|Alexi Casilla (left) and Carlos Gomez celebrate after the Twins' victory over Chicago. (Hannah Foslien/Associated Press)|
Twins lifted by bullpen
Minnesota pulls closer to Chicago
MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Twins have been chasing the Chicago White Sox most of the season in a tight AL Central race.
Well, it's come down to the final week, and the young Twins are busy showing the White Sox how to thrive in the clutch.
Nick Blackburn fought through five innings and the maligned Minnesota bullpen didn't flinch, pitching the Twins past Mark Buehrle and the White Sox, 3-2, last night to pull within a half-game of first-place Chicago.
"It was just a big mind boost for me," said Blackburn, who acknowledged overthinking his struggles during a recent slump. "I just tried to convince myself to make a pitch and not try to press and overthrow anything."
Making up for Javier Vazquez's flop in a 9-3 loss the night before, Buehrle (14-12) gave the White Sox the big-game performance they needed after he fell behind, 3-1, in the second inning. He didn't have much help, though, beyond a homer and two RBIs by Ken Griffey Jr.
Buehrle got plenty of Twins to chase pitches out of the strike zone, but that didn't faze them.
"I think we probably got a little too aggressive at times, but I told our guys to play," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Play the game and have some fun."
Blackburn (11-10) gave up eight hits and two walks, but he was tough enough when it counted to hold the lead. Craig Breslow, Boof Bonser, and Jose Mijares followed, and Joe Nathan handled the ninth for his 39th save of the season and 200th of his career.
"You couldn't ask for anything better than that," Blackburn said. "They came in, did their job, and got those guys out. No drama. It was great."
Minnesota improved to 7-1 against Chicago at the Metrodome this year, thanks in big part to those relievers - who are a big reason, ironically, why the Twins are still behind the White Sox and not comfortably in front. The margin between these teams has been no bigger than 2 1/2 games since July 27.
"They're tough customers," Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said. "No doubt about that. We got to play hard to beat them."
The fans, who lost much of their faith in this bullpen, were treated to a playoff-style succession of scoreless innings - with just one hit and one walk.
"I think I had the toughest inning out of us all," said Nathan, who watched Carlos Gomez track down A.J. Pierzynski's drive to left-center with a nice running catch. "It was nice to finish one out. We know we've had some tough stretches."