I should criticize Nick Blackburn more often. This morning, I put on my "pessimistic hat", expressing reservations about his increasing fly ball rate, high xFIP, etc. Boy, was I wrong. Blackburn responded with an absolute gem, losing a shutout with two outs in the top of the 9th as the Minnesota Twins beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-1 this afternoon in the Metrodome. With the victory, the Twins take two out of three against the Pirates, climb back to .500 (34-34) for the 15th time this season, and run their record to 7-2 in interleague play.
The story today was the 27 year old Blackburn, who pitched his first career complete game, the first by a Twins pitcher since July 2008 (Kevin Slowey). One tantalizing out away from a complete game shutout, Blackburn gave up an Erik Hinske double and Adam LaRoche single to spoil the shutout. In the end, the late rally wasn't enough to spoil Blackburn's 6 hit, 1 walk, 107 pitch (70 strike) gem. After the game, Blackburn noted the Pirates were "hacking" at the plate and his strategy was simple: throw strikes, and let the Pirates "beat the ball into the ground". And beat it into the ground they did. Blackburn managed the complete game with only 2 strikeouts, letting his fielders do the work, to the tune of 17 ground outs and 8 fly outs. That GB/FB ratio, my friends, is a recipe for success.
At the plate, the Twins got to Pittsburgh starter, Zach Duke, early, with a Brendan Harris single and Justin Morneau double, scoring Harris all the way from first. The Twins mounted another rally in the second, loading the bases for Justin Morneau. However, they only managed a single run, as Morneau grounded into a double play (the Twins' 7th of the series) and Cuddyer grounded out to finish the inning. Michael Cuddyer put the Twins up 3-0 in the bottom of the 6th with a home run to center field. Finally, Brian Buscher gave the Twins a couple insurance runs by wrapping a home run around the right field foul pole in the bottom of the 8th.