the retractable seats. Even Morneau thought it was one of the hardest balls he's hit. "That felt pretty good," Morneau said. "If that thing had hit the baggie, it would have been a tough single, I know that. I was just happy it went over." "He crushed that ball," Gardenhire said. "Lester was throwing the heck out of the ball, but when you get to that part of the lineup with Mauer and Morneau, you've got a lot to deal with." While Morneau helped the Twins' rapid home run pace with his shot in the fifth, Mauer proved he is indeed human, going 0-for-3 with the walk in the fifth, striking out twice and lining into a double play in the first. "With Joe, it's a surprise to us when he doesn't get a hit," Morneau said. "That's showing how hot he is." The Red Sox scored their final run in the seventh, when a throwing error by Punto allowed Ellsbury to score. Blackburn's seven-inning start meant Minnesota needed to make just two calls to the bullpen. Matt Guerrier struck out two in a scoreless eighth and Joe Nathan picked up his seventh save of the season to preserve the win for Blackburn. "It's going to give me more and more confidence each time I go out," Blackburn said. "I'm very pleased with the way I'm throwing the ball right now."
Tyler Mason is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.