Detroit at Minnesota

Scoreboard
Detroit (44-37)000000002271
Minnesota (43-40) «00060000x6121

Morneau, Blackburn help Twins creep up on Tigers in AL Central

CBSSports.com wire reports
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Fueled by his neatly falling sinker, Nick Blackburn finished an important series for Minnesota by finishing another efficient performance.

As long as Blackburn keeps pitching like this, the Twins can't help but call him their ace.

Justin Morneau punctuated a productive series -- and celebrated another All-Star game selection -- with a two-run homer to back Blackburn in Minnesota's 6-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Sunday.

"We've got a lot of confidence in him," said catcher Joe Mauer, who singled ahead of Morneau's shot to start a six-run fourth inning against Detroit rookie Rick Porcello.

Blackburn (7-4) took a shutout into the ninth, but left fielder Denard Span dropped a soft fly ball for an error and Brandon Inge followed with a two-run home run, his 19th. Blackburn gave up two more singles, giving the slumping Tigers seven hits for the game, but got the last two outs to notch his third complete game in his last four turns.

The best part for him, of course, is that the Twins -- despite their season-long flirtation with the .500 mark -- have avoided falling too far behind the Tigers in the AL Central race during his establishment as the team's top starter.

"Sooner or later all the breaks had to start going our way, and I think now we're all clicking together," Blackburn said.

The Tigers have held sole possession of first place daily since May 16, but a lack of offensive life on this road trip -- they batted .224 -- led to a 3-6 record. The Twins are two games back, the closest they've been in a month.

"You take a lead and run with it and you get the boys back in the dugout as quick as you can," said manager Ron Gardenhire, whose postgame praise of Blackburn's poise has become routine. "He did that the whole day."

Inge's homer gave some hope, but Blackburn's mastery and Porcello's early exit put manager Jim Leyland on edge after the game.

"Too little too late," Leyland said. "Porcello, for the first time, I thought lost his composure. And, last but not least, our starting pitchers have been getting to the point where their pitch counts are way too high by the sixth inning."

Blackburn is throwing first-pitch strikes, putting his sinker in the right places, and using both sides of the plate to get grounder after grounder. Inge said he only saw two balls across the white part of the plate. One of those was his homer.

"Everything else was black corner, black corner," Inge said. "He was incredible on spotting his pitches. Not just fastballs: It was fastballs, sliders, curve balls, sinkers in. I mean, he was very impressive."

Morneau went deep twice during the series and finished 9 for 15 with five RBI. The Twins scored all of their runs in the fourth against Porcello (8-6), who threw seven shutout innings at them during a defeat in Detroit on May 5.

They sent 10 batters to the plate that inning, though two of the runs were unearned when shortstop Adam Everett snagged Span's RBI single to the hole and tried to make a tough throw to second base that sailed into right field. Porcello finished the inning, but that was it for him: seven hits, two walks and his second straight loss following four consecutive victories.

"I don't feel like I'm losing my focus out there. I think, today especially, I didn't do a very good job of coming back after giving up the big hit," Porcello said. "That's a big reason why I'm having problems in certain innings like that."

Notes

  • Despite Span's drop, the Twins have only 32 errors past the midpoint of the season. That puts them on pace to breeze by their team record for fewest fielding flubs in one year, 74 in 2002.
  • The 53 pitches thrown in Friday night's 16-inning game by speed-baller Joel Zumaya prompted Leyland to declare the reliever off limits for the rest of the weekend. Zumaya missed a lot of time in 2007 and 2008 to finger and shoulder injuries, but Leyland said he wasn't worried about increasing the right-hander's pitch count, deadpanning: "He's rested for two years."
  • Twins 3B Joe Crede, signed to a one-year contract for $2.5 million plus playing-time escalators, has met his first incentive. He gets $500,000 for 250 plate appearances. If he reaches 540 plate appearances, he will make $7 million this season.
 
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
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Justin Morneau homers twice in the series against Detroit, going 9 for 15 with five RBI.  (AP)
Justin Morneau homers twice in the series against Detroit, going 9 for 15 with five RBI. (AP)

Players of the Game
Minnesota

J. Morneau
AB 4
R 1
H 2
HR 1
RBI 2
Detroit

B. Inge
AB 4
R 1
H 1
HR 1
RBI 2
 

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Detroit Tigers
Curtis Granderson, CF3010100 .256
Ramon Santiago, 2B4000013 .276
Miguel Cabrera, 1B4010000 .323
Don Kelly, LF4100013 .250
Brandon Inge, 3B4112020 .269
Magglio Ordonez, DH4010010 .266
Josh Anderson, RF4010000 .250
Gerald Laird, C4010011 .239
Adam Everett, SS4010002 .272
Totals3527216  
Batting
HR - Brandon Inge (19, Blackburn)
RBI - Brandon Inge 2 (54)
SB - Curtis Granderson (15, 2nd base off Blackburn/Mauer)
Team LOB - 7
Fielding
DP - Everett-Santiago-Cabrera, Everett-Santiago-Cabrera
E - Adam Everett (8, Throwing)
Detroit Tigers
Rick Porcello (L,8-6) 4764231 4.14
Fu-Te Ni 2300130 1.80
Zach Miner 2200020 4.78
Pitches-Strikes - Rick Porcello 90-51, Fu-Te Ni 44-29, Zach Miner 30-20
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Rick Porcello 5-3, Fu-Te Ni 2-0, Zach Miner 2-1
Batters Faced - Rick Porcello 20, Fu-Te Ni 9, Zach Miner 7
Minnesota Twins
Denard Span, CF-LF4021000 .291
Brendan Harris, SS4000024 .270
Joe Mauer, C3110100 .389
Justin Morneau, 1B4122001 .323
Jason Kubel, DH4020012 .302
Michael Cuddyer, RF3100122 .278
Joe Crede, 3B4120011 .234
Delmon Young, LF4121011 .269
    Carlos Gomez, CF0000000 .224
Nick Punto, 2B3110110 .220
Totals33612438  
Batting
2B - Jason Kubel (18, Porcello)
HR - Justin Morneau (21, Porcello)
RBI - Denard Span (27), Justin Morneau 2 (69), Delmon Young (25)
2-OUT RBI - Denard Span (8), Delmon Young (10)
CS - Jason Kubel (1, 2nd base by Porcello/Laird)
Team LOB - 6
Fielding
E - Denard Span (2, Dropped fly)
Minnesota Twins
Nick Blackburn (W,7-4) 9721161 2.94
Pitches-Strikes - Nick Blackburn 109-76
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Nick Blackburn 12-10
Batters Faced - Nick Blackburn 36
Game Information
Attendance - 33274
Game Time - 2:25
Temperature - 68
Umpires - Home - Chuck Meriwether, First Base - Laz Diaz, Second Base - Eric Cooper, Third Base - Mike Reilly