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Published: Thursday, 7/3/2008

Twins' speed kills Tigers

ASSOCIATED PRESS

MINNEAPOLIS - This is what it often looks like when the Minnesota Twins are winning: bunts, two-out singles and a whole lot of speed.

Nick Blackburn combined with two relievers on a five-hitter, and Joe Mauer's two-run single with two outs sparked a five-run third inning that led the surging Twins to a 7-0 win over the Detroit Tigers yesterday afternoon.

"That's one of their assets. They have really good speed in the 9 hole, 1 hole and 2 hole," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "That's a weapon, and they use it very well."

Minnesota took two of three from the Tigers and has won 13 of 15. Detroit, which had won 18 of 22 coming into the series, was shut out for the 10th time this season, the most in the major leagues.

The Twins have outscored the Tigers 39-17 in six games at the Metrodome this year, winning five.

Blackburn (7-4) allowed three hits in seven innings, struck out four and walked one. Jesse Crain allowed two hits in the eighth, and Boof Bonser pitched a 1-2-3 ninth.

"We didn't swing the bats worth" anything, Leyland said.

Leyland is "learning more and more that your pitchers have to be good fielders" when playing the Twins. They laid down three bunts in the game after having four infield hits a night earlier.

The third-inning rally featured five singles, a walk and an error by third baseman Carlos Guillen.

"That's what we preach," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's what we talk about. When it starts happening, that's when we start winning ballgames."

Nick Punto walked opening the third and, following a forceout, Carlos Gomez doubled past Guillen, who was creeping in because Gomez had opened the game with a bunt single.

Even cleanup hitter Justin Morneau, one of just two Twins with more than five home runs, got in on the small-ball action, chopping an offspeed pitch off the plate that Guillen bobbled. That made three of Eddie

Bonine's five runs unearned.

Bonine, making just his fourth career start, was taken out with the bases loaded in the third. The 27-year-old rookie gave up just one extra base hit, but was done in by a number of balls that found holes in the infield.

Blackburn bounced back after one of the worst starts of his career, when he gave up six runs and four homers last Friday in a no-decision against Milwaukee. He has given up four or more earned runs in five starts this year, and in the starts directly after, he is 5-0 with a 1.82 ERA.

"It's huge, just to realize that you can still go back out there and get the job done and compete at this level," Blackburn said. "Especially after a rough one like that, it's good to see the turnaround."

Punto made the play of the game with two outs in the top of the third, diving to stop Placido Polanco's grounder up the middle, with Clete Thomas on third and Curtis Granderson on first.

Without enough time to grab the ball from his glove and make a backhand flip, Punto instead used his glove to fling a grounder to second base. Alexi Casilla also had to lunge to field the ball and was able to keep a foot on second, beating the speedy Granderson by a split second and saving what would've been the game's first run.

"I'm sure we'll all see that on Web Gems tonight," Bonine said.

Punto and Casilla slapped gloves and shouted encouragement at each other as they ran to the dugout, and the momentum carried over to the bottom of the inning when Punto stepped in against Bonine.

"We've got a lot of young guys playing really well, and they bring a higher energy," Punto said. "It's hard not to feed off that. We're having a lot of fun."

NOTES: In 2003, the Tigers were blanked 11 times before the All-Star break, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. ... Gardenhire was in good spirits before the game with the doctor's report of a clean bill of health for his heart, an exam prompted by a stress test that raised concern. "They did say the big diet word. They did say a lot about that. Workout and diet," Gardenhire said. ... Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera was out of the lineup for the second straight game after hurting his left hip flexor muscle. Leyland said he was available to pinch hit and that he expects him to play tonight in Seattle. ... An MRI on Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer's right index finger revealed a sprain at the knuckle; the original diagnosis was a strained tendon. He's eligible to come off the DL on July 12, two days before the All-Star break, so the team might wait until after that to activate Cuddyer and send him to play in a couple of minor league games during the break.



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