Halladay strikes out eight in seven innings as Toronto wins series in Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- After seven dominant innings, Roy Halladay humbly offered this: He just wanted to hold the lead.

Halladay reared back and stifled the Twins again, and the Toronto Blue Jays breezed past Minnesota 9-2 on Thursday with another round of relentless swings.

Light-hitting leadoff man Marco Scutaro hustled home for a first-inning run off Francisco Liriano (0-3) and broke the game open with a two-run shot in a seven-run seventh highlighted by Kevin Millar's fourth career grand slam. Halladay improved to 8-0 with a 2.77 ERA in his career against the Twins, who failed to hit a fly ball while he was in the game.

"That's good. You want to keep the ball on the ground," Halladay said.

Toronto won three of four in the series and has taken 12 of the past 13 from Minnesota. Halladay (3-0) allowed eight hits and struck out eight without a walk. The 6-foot-6 right-hander allowed one run, in the second inning via fielder's choice grounder.

Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer was in awe.

"He could go out there one day and just throw all cutters and beat you, and then he could go out there one day and just throw all sinkers and beat you, and then he could go out there and throw all curveballs one day and beat you," Cuddyer said. "Today he had all three of 'em. ... It's hard to find a better pitcher over the last seven or eight years than him."

With a rookie-laden rotation behind Halladay, the Blue Jays were happy to have a 7-3 record after the first two turns. Offense has fueled this fast start.

"Everyone is clicking," Millar said. "It's like a snowball effect."

Scutaro started the game with a double. Cuddyer leaped at the wall to take a hit from Aaron Hill, but the relay throw skipped past Alexi Casilla for an error on the second baseman and Scutaro cruised home for an unearned run.

Liriano has pitched well enough to have at least one win, if not two, but he's still missing that edge he had as a rookie in 2006 -- and that Halladay has had for most of his stellar 10-year career. After a 1-2-3 fourth, Liriano was an out away from finishing the fifth tied at 1 when Hill's single drove in Jose Bautista.

That was the only opening Halladay needed.

His sixth inning was an ace's work of art. After a single and a hit-by-pitch put runners on with none out, Halladay struck out the side. Casilla was way out in front of a curveball. Justin Morneau fanned on a 91 mph four-seam fastball, right after he went for the curve. Then Jason Kubel whiffed three straight times at a cutter that dived and darted toward his shins.

"He's not firing on all cylinders yet, but that's still better than most guys," catcher Rod Barajas said, adding: "When he's in that situation, it's not panic time. He has such an arsenal there's no more pressure on us."

Liriano threw 104 pitches, so six innings was it for him after seven hits, two runs and one walk. He struck out five, but the struggling Twins needed more. Their starters are 2-6 with an ERA at 5.40, a problem compounded by the mere 14 runs produced in the past six games.

"Against a pitcher like that, you've got to do the best you can," said Liriano, mostly lamenting the location of the fastball he threw to Hill in the fifth.

The Blue Jays had no mercy for Minnesota's bullpen, sending 12 batters to the plate in the seventh and bringing manager Ron Gardenhire to the mound to take the ball from three different beleaguered relievers. They walked three and threw two wild pitches in that inning.

But with Bob Marley's reggae music blaring in the background afterward, the Twins kept a positive attitude in the clubhouse.

"People jump off the bandwagon all the time and I'm sure we knocked a few people off the wagons tonight, but you can jump back on with us because we're going to keep playing," Gardenhire said, his voice rising as he encouraged reporters to leave his office.

He said he didn't have any answers in anticipation of their questions, much like the Twins at the plate against Halladay.

Game notes
Minnesota's Joe Mauer, his rehabilitation from inflammation in the sacroiliac joint in his lower back forging ahead, will begin playing in rookie league games early next week. "Good and goosey" was Gardenhire's description of Mauer's status. ... Though rookie Travis Snider has been playing against right-handers and Bautista against lefties, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston won't call his LF situation a platoon. "Still early. There's still an opportunity," he said. "Even though it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, the duck's going to walk differently soon." ... Minnesota's crowded outfield conundrum has become a timeshare between Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young, with Denard Span playing CF while Young's in the lineup and playing LF next to Gomez. ... Scutaro, batting .310 with 13 runs, nine RBIs and three homers, has reached base in all 11 games. The Jays lead the majors with a .317 average.