It’s been nearly 13 years since the Minnesota Twins swept a three-game series in Oakland.
Given Nick Blackburn’s(notes) recent struggles against the Athletics, pulling off that feat might prove difficult Sunday. In Minnesota’s favor, however, Oakland starter Gio Gonzalez(notes) has fared even worse versus the Twins.
After losing three of four to Seattle to begin its Western road trip, Minnesota (33-23) has bounced back with consecutive one-run victories over the A’s (29-28). In Saturday night’s 4-3 win, a bold move from Oakland manager Bob Geren backfired.
With one out in the ninth inning, Geren chose to issue an intentional walk to the Twins slugger Justin Morneau(notes), who was replaced by pinch runner J.J. Hardy(notes). Matt Tolbert’s(notes) two-out single brought home Hardy with the go-ahead run.
“I didn’t want (Morneau) to beat us right there,” said Geren, whose team has dropped five of seven following a 7-1 stretch, falling into third place in the AL West in the process. “He’s one of the best hitters in the game right now. It was the walk that put him in scoring position. As it was, we had two outs and (Tolbert) snuck one through the infield.”
The win gave the AL Central-leading Twins the opportunity to finish their trip with their first sweep in Oakland since July 18-20, 1997.
Blackburn (6-2, 4.73 ERA) was 15 years old when that series was played. Whether the Twins can pull off a repeat could depend on how he bounces back from the end to a personal five-game win streak.
After earning victories in all of his starts in May, the right-hander opened this month by giving up five runs and 10 hits in a season-low 3 2-3 innings at Seattle.
The difference between his five consecutive winning starts and Tuesday night’s 7-1 loss, he said, was the ineffectiveness of his sinker.
“Everything was flat but still around the strike zone so I was getting hit pretty good,” Blackburn said.
The A’s have also proved adept with their bats against Blackburn. He’s 0-2 with a 6.37 ERA in five matchups with Oakland, and had a 14.63 ERA in his final two meetings last season.
In his last start in Oakland on July 20, Blackburn gave up a career-worst 13 hits and seven runs over five innings but escaped without a decision in a wild 14-13 loss.
That was mainly because Gonzalez (5-3, 3.68) allowed a career-high 11 runs and 10 hits over 2 2-3 innings in his first career start against Minnesota. In his next meeting with the Twins on Sept. 13, the left-hander was tagged for seven runs and eight hits over three innings of an 8-0 loss, giving him a 28.59 lifetime ERA versus Minnesota.
Gonzalez is 2-0 with a 3.08 ERA in his last four outings overall.
He issued four walks and an Adrian Beltre(notes) homer in five innings Tuesday night in Boston, but exited with a 4-3 lead. The A’s bullpen, however, allowed six runs from there en route to a 9-4 defeat.
While Morneau was out of the starting lineup Saturday because of illness, the chance to face Gonzalez might help him feel better. The Twins first baseman has homered in two of his three at-bats against Gonzalez.