Updated: October 3rd, 2010 3:16pm
Despite loss, Blackburn solid and confident in regular season finale

Despite loss, Blackburn solid and confident in regular season finale

by Phil Mackey
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MINNEAPOLIS -- For the first time since 2007, the Minnesota Twins didn't play a Game 163. Instead, they finished the regular season on schedule with a 2-1 loss to Toronto Blue Jays.

The result of Sunday's game was trivial, at best, with the Blue Jays (85-77) now heading to the offseason, and the Twins (94-68) setting their sights on a possible World Series run.

It's possible Sunday's starter Nick Blackburn could play a significant role at some point during the playoffs. He's currently penciled in as the Game 4 starter in the upcoming ALDS, and after getting roughed up in his outing against Kansas City earlier in the week, Blackburn came back on Sunday and pitched seven solid innings, allowing two earned runs on just three hits and a walk and six strikeouts in seven innings.

Two of those three hits, however, were solo home runs -- one off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion in the top of the fifth inning, and the other by Adam Lind in the seventh. Encarnacion hit five home runs in the series and boosted his season total to 21.

"(Blackburn) pitched very well," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "The ball was coming out of his hand very good. I think we all saw it was really tough to see up there with the shadow today, and it made it tough on both offenses. But Blacky's ball was sinking. As usual with these guys, the Blue Jays, you get a ball up and they hit it in the seats. They don't hit singles, they hit homers.

"But I like the way Blacky threw the ball."

Blackburn (10-12, 5.42) suffered through the most difficult season of his major league career -- a season that included a demotion to Triple-A at the end of July -- but he bounced back with seven solid outings in his final eight starts.

Over that stretch, Blackburn has also induced more than 55% groundballs. If he held that pace over a full season, Blackburn would be right there among the top five groundball inducing starters in baseball. His career rate is 47%.

"I think this year my mechanics got away from me," Blackburn said, "and I'll just hopefully be able to remember the adjustments that need to be made and how it feels when I do throw well, and what I'm feeling when I don't feel well. Hopefully just another year's experience of success, or having successful times, is something that you learn from."

Gardenhire penciled in his best lineup to the game -- a difficult task as of late, considering the barrage of injuries.

It wasn't long until the reserves came filtering in.

Jim Thome was pulled for a pinch runner after a second-inning single, and Jason Kubel was pulled for a defensive replacement heading into the third inning after he fouled a ball off his foot.

A couple innings later, Nick Punto took over for Orlando Hudson and Matt Tolbert entered for Michael Cuddyer.

Drew Butera and Ben Revere eventually took over for Joe Mauer and Delmon Young, and Alexi Casilla came in for J.J. Hardy.

The Twins scored their only run when Trevor Plouffe laced an RBI single to left field in the fourth inning.

The Twins set an all-time franchise record with a season attendance of 3,223,640 at Target Field.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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