Thanks to bullpen, Twins trail Sox by only half-game

By Dave Campbell

MINNEAPOLIS – 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 on Wednesday night to pull within a half-game of Chicago in the AL Central.

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.

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 with three scoreless innings, and Joe Nathan handled the ninth for his 39th save.

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 chasing 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.

Buehrle retired 13 of the last 15 batters he faced. After hitting three homers on Tuesday, the Twins went back to what they’re used to – getting the ball on the ground and racing around the bases.

League batting leader Joe Mauer rolled over on one in each of the first two innings, but he was fast enough to beat the relay throws and keep those bouncers to second from turning into double plays instead of RBIs. Denard Span drove in a run with single, too, and Carlos Gomez kept the rally alive with a perfectly placed bunt down the first base line before barely diving back to second in time to avoid being picked off.

Manager Ozzie Guillen tried to give his lineup a lift by bumping slumping catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the eighth spot, sending DeWayne Wise to the leadoff slot and moving Orlando Cabrera down to No. 2. Guillen was his usual defensive self discussing the move before the game: “They don’t like it? Don’t watch the White Sox,” he said.

The Sox hit three straight singles to load the bases with two out after Griffey got a run in with a groundout in the second, but Wise whiffed at strike three on a fastball from Blackburn.

With runners on first and third following Griffey’s homer in the fourth, Juan Uribe sent a chopper to third base and Alexei Ramirez broke for home and was caught in a rundown. Wise popped up the next pitch to third, ending the inning.