Twins' first win is a beauty: Mauer, Morneau, Hardy homer, and Jon Rauch mops up

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Jon Rauch didn't have to wait long for his first shot at filling in for Joe Nathan. With the Twins holding a two-run lead in the ninth inning Tuesday night, Rauch jogged in from right field for his first save attempt as Minneso...

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Jon Rauch didn't have to wait long for his first shot at filling in for Joe Nathan. With the Twins holding a two-run lead in the ninth inning Tuesday night, Rauch jogged in from right field for his first save attempt as Minnesota's designated closer.

And on this night, in the Twins' 5-3 victory, their inaugural win of the 2010 season, the right-hander made his job look simple. He struck out Brandon Wood on three pitches, took care of pinch-hitter Maicer Izturis with a foul pop to third and finished off Erick Aybar with a called strikeout.

"I was just trying to think about getting out there and getting it over with," Rauch said of his first save since May 22, 2009, when he was pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks. "Get the three outs, get the win."

Ron Gardenhire had said he couldn't know how Rauch would handle his job as closer, but the Twins manager made it clear he had no qualms about his batting order. Gardenhire believed in his lefty-heavy lineup long before Tuesday night. He even had his everyday batting order face off against Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels for a test run last month, when the Twins scored five runs on seven hits against the 2008 World Series MVP.

So before his team's first regular-season start against a left-handed pitcher -- the Angels' Joe Saunders -- Gardenhire had no concerns about a night full of lefty-lefty matchups.


"I don't worry about them. I really don't," the manager said before

Tuesday's game. "These guys want to face lefties. Cole came down and all my hitters wanted to be in there. ... These guys are all pretty good hitters (against) lefties, righties. It used to be that way, you'd worry about a lefty coming in and being able to dominate, but these guys have seen enough of them, they're good enough hitters now."

In their first southpaw test of 2010, the Twins proved it.

First came Joe Mauer with a two-run homer to center field in the first inning. Justin Morneau followed him up in the third, packing all of his spring anxieties and anger into one swing. The first baseman, who also singled and scored in the first, dropped Saunders' 1-1 pitch beyond the fence in right field for a 4-0 Twins lead.

And the righties thrived as well. Delmon Young drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the Twins' three-run first, and J.J. Hardy softened the sting of grounding into two double plays by hitting his first home run as a Twin with a solo shot to start the fourth.

Like Scott Baker the night before, Nick Blackburn walked the first batter he faced in the 2010 season. In the antithesis of the Twins way, Blackburn walked the second hitter he faced as well, but he shook free of what is almost always a troublesome beginning with a 1-4-3 double play and a swinging strikeout to end the inning.

"The first two (walks), there was so much adrenaline," Blackburn said after his 6 2/3-inning, three-run, five-hit night. "It's tough to control that. You can get your emotions under control, but when you're dealing with that much adrenaline it's tough to hold back and to not overdo it. Those first two, I was just trying to figure everything out. Everything felt so good, my arm felt so good, that's unusual."

With a sinker that's featured extra movement throughout spring training and on Tuesday, Blackburn controlled the game and his pitches. He gave up one run in the third, and his first clean inning didn't come until the sixth. That three-up, three-down frame followed the Angels' most fruitful inning, when former Twin Torii Hunter whittled Minnesota's four-run lead to two by forcing an 0-1 fastball over the fence in right-center field for a two-run homer.


With Brian Duensing and Matt Guerrier warming up in the bullpen, Blackburn came back out for the seventh and managed two outs before Hunter stepped in again and doubled into the left-field corner.

From there, Duensing took over (with third-base coach Scott Ullger making the pitching change after Gardenhire left the game with flu-like symptoms) and broke Hideki Matsui's bat on a groundout to end the inning and preserve the lead.

"We're not going to win every game and we're not going to lose every game," said Gardenhire, who after his team's win reported that he was feeling better. "So we got those two out of the way. We're good now."

-- Copyright (c) 2010, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn./Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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