The last time Nick Blackburn toed the rubber for the Twins in a meaningful game was against the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 30, 2008 in a one-game playoff to decide the American League Central Division champion.
He delivered a strong performance, scattering four hits and one earned run in six-and-one-third innings. However, despite his heroics, the Twins' offense struggled and they lost 1-0.
Tuesday's game against the visiting Mariners wasn't a game of similar magnitude. The Twins simply needed a workmanlike performance to avoid a two-game losing streak to begin the season. More importantly, they needed a shot in the arm so they could feel good about themselves again.
"Feeling good" shouldn't be taken for granted in the Twins' circles these days.
Relievers Pat Neshek and Boof Bonser are out for the year. Pitcher Scott Baker and catcher Joe Mauer are on the disabled list to begin the season.
Backup catcher Mike Redmond "tweaked" his groin running the bases Monday night and Jose Morales replaced him behind the plate. Former MVP Justin Morneau has a touchy back.
Blackburn, though, couldn't lift the Twins' spirits against the Mariners with another mound gem. But his teammates came through for him—and themselves—Tuesday night with a three-run ninth inning to score a 6-5 victory.
Alexi Casilla capped the winning rally with a two-run single.
Blackburn was touched for four runs in five innings. He allowed eight hits and three walks while striking out one.
Seattle scored in its opening at-bat as Endy Chavez singled and Franklin Gutierrez doubled him to third base. Ken Griffey Jr. popped out to second, but cleanup hitter Adrian Beltre hit a sacrifice fly to left field that scored Chavez.
Chavez singled to open the third inning, stole second, and scored on Beltre's single. Chavez then struck again in the fourth, delivering a two-out single that scored both Wladimir Balentien and Yuniesky Betancourt, who each singled earlier in the inning.
Meanwhile, Seattle starter Erik Bedard was on cruise control in the early going.
He surrendered a leadoff infield single to Denard Span, but then retired 10 Twins in a row before Michael Cuddyer's one-out single in the fourth.
After Justin Morneau flied out, Joe Crede doubled. With runners on second and third, Bedard struck out Delmon Young to end the threat.
After the Twins' defense helped Blackburn out in the fifth inning with their second double play of the game, Carlos Gomez tripled to lead off the Twins' half of the inning.
He later scored on Span's single. Punto, who had been hit by a pitch, advanced to third. Span stole second and Cuddyer delivered both Span and Punto home with a single.
Philip Humber pitched a scoreless sixth in relief of Blackburn. Matt Guerrier followed suit with a spotless seventh and eighth as he retired all six batters he faced.
However, their effort was matched by Roy Corcoran, who mowed down the Twins without incident in the sixth and seventh innings. He was relieved by David Aardsma, who retired Casilla, Cuddyer, and Morneau in succession in the eighth inning.
The Twins' middle relief corps finally teetered when Luis Ayala surrendered a run-scoring single to Gutierrez in the ninth, giving the Mariners a 5-3 lead.
Brandon Morrow, who had pitched all of four innings during spring training, struck out Crede and retired Young on a fly to begin the ninth. After walking Gomez, Jason Kubel (who pinch hit for Jose Morales), and Brian Buscher (who pinch hit for Nick Punto), Morrow was replaced by Miguel Batista.
With the bases loaded, Span brought the Twins to within one run with an infield single that scored Gomez, and Casilla delivered the game-winner with a two-run single.
The bright spots were Casilla and Span, who came up with timely hits to power the Twins' victory.
The Twins' relievers also came through big, allowing just one run over four innings.
The weak links?
Crede and Morneau continue to struggle at the plate, with or without runners in scoring position. The Mariners also stole two bases off Morales, Mauer's replacement behind the plate.
Look for Gardenhire to tinker some more with the lineup to get the Twins on track.
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