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Twins Look To Win Rubber Game In The Big Apple

(Sports Network) - While there appears to be a figurative black cloud hanging over Johan Santana's head these days, New York teammate Jon Niese is hoping the skies stay clear for him this afternoon.

Niese will aim to pitch the Mets to a series victory when they close out a three-game series with the Minnesota Twins at Citi Field.

Facing the Twins for the first time since they traded him to the Mets prior to the 2008 season, Santana gave up five runs -- four in the first inning -- over six innings of a 6-0 setback. He has now lost three of his last four starts, giving up at least four runs in each outing.

"It's part of the game. There's only so much I can do," Santana said about his recent struggles. "I know I have to do my job on the mound and try to give the team a chance to win."

The loss was the Mets second in three games and dropped them to a still-solid 12-5 versus the American League this season.

After getting shut out for the second time in six games, New York sends out Niese to pitch this rubber match. Niese was rolling in his most recent start on Tuesday versus the Tigers before getting thrown off track by a 58-minute rain delay.

The 23-year-old didn't allow a hit in his first three innings of work before the interruption, but remained in the game following the stoppage and ended up allowing six runs and seven hits over 4 2/3 innings of a no-decision. That outing snapped Niese's three-start win streak, a span in which he had allowed just four runs over 23 innings.

"I started off great," Niese told New York's website. "The ball felt good coming out of my hand and I felt like I had good command. Then the weather changed and it seemed like everything stayed flat. None of my pitches did anything. I really didn't have any command of anything, and that's what hurt me."

The left-hander is 4-2 with a 4.17 earned run average this season and faces the Twins for the first time in what will be just his third career interleague start.

He'll be opposed by the Twins' Scott Baker, who in his last start on Tuesday was coming off his best outing of the season but struggled in a loss to the Brewers.

The 28-year-old had fanned a career-high 12 batters over seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball on June 16 in a 2-1 victory against the Rockies before getting pounded for five runs on nine hits over six innings versus Milwaukee. Baker fell to 6-6 on the season despite striking out seven to go along with a 4.61 ERA.

Baker is just 1-4 with a 5.93 ERA in seven road starts, but the right-hander limited the Mets to just two runs over five innings in a win the only other time he faced them back on June 20, 2007. He is 8-3 with a 4.08 ERA in 13 interleague starts as well.

Baker will be following up Carl Pavano's second straight complete game. After holding the Phillies to a run while going the distance last Sunday, Pavano limited the Mets to just three hits in notching his sixth career shutout and third complete game this season.

"My pitch count was getting up there. I had the option of handing it to the bullpen, but it was something where I wanted to finish, obviously for the team and personally," said Pavano, who also had two hits at the plate.

Jason Kubel hit a solo homer and drove in two runs and Delmon Young had a two- run double for the Twins, who snapped a season-high four-game losing streak and improved to 3-5 on a nine-game road trip. They also maintained a 1 1/2- game lead over the Tigers and White Sox for first place in the AL Central.

The Twins are battling the Mets for the first time since taking two of three at old Shea Stadium in 2007 and have won six of the last eight in the series.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.