Twins grab sixth win in last seven games, dump struggling Indians

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Nick Blackburn showed why the Minnesota Twins think their young guns are ready for the heat of a pennant race.

Blackburn allowed one run in seven innings and Joe Mauer hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer in the seventh to lift the Twins to a 4-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Friday night.

Blackburn (8-6) turned in another strong effort just hours after Minnesota designated Livan Hernandez for assignment, getting rid of their opening-day starter, and only one with any playoff experience.

It was a huge show of faith in a rotation that doesn't have a player older than 26 -- and Blackburn's outing was a good example of why the Twins decided to go with their youngsters.

The rookie right-hander showed the poise of a veteran in the seventh when he wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam by striking out Jamey Carroll to keep the game tied 1-1.

"We have a lot of faith in him to get people out," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That was his ballgame and you want him to get those outs. It's a growing and learning experience to put him in those situations and get big outs in a tight ballgame there. It's his game, win or lose."

Mauer connected for his seventh homer in the bottom half and Brendan Harris added an RBI double to chase Jeremy Sowers (1-6) and keep the Twins a half-game behind AL Central-leading Chicago.

"You get put in those situations, it would be easy to fold," said Blackburn, who surrendered six hits. "But we're all competitors in here so it's kind of what we've grown up doing is trying to bear down in situations when it's the hardest."

For the second straight start against Minnesota, Sowers took a perfect game into the sixth inning before the Twins spoiled it with a leadoff double. Back on July 27, it was Craig Monroe who got to Sowers.

This time around, Harris hit one to left field and later scored on a bloop single by Carlos Gomez for a 1-0 lead.

Kelly Shoppach led off the seventh with a double and scored on a base hit by pinch-hitter Jhonny Peralta to tie it, but Blackburn stayed calm to limit the damage.

"I don't think it's going to change any of our approaches," Blackburn said of the decision to cut Hernandez and call up Francisco Liriano.

The Twins rotation now consists of 26-year-olds Blackburn and Scott Baker, 25-year-old Glen Perkins, 24-year-old Liriano and 23-year-old Kevin Slowey.

"We just have to keep pitching," Blackburn said. "We can't put too much pressure on ourselves."

The Twins put three on the board in the seventh, and Sowers was again left wondering what went wrong.

"In this game, you can have everything going great, and in a matter of five or six pitches, it just kind of flip-flops on you," Sowers said. "It's frustrating. You have to stay focused, especially against a team like this."

Joe Nathan pitched the ninth for his 30th save in 32 chances.

Shoppach went 2-for-4 in his first game since tying a major league record with five extra-base hits -- three doubles and two homers -- in a 13-inning loss to Detroit on Wednesday.

He didn't get much help from his teammates, who were stymied by Blackburn's smooth mix of curveballs and well-placed fastballs.

"We load the bases and weren't able to capitalize," Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. "Then they came right back the next inning."

That's been the story of this massively disappointing year for the Indians, who have lost seven of their last nine to fall 14 games behind the White Sox. CC Sabathia and Casey Blake are gone, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez are injured, and the ball just hasn't bounced the Indians' way this season.

"I like what I'm doing with the baseball right now," Sowers said. "I'm hoping I can just keep building off that. The good breaks, the good luck, it'll happen."

Game notes
Randy Ruiz, a 30-year-old who has spent nine years in the minors, made his major league debut on Friday night. He singled off Sowers in the seventh for his first hit and went 1-for-3. ... Shoppach made a perfect throw to get the speedy Gomez stealing in the sixth. ... The Twins held a pregame ceremony on the one-year anniversary of the Interstate 35-W bridge collapse. The players wore patches to honor the 13 who died.