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Swarzak shuts down Brewers in debut

Swarzak shuts down Crew in debut

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Anthony Swarzak had racked up 44 career victories over the past five years in the Minor Leagues, but never once did one of those result in a shaving cream pie to the face.

It took just one Major League start for all that to change.

As Swarzak prepared to do a television interview following his start against the Brewers on Saturday night, teammates Luis Ayala, Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gomez sneaked up on Swarzak with a trio of shaving cream pies and doused the starter with his share of the eye-stinging stuff.

After all, one shaving pie wouldn't do considering that Swarzak delivered a Major League debut that couldn't have been scripted better.

The 23-year-old starter held one of the hottest teams in the Major Leagues scoreless for seven innings in front of 40,547 fans at the Metrodome -- the largest crowd since Opening Day -- to help lead the Twins to a 6-2 victory over the Brewers.

"I feel great," Swarzak said after the win, as lingering remnants of shaving cream were still in his one ear. "My nose is running from all that shaving cream and stuff like that, but I feel good."

It would be hard to feel anything else after Swarzak became the first starting pitcher in Twins history to throw seven scoreless innings in his Major League debut.

"That's pretty special to step in the big leagues and to do what he did with a jam-packed stadium here," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You are talking about a good offensive team over there that can do a lot of damage. He made a lot of good pitches and located the ball very well and used his pitches. That's a great performance."

From the very start of his outing, Swarzak (1-0) looked to be in control of himself. Gardenhire said that he got a positive sign from Swarzak in the first inning when he looked up at the readings on the speed gun.

"Right away his fastball was 88-90 [mph], and we know he can jump it up there to 92, 93," Gardenhire said. "That told us that he wasn't trying to overthrow the ball. He used his pitches."

That first inning might have been the toughest for Swarzak, as it took him 22 pitches to get through the frame. And after issuing a one-out walk to Casey McGehee, the starter had a chance to see things unravel when a bloop single fell between charging outfielders Denard Span and Carlos Gomez in shallow center field.

After the ball dropped, catcher Joe Mauer ran out to talk to Swarzak. The message to the rookie was to keep throwing solid pitches. Swarzak got right back to work, striking out Prince Fielder looking for the second out of the inning and then forcing another groundout to get out of the jam unscathed.

It was after throwing the called third strike to Fielder that Swarzak said he got his first real sense of the crowd and the atmosphere of the night.

"I heard the crowd start to yell, 'Brewers, Brewers' and then I heard the Minnesota Twins fans start coming back," Swarzak said. "I threw that strike in there, and they went crazy. That was a good feeling. I'll never forget the roar of the crowd as long as I live."

Many of the Twins (21-23) won't forget this night either, considering the performance that Swarzak delivered. With a group of 16 family members and friends from his home town of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., including his mom and stepfather, in the crowd, he retired 16 of the first 20 batters he faced and scattered just five hits over the course of his seven innings. He struck out three Brewers (26-17) and walked two while throwing 98 pitches in his seven innings.

"He went after hitters," Mauer said. "He pounded the strike zone with his sinker. He mixed in his changeup with the curveball. That tells you a lot about him. I might not know him that well, but what he did tonight, I think I've got a pretty good idea of what he's all about."

Judging by the way that Swarzak made his way through his first start, a reporter afterward suggested that it didn't look like he was nervous out on the mound.

"Really? I felt nervous," Swarzak admitted. "The first couple innings, I felt nervous, and in the bullpen, I felt nervous. I think the fourth inning, I settled down a bit and got back to pitching."

Swarzak credited Mauer with being a huge help to him in this start as well, helping to calm down the nerves that many others found hard to see.

"When I got a guy like him behind the plate, I know I don't have to shake ever," Swarzak said. "He does a good job back there. He gives a great target, receives the ball well. It was an honor to throw to him tonight."

Mauer didn't just help Swarzak behind the plate either. The catcher also helped give the right-hander a lead to work with as Mauer continued his recent streak of hot hitting, going 3-for-3 with a home run and two RBIs in the win.

Since Gardenhire shifted Mauer to the second-spot in the lineup on Thursday, the Twins offense has found no trouble scoring runs. It was once again the 2-3-4 combination of Mauer, Justin Morneau and Cuddyer who came up with three of the club's five RBIs on the night.

Mauer matched his 2008 home run total on Saturday night when he blasted his ninth homer of the year -- a solo shot to the first row in left field -- off Brewers starter Braden Looper (4-3). It took Mauer 574 plate appearances to reach that number last season. This year, it came in just his 94th plate appearance.

"It's to nearly the same spot every time," Cuddyer joked of Mauer's five homers at the Dome this season. "They need to start selling the first row of left field at Yankee prices, $2,500 a seat. You can get that for them."

Mauer also was the catalyst for the club being able to take a 3-0 lead in the third. The first Twins run scored on Mauer's RBI single that he was able to hit through the hole to left field with runners on first and second. A throwing error by left fielder Ryan Braun on the play allowed a second run to score and Mauer to advance to third. He then scored on Morneau's sac fly to left.

Joe Crede added a solo home run in the fourth, his seventh of the season and his sixth in his past 19 games. Crede then drove in the Twins' last run with an RBI grounder in the seventh.

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

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