Kubel helps Blackburn win fifth straight

Kubel helps Blackburn win fifth straight

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins weren't able to completely turn around their luck against the Yankees during their six regular-season meetings this year. But after their club went winless against New York in 10 tries last season, Nick Blackburn and Jason Kubel helped ensure that Minnesota would not be swept in either of its two series against the defending World Series champions in 2010.

Less than two weeks after Blackburn held the Yankees to three runs over seven innings and Kubel belted a grand slam off vaunted closer Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning to deliver a victory in the series finale at Yankee Stadium, the two paired up once again on Thursday night to help the Twins win, 8-2, after having suffered back-to-back one-run losses to New York at Target Field.

This time, Blackburn allowed just two runs over seven innings and Kubel belted two home runs to lift the Twins in front of 39,087 at Target Field.

While Francisco Liriano was the ace of the Twins rotation in April, Blackburn has taken over the role this month, as he picked up his fifth win in May on Thursday.

The right-hander, who isn't scheduled to pitch again until June 1 at Seattle, finished May with a 5-0 record and a 2.65 ERA, which could have him in line for American League Pitcher of the Month honors. It was a strong comeback following Blackburn's disappointing April, when he went 1-1 with a 6.85 ERA.

"It's quite a surprise," Blackburn said of his strong performance in May. "Just that I've been able to put together several good starts in a row and had my better stuff recently has been a bit of a confidence booster to me."

But Blackburn hasn't just delivered strong starts, he's done so at times when the Twins have been trying to stop a losing streak. So far this season, Blackburn has won all four of his starts that immediately followed a Twins loss, and that included Minnesota's only two wins against the Yankees since the start of the 2009 season.

"He's done a great job -- he came up in the last Yankees game, and the same tonight," Kubel said of Blackburn. "All our [starters] are doing a good job, but he's stepping up when we need him to."

Blackburn wasn't the only player who stepped up his game against this Yankees team. Kubel's strong night at the plate on Thursday helped negate what has been another slow offensive stretch for the left-handed slugger.

Kubel entered the series finale against the Yankees batting .217 on the season, having tallied just five hits in his past 27 at-bats since delivering that key grand slam off Rivera. And he had hit just three home runs all season, including just one at Target Field, which came in the Twins' home opener against the Red Sox.

But on a night when his offense needed to get things going against this tough Yankees squad, Kubel delivered the two big home runs as well as an RBI double in the second inning to go 3-for-4 and finish with five RBIs.

"He had a great year for them last year," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I think he drove in over 100 [runs]. We're not overlooking him. We know their lineup is extremely deep, and we've talked about it. He really hurt us tonight."

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire gave Kubel the start in left field, despite the fact that he was just 4-for-23 off Yankees starter Javier Vazquez throughout his career. But Gardenhire decided to start Kubel after looking at the slugger's nine most recent at-bats against Vazquez, in which he delivered all four of those hits, including a triple and a home run. It certainly proved to be a good decision.

Kubel's double in the second inning helped the Twins take a 3-0 lead off Vazquez. He then ended the Twins' homerless streak of 349 plate appearances with a solo drive to right field in the sixth inning off Vazquez, extending the Twins' lead to 5-2.

It was the first of two home runs in back-to-back plate appearances for Kubel. Facing Yankees reliever Chad Gaudin in the seventh, Kubel padded Minnesota's three-run lead by delivering a two-out, three-run homer to right field.

While his first two hits of the night brought chants of "Kuuuube!" from the home crowd at Target Field, it was the second home run of the night after which Kubel was called upon to deliver a curtain call.

"I felt great all day," Kubel said. "That's something I haven't been doing too much lately, is just seeing the ball. Instead of swinging at everything, I was able to get some pitches to hit and put some good swings on them tonight."

Thursday's victory marked the final regular-season contest between the Yankees and Twins this year, with all six having taken place over the past two weeks. Coming away with two wins is certainly an improvement from last year's woes against New York, but the Twins just seem happy that they don't have to face this Yankees team again until perhaps the postseason.

"Those guys are dangerous," Blackburn said of the Yankees. "To go out there and face them over and over is never fun. I'm glad we're done with those guys, obviously."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.