ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Nick Blackburn kept Albert Pujols in the ballpark, which made him no different than any other pitcher the Los Angeles Angels’ slugger has faced in his first month in the American League.
The problem was Torii Hunter.
Hunter had an RBI single in the first and a two-run homer in the fourth, leading the Angels to a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night.
Blackburn (0-3) allowed three runs and seven hits over six innings as Minnesota lost for the seventh time in eight games.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Blackburn said. “The ball was coming out of my hand well. But one mistake really hurt us, a curveball to Torii that I shouldn’t have thrown. I’ve seen that guy plenty of times, and I should know better.”
The homer was the third in four games for Hunter, the former Twins outfielder, who started the season in an 18-game homerless drought that mirrored Pujols’ struggles. Hunter has a hit in 11 straight games against Minnesota, where he played 11 seasons for manager Ron Gardenhire.
“The big mistake he made was the curveball to Torii, which is basically a no-no,” Gardenhire said. “We watched him on our side for a long time. He loves that curveball, and his eyes get real big when you throw that to him.”
Twins cleanup hitter Justin Morneau went 0 for 2 before getting pulled for a pinch-hitter because of a sore left wrist.
“It was some scar tissue breaking up in there and it’s sore. But the ligament doesn’t feel loose, so that’s a good sign,” Morneau said. “It just got a little irritated from a swing. I’m going to see a specialist tomorrow (in Minnesota), and hopefully we’ll get a best-case scenario. I’ve got to stay optimistic. Hopefully it’s something that will just be a couple of days.”
The Twins, who opened a six-game West Coast road trip, snapped a six-game skid Sunday. But Monday’s loss dropped their record to a major league-worst 6-16.
Twins catcher Joe Mauer missed his first game of the season to rest his sore left knee. The former MVP and three-time AL batting champion had played every inning so far for Minnesota, but decided the road trip opener was a good day to rest after he got hit by a foul tip in the ninth inning of Minnesota’s win over Kansas City on Sunday.
Pujols had a solid hit to left in the first inning, and the ball bounced over a sliding Josh Willingham. It was Pujols’ eighth double of the season and first extra-base hit in 11 days. He also flied out, struck out and popped to shallow center.
“It was a tough month for everybody,” said Pujols, who’s batting .217. “I think Torii is the only one who’s swinging the bat well. It’s really crazy to see the whole ballclub go through this.”
Although he hit a beautiful line drive that curled a few feet foul in the fifth inning, Pujols is mired in the longest homerless drought of his career. This year, he’s come up empty in 23 games and 92 at-bats.
“We’re glad, and we hope we don’t oblige and let him get one this series,” Gardenhire said. “But you know it’s there and you know it’s going to happen.”
Blackburn didn’t approach Pujols any differently than he did anyone else in the Angels’ lineup, regardless of his home run drought. After all, his next one will be his 446th.
“I’m not going to stand there and say: ‘Well, this guy’s doing this well or that guy’s doing that well.’ I just go out and pitch to my strengths,” Blackburn said.
Chris Iannetta also homered for the Angels, hitting a first-pitch drive against Alex Burnett that hit the top of the center field fence and bounced over with one out in the seventh. It was his third of the year.
C.J. Wilson (3-2) pitched five-hit ball into the eighth inning with four strikeouts in another strong appearance in his native Orange County, helping the Angels win for the second time in eight games.
Alexi Casilla and Denard Span broke up Wilson’s shutout bid with run-scoring hits in the eighth, and the left-hander was charged with a third run when former Twins reliever LaTroy Hawkins yielded Danny Valencia’s RBI single.
“The first seven innings were about as well as I’ve pitched all year, and I think the team had a lot of confidence coming back home,” Wilson said. “I came out in the eighth inning and was a little amped (about a shutout), tried to do too much, and it bit me.”
Scott Downs induced Ryan Doumit’s inning-ending grounder, stranding two runners. Downs, who unseated Jordan Walden as the Angels’ closer last week, pitched the ninth to earn his second save.
The Twins have won just one series all season, taking two of three when the Angels visited Minneapolis three weeks ago.
NOTES: Gardenhire expects Mauer to play Tuesday, when Francisco Liriano takes the mound against Jerome Williams, the Angels’ fifth starter. … Casilla, who had three hits, singled and stole two bases in the third inning, but was stranded at third.
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