For most of the game, this wasn't even a close contest. What the Twins were't hitting hard, the Indians couldn't field, and for anyone that reached base off Nick Blackburn, well, Nick had the answer. He blanked Cleveland for six innings before getting into a bit of trouble in the seventh.
He'd only thrown 80 pitches as he climbed the mound for the top of the seventh, but it didn't take long for the Indians to climb back into what had looked like a done deal. Travis Hafner's leadoff double was followed by a first-pitch homer by Matt LaPorta, cutting the score to 5-2. A hard-hit flyball preceeded another Indians hit, and Blackburn was pulled. Jose Mijares put out the fire like he has countless times this season, and Cleveland would never get any closer.
Delmon Young was the only Minnesota starter to not reach base today, with a number of guys picking up multi-hit days. Matt Tolbert laid down a beautiful bunt single in the second inning before adding a double in the fifth. Jose Morales continues to look great at the dish, laying some wood on a pair of doubles off Aaron Laffey. Denard Span picked up a pair of singles, Joe Mauer continues to pull away for the AL biting title thanks in no small part to a bases-loaded single, and Michael Cuddyer? Well, Cuddyer continues to be Minnesota's leader. On and off the field.
Cuddles picked up a trio of hits today, including an RBI single to lead off the day's scoring, a solo homer in the fifth and a run-scoring double in the seventh that helped erase the two runs Cleveland scored in the top half of the inning. Now hitting .274/.337/.511 on the season, this is the kind of offense the Twins will find even more invaluable now that they're Morneau-less the rest of the way this year.
It was interesting in the final third of the game. After Cleveland brought the score to 5-2 only to be turned away in the bottom of the inning by the Minnesota offense, they didn't go quietly. Jesse Crain allowed a run in the top of the eighth after Mijares tasted trouble, before Matt Guerrier put out another fire. The following inning he got into trouble himself, unable to put Cleveland away with a big lead. He allowed a pair of singles and a ground out before Joe Nathan was called upon for the fourth consecutive game.
Shin-Soo Choo and Jhonny Peralta struck out to end the game quickly, with Peralta looking particularly horrible. Blackburn was good before Mijares bailed him out. Mijares was good before Crain...well...before Guerrier bailed them both out. And Guerrier was good before Nathan bailed him out for his 41st save. So that was fun.
The Twins won again, for the fourth consecutive time. It momentarily pulls the them within four games of the Tigers, but that will again chance by the time the calendar turns. With any luck Minnesota could be 3.5 games down tomorrow, which is an off day for the Twins. If the Royals are extremely generous and win on Thursday, it could be three.
Or it could be five. We'll see.
This was a big series for a team that seems eternally on the brink. Beating teams you're supposed to beat is always a good thing.
#3: Nick Blackburn (6.1 IP, 2 R, 3 K, 0 BB, 8 H, .199 WPA)
#2: Joe Mauer (2-for-3, BB, 2 RBI, R, .137 WPA)
#1: Michael Cuddyer (3-for-4, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, 2 R, .109 WPA)