MINNEAPOLIS — Brooks Conrad filled in neatly for Chipper Jones, making two nice plays at third base and then driving in the go-ahead run with a squeeze bunt in the ninth inning Saturday night that lifted the Atlanta Braves over Minnesota 3-2.
Conrad also hit an RBI double. He was put into the Braves' lineup about a half-hour before the game — no reason was given for Jones' absence, though the slumping star missed five games last week with inflammation in his right ring finger.
Matt Guerrier (1-2) walked Gregor Blanco with one out in the Atlanta ninth and gave up a single to Martin Prado. Jose Mijares entered the game, and Conrad dropped down a perfect bunt that the Twins reliever picked up and bobbled but had no play.
Billy Wagner got the save in the bottom of the inning, his 11th in 13 attempts this season.
Buoyed by a strikeout-caught-stealing double play to end the sixth after Joe Mauer's RBI double tied the game at 2, Braves starter Derek Lowe lasted one out into the eighth. The Twins loaded the bases, but Jason Kubel — a career .400 hitter with the bags full — struck out against the fourth pitcher of the inning Jonny Venters (2-0).
Conrad twice made difficult off-balance throws to get the Twins on grounders down the line. His two-out double against Nick Blackburn in the fifth put the Braves ahead 2-1.
The Twins held their annual charity auction and autograph party at Target Field on a gray, wet afternoon, with some fans arriving before sunrise to stake a place in line for the most popular players. The weather didn't get any better for the game, which started on time despite persistent rain, but the crowd of 40,001 still streamed in for the team's 29th straight sellout.
More people used the standing-room space around the lower concourse than usual to stay dry, but the number of ponchos and umbrellas spotted in the seats proved yet again this state's appetite for outdoor baseball after nearly three decades at the Metrodome.
Fresh from Francisco Liriano's 11-strikeout masterpiece on Friday, the Twins looked to Blackburn to build on that — and get back on track after two bad turns to begin the month. The right-hander went 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA in five May starts, but his first two June appearances were ugly with five runs and 10 hits apiece and only 19 outs — none swinging.
Blackburn left a changeup for Melky Cabrera to drive into the right-field seats, and the back-to-back doubles later in the fifth by Prado and Conrad were hit especially hard. But Blackburn finished seven innings with only two runs across and struck out a season-high five, giving him 22 for the year.
The epitome of a pitch-to-contact sinkerballer, Blackburn's strikeout rate — roughly one per two innings for his career — was about one per four innings entering the game.
NOTES: This is Atlanta's third visit to Minnesota, but in 14 years of interleague play the Twins have never traveled to Turner Field. ... Blanco was in the starting lineup for the first time this season. ... Braves utility man Omar Infante is day to day after fouling a ball off his left foot, but he didn't break any bones. ... Twins 2B Orlando Hudson was to test his sore left wrist by swinging in the batting cage before the game. The team hopes he'll come off the DL on Tuesday. ... Brendan Harris played 3B for the Twins instead of rookie Danny Valencia, his first appearance in six days. Harris is in a 2 for 28 stretch. "He's got to play. The only way he can help you is if he plays," manager Ron Gardenhire said, adding: "He has a good track record of hitting."