They’ve both thrown 8-inning, 2-hit shut outs. Blackburn threw an 8.2 inning gem in Seattle yesterday afternoon, walking two and striking out six, getting yanked after walking Chone Figgins to put the tying run on with two outs in the ninth. Brian Fuentes came in, made Russell Branyan look like a doofus, and the Twins now have a 4.5 game lead in the AL Central. Johan Santana, well, Johan set a new franchise record for strikeouts in a single game with 17, though he only lasted eight innings (Joe Nathan pitched the ninth, recording two more strikeouts). Santana’s performance was more masterful, with a game score of 95 (Blackburn’s was 84), and it came against a much tougher lineup than the 2010 Mariners, who may have the worst offense of all time. Blackburn’s performance is still pretty impressive though, especially considering how awful he’s been up to this point and how unlikely it is for Blackburn to 2-hit anybody. Blackburn’s ERA has now dropped to 6.02, and he’s given up more than a hit per inning in each of his three major-league seasons. He lead the league in hits allowed last year, with 224, and is on pace to do it again this year, with 158 in just 119.2 IP. The fact that he held his opponents to just two hits is pretty remarkable, whether they are historically inept or not.
Perhaps Blackburn’s performance is more meaningful than Santana’s when put into context. The Twins are in the midst of a tight pennant race and needed a good performance from one of their worst starters in order to put some distance between the second-place Sox. They now have an 88.4% chance of clinching their sixth division title in ten years (according to Coolstandings.com). When Santana nearly no-hit the Rangers, the Twins were barely clinging to a .500 record and all but eliminated from post-season contention, trailing first-place Cleveland by six games. This game would turn out to be the highlight of an otherwise lost season. The Twins would finish with their first losing record in six years, 79-83, nearly eighteen games out of first place. Blackburn’s performance, while not as dominant and not of any real historical significance, helped his team increase their lead in the division by a game. Obviously, it’s not Santana’s fault that the 2007 Twins weren’t any good, and this year’s team has been succeeding despite Nick Blackburn, rather than because of him, for most of the season. All of this only proves that baseball is a crazy game.