Hits hard to come by for Twins

Hits hard to come by for Twins

CHICAGO -- Any player that holds the title of former batting champion has clearly seen his share of hits fall.

While Joe Mauer, the 2006 American League batting champ, has tallied plenty of hits over his young career, the one that he delivered in Tuesday's 7-1 loss to the White Sox might rank among the most memorable.

Mauer came to the plate with one out in the ninth inning to face White Sox starter Gavin Floyd, who was in the midst of no-hit attempt.

Having struck out Brendan Harris looking for the first out of the ninth, Floyd was staring at quite a challenge to finish off the no-hitter. Up next for Floyd were the Twins' Nos. 3 and 4 hitters -- Mauer and '06 AL MVP Justin Morneau. Emotions were clearly riding high as the crowd of 23,480 people at U.S. Cellular Field all rose to their feet.

"I was worried about the best two hitters in the game come up to hit in that inning," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said.

Guillen was right to be concerned. After taking a first pitch fastball for a ball, Mauer belted an 85-mph slider inside from Floyd into the left-center-field gap.

White Sox center field Nick Swisher tried to charge in on the ball, but it fell just beyond his outstretched glove as Swisher sprawled out in a Superman leap. "It seemed like it was up there for a long time, more than normal," Mauer said of his hit. "But they were kind of playing me more to pull that [at-bat]. I'm just glad it fell."

Mauer's double prevented what would have been the first no-hitter thrown against the Twins since David Wells' perfect game at Yankee Stadium on May 17, 1998.

Twins acting manager Scott Ullger, who is filling in while Ron Gardenhire is on bereavement leave, was the club's third-base coach at the time of that game as well, and he hasn't forgotten the feeling.

"I didn't get one sign that whole game," Ullger said. "I didn't like the way that feels. No one wants to be on that end of a no-hitter."

However, this no-hit effort from Floyd was a bit different than most. While Floyd held the club hitless for the majority of the game, The Twins actually tallied a run off the Sox starter in the middle of his memorable night.

Early on in the contest, Floyd was what Mauer deemed "effectively wild." He issued back-to-back one-out walks to Harris and Mauer in the first, but would get out of the jam by getting the next two hitters to ground into forceouts.

It was a leadoff walk to Mauer in the fourth that would end up costing Floyd a run. Following Mauer's second walk of the game, Morneau reached on an error by White Sox left fielder Carlos Quentin. Morneau hit a hard liner straight to the left fielder, but the ball went in and out of Quentin's glove, allowing Morneau to reach first. Mauer then advanced to third base on a long flyout to right by Michael Cuddyer and scored on Jason Kubel's sac fly to center.

After that inning, Floyd seemed to settle in, and the Twins couldn't get much going. Using a hard cutting fastball and slider along with his traditional go-to curveball, Floyd retired 16 straight batters following the error. He exited the game after giving up Mauer's double, pitching 8 1/3 one-hit innings while throwing 105 pitches.

It was quite a change for Floyd, who had struggled against the Twins in the past, holding an 0-3 career record with a 6.75 ERA vs. the club. While giving credit to Floyd for making some big pitches at critical times, Ullger felt that the Twins chased a few too many pitches out of the zone. And while that wouldn't have led to hits, it could have put more runners aboard.

Cuddyer felt that the appearance of the team chasing was actually a result of so much movement on Floyd's pitches.

"He had late movement, and that's the best kind you can have," Cuddyer said. "It looks like a strike all the way to the zone and then maybe it falls out. To the naked eye, it looks like we are chasing, but when you're up there, it looks like a strike"

While Floyd was able to do just about anything to the opposing hitters, Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn was not so fortunate. In his third start against the White Sox in the past month, Blackburn gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits over his six innings.

Most of Blackburn's troubles came from issuing leadoff walks, including one in the first inning to Orlando Cabrera. A Jermaine Dye single to center later in the inning would score Cabrera, and a throwing error by Twins center fielder Carlos Gomez on the play allowed a second run to score, putting the Twins in a 2-0 hole.

Dye then drew a leadoff walk to start the fourth and scored on Juan Uribe's single to left. The Sox right fielder added to his team's lead in the sixth with his fourth home run of the season, a solo shot to right field.

"Once again, I didn't feel good," Blackburn said of his start. "I'm tired of going out there and feeling the way I am on the mound. I haven't been comfortable in awhile. It's frustrating. I'm ready for my stuff to start feeling right, and for me to start throwing pitches that I'm comfortable with; something that I can trust. Tonight, it was feeling like I wasn't trusting any of my stuff."

Although it was a difficult night for Blackburn, the story of the game was of course, Floyd. And thankfully for the Twins, it was about how he came close to throwing a no-hitter for the second time this season, rather than finally getting one.

While Tuesday will still go down as a loss for the Twins, the night ended up being less disappointing thanks to one lone hit -- courtesy of the club's 25-year-old catcher.

"Joe Mauer is a tough guy to keep hitless on a night," Ullger said. "So he came through for us and he was a spoiler for it."

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