TORONTO (AP) - The Blue Jays went down fighting in the finale of an entertaining opening weekend.
Danny Valencia and Denard Span homered, and the Minnesota Twins held on to beat the Blue Jays 4-3 on Sunday, avoiding a three-game sweep and snapping a four-game losing streak in Toronto.
Twins closer Joe Nathan gave up a run but escaped a bases-loaded jam for his first save since 2009. Nathan missed last season following Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
``Not an easy loss but at the same time, I think there's belief against one of the best closers in baseball,' Blue Jays manager John Farrell said.
Jose Bautista hit his second home run of the season but it wasn't enough for the Blue Jays, who left the bases loaded in the ninth when Adam Lind grounded out.
``We gave ourselves multiple opportunities,' Farrell said. ``We just came up short here in the ninth.'
The crowd of 35,505 was on its feet as the Blue Jays rallied, but they couldn't finish off the sweep.
``Three of the best games I've played here in Toronto, from a fan-base standpoint,' outfielder Travis Snider said.
The save was Nathan's first since Oct. 3, 2009, against Kansas City.
``Obviously, I would have rather it been a lot cleaner and shorter,' he said. ``But when you're facing that lineup, they've done damage, especially against us. To be able to get through that inning and get out of here with a `W' was the most important thing.'
Nick Blackburn (1-0) pitched 5 2-3 innings for the win, but it was Nathan's return everyone was talking about.
``He's been through a lot in the last year,' Blackburn said. ``For him to go out there and be in a tight game, a tight situation and be able to get out of it was great.'
That didn't mean Blackburn wasn't biting his fingernails as he watched the final half inning from the clubhouse.
``We were talking about how it's the third game of the season and we're already stressed out,' he said.
Snider reached on an infield single to start the ninth and J.P. Arencibia followed with a drive to deep left, but Delmon Young made a leaping catch at the wall.
Mike McCoy hit a double down the line in right, narrowly sliding in ahead of the throw from Jason Repko. Yunel Escobar followed with a liner to right-center but Span made a great running catch, limiting Escobar to a sacrifice fly.
Juan Rivera walked, putting runners on the corners for Bautista. He fell behind 0-2 before drawing a walk that loaded the bases for Lind. Nathan said he was ``running on adrenaline,' but had enough left to get Lind to ground out on the first pitch.
``It was a situation where I was trying to do anything I could to get somebody out,' Nathan said. ``Fortunately I was able to get Lind to swing at a breaking ball and get a ground ball.'
Blackburn gave up two runs, one earned, and six hits. He walked one and struck out two, helping the Twins snap a four-game losing streak in Toronto.
After the first six batters went down in order, Valencia got a 10-hit attack started with a leadoff shot in the third against Blue Jays lefty Brett Cecil (0-1). Span added some insurance with a one-out drive to right in the ninth off former Twins closer Jon Rauch.
Valencia gave the Twins their first lead of the season with his first homer of the year but Toronto tied it in the fourth when Lind scored on a throwing error by second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
Minnesota reclaimed the lead with a two-run fifth but should have had more against Cecil. Jason Kubel led off with a single and Valencia walked before Drew Butera reached safely on a bunt single. Matt Tolbert followed with an RBI single to left but Valencia was thrown out easily at home plate by Snider after being waved home by third base coach Steve Liddle.
Span loaded the bases again with a base hit and Nishioka followed with an RBI single to left, scoring Butera. But the Twins left the bases loaded, with Delmon Young popping out and Justin Morneau lining out to end the inning.
Cecil allowed three runs and six hits in five innings. He walked two and struck out three.
``The first four innings, it was really just the one bad pitch to Valencia and the fifth inning, the ball just crept up a little bit, I got out of my delivery a little bit,' Cecil said.
The Blue Jays chased Blackburn in the sixth. Bautista led off with a homer that hit off the facing of the second deck in left. Two outs later, Jose Mijares came on in relief after Edwin Encarnacion reached on Valencia's fielding error at third. Mijares caught Snider looking to end the inning.
NOTES: Encarnacion made two errors at third base and already has three this season, but Farrell said he won't take him out of the lineup. ... Toronto OF Rajai Davis (right ankle) missed his second straight game but is expected to return Tuesday to face his former club, Oakland. ... Blue Jays RHP Brandon Morrow (right elbow) threw a bullpen session before the game and will make a rehab start for Class-A Dunedin on Thursday. ... RHP Frank Francisco (sore right pectoral) is also expected to pitch for Dunedin on Thursday. ... Twins C Joe Mauer got the day off with Butera starting behind the plate. ... Morneau started at DH, with Michael Cuddyer at 1B and Kubel in RF. ... Total attendance for the three-game series was 110,683.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved