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Blackburn laments early homer by A's

Blackburn laments early run by A's

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Some fans hadn't yet reached their seats. Others hadn't even turned from conversation. Twins starter Nick Blackburn's first pitch of Monday night, a fat 91 mph fastball over the heart of the plate, was belted by Mark Ellis over the left-field fence.

For most of the game, it appeared that Ellis' shot was going to be all the A's needed. The Twins sputtered, then got a couple of late runs, but lost, 3-2.

"That's frustrating," Blackburn said. "I think I'm just going to have to be more dialed in when I come into the game. I just can't be starting a game off like that."

"We haven't been scoring a lot of runs, period, so to put one up there that quick was nice," Ellis said. "Blackburn's around the plate a lot, so I was looking for something to hit right away."

It was the second consecutive game Blackburn has surrendered a leadoff homer -- Johnny Damon did so against the right-hander on Aug. 12, and the Twins went on to lose, 9-6.

"It definitely has to be something mental," Blackburn said. "I go down there; I warm up well in the bullpen, and then go out there and throw pitches like that to the leadoff guy. It's unacceptable. It will be a lesson for next time."

Oakland increased the lead to three on Kurt Suzuki's two-run single in the fourth. On the previous play, left fielder Delmon Young jammed his ankle chasing a Jack Cust double. Young remained in the game. He said after the game that the ankle was sore but that he would play on Tuesday.

Blackburn was able to save the bullpen by going eight innings. He gave up three earned runs on six hits and two walks.

"I got locked in after [Suzuki's] at-bat," Blackburn said. "It was frustrating, but I was able to go back out there and start making pitches again."

Minnesota's offensive difficulties might have been predicted by the evening's opposition, A's starter Justin Duchscherer. But Duchscherer exited the game with two outs in the bottom of the third inning after experiencing pain in his right hip. A's reliever Kirk Saarloos, brought up from Triple-A Sacramento prior to Monday's game, was inserted. He did his best Duchscherer imitation, throwing 3 2/3 shutout innings to get the win.

"That's exactly what we brought him up here for, to give us some innings down there," A's manager Bob Geren said. "His ball was really moving, and he got a lot of quick outs. You can't say enough about what he did. Just an outstanding performance."

Alan Embree, Huston Street and Brad Ziegler finished the job for Oakland. Ziegler pitched two innings for his third save.

"He's pretty nasty," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "The last pitch to [Brendan] Harris, we went and watched it, it's on the black. It cut the outside corner of the plate, the tip of it, and that's pretty nasty.

"That's why the guy gets a lot of people out."

The Twins had prepared for Duchscherer and seemed to be off-kilter against Saarloos. But the club certainly wasn't lamenting the exit of Duchscherer, a pitcher who had the best opponents' batting average (.208) in the Majors entering Monday's action and the second-best ERA (2.59) in the American League.

"Whenever you have a tough guy on the mound and he is going out for whatever reason, as a team you aren't happy that someone is getting hurt, but, yeah, get him out of there," Twins outfielder Denard Span said. "Because that guy is a pretty good pitcher. So yeah, we were pretty optimistic about that, but you don't wish anybody to get hurt."

The Twins added a bit of drama in the eighth, when Joe Mauer hit an RBI triple and was able to score on a throwing error by left fielder Eric Patterson. But the club couldn't complete the comeback against Ziegler.

Adam Everett was removed from the game after being struck on the hand in the dugout by a Nick Punto foul ball in the bottom of the sixth inning. Harris replaced Everett at shortstop.

Thor Nystrom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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