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Blackburn’s gem gives Twins series win

June 16, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — A lot of people will tell you that good pitching, or hitting, can be contagious. Nick Blackburn is not one of them.

Over the last four games, the performance of the Twins’ pitching staff might suggest otherwise. It was another fast-paced pitchers’ duel at Target Field on Thursday — the fourth in a row — and once again, the Twins came out on top, with a 1-0 victory.

Thanks to a solo home run by Michael Cuddyer and eight shutout innings from Blackburn, the Twins swept the rain-shortened series against the White Sox. Twins closer Matt Capps also pitched a scoreless ninth for his first save since June 6 and his ninth of the season.

“Blackie was a great story today, threw the heck out of the ball,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “Good sinker, slider, he had it all — changeup — working. … A heck of a game.”

Blackburn followed up dominant performances by Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano with one of his own. The right-hander scattered seven hits over eight scoreless innings of work, with one strikeout, a walk and a hit batter. He needed just 95 pitches to get through eight, before the Twins called upon the bullpen to close out the game.

One of the keys for Blackburn was the aggressiveness of the White Sox at the plate, which he used to his advantage.

“No one is up there trying to work the count too much, a lot of first-pitch swingers and guys who kind of put it into play early in the at-bat,” Blackburn said. “When everything’s coming out of my hand pretty well, that can sometimes play into my advantage.”

After Baker allowed one run in a complete game on Saturday, Liriano followed by giving up one run over eight innings while flirting with both a perfect game and no-hitter on Sunday. Pavano followed with another complete game on Wednesday night, and Blackburn continued the trend with his performance.

Over the last four games, Twins starters have allowed just three runs over 34 innings of work, posting a 4-0 record with a 0.79 ERA. Blackburn improved to 6-4 on the season, while lowering his own ERA to 3.16.

Minnesota entered the game with a Major League-leading 1.94 ERA in June, and lowered it to 1.80 with Thursday’s shutout of the White Sox.

“It kind of reminds you of ’06 — that run that we had in ’06 where you felt like you were going to win,” Cuddyer said. “You felt like, no matter what, you were going to win the game. And all that is, is just confidence.

“You get that confidence and you start feeling like you can win every game, and that’s kind of how we feel right now.”

During that 2006 run, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen dubbed the Twins the “piranhas,” because they just kept coming after opposing teams again and again with bloopers and infield singles — with players like Jason Bartlett, Nick Punto and Luis Castillo.

Asked about what the 2011 Twins were, if the 2006 club was the piranhas, Guillen had a new label for the current Minnesota ballclub, which featured a speedy center fielder and two quick infielders batting 1-2-3 in Thursday’s lineup.

“These are the little sardines here,” Guillen said. “They are sardines … but they can play. That kid who is the leadoff guy … pretty good. When you’re missing [Justin] Morneau, [Joe] Mauer, [Jim] Thome and [Jason] Kubel and you’re still winning games, you have to give those guys credit.

“They never sit back and say ‘We’re missing the big boys.’ They continue to play. That’s the reason Gardy is the most underrated manager. … I think Gardy makes those guys play, and play right. He gets the most out of his players, and they will be in the pennant race.”

Shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka made his first start for the Twins since suffering a fractured left fibula on April 7 in New York, batting third behind Ben Revere and Alexi Casilla. Nishioka went 1-for-4 at the plate, singling in the eighth — while showing excellent range in the field and improved arm strength, though he was also credited with a sixth-inning error.

Leading off the bottom of the second inning, Cuddyer crushed a 2-2 fastball from lefty Mark Buehrle into the bullpen in left-center field. It was Cuddyer’s 10th home run of the season and his 27th RBI.

Buehrle gave up just the one run on three hits — two by Cuddyer — in seven innings, but took the loss.

In his career against Buehrle, Cuddyer is batting .344 with three home runs. His 33 hits are the most for Cuddyer against any pitcher. Cuddyer is batting .340 with five doubles, seven home runs, 22 RBIs and 11 walks in his last 28 games, dating back to May 14.

“I feel good right now,” Cuddyer said. “It’s all cyclical, you’ve got to ride those good times out. Right now is a good time — and fortunately, we were able to get wins to go along with it.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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