Twins rookie Nick Blackburn took a 3-0 lead into the fifth inning against the New York Yankees last June 1 in the Metrodome. Derek Jeter homered with one out and Bobby Abreu was the next hitter.

Abreu smashed a liner that struck Blackburn in the nose. He left the game and reliever Brian Bass gained the 5-1 victory.

On Sunday, Blackburn was asked about Abreu, and he said: "That's what he does ... hits the ball up the middle."

This was a topic since Abreu, now hitting fourth for the Los Angeles Angels, ripped another line drive that nearly ruined a masterful effort from Twins starter Glen Perkins.

The lefthander was holding a 2-1 lead and working on eight consecutive outs when Abreu led off the seventh. He did what he does -- smacked the ball up the middle -- and the ball appeared to hit Perkins on the left knee.

The announced crowd of 28,302 let a mass yelp of alarm, Perkins went hobbling in the direction of the ball, then pointed to Brendan Harris in the hope the third baseman could get to the ricochet and make a play. Harris did exactly that, charging and bare-handing the ball, and his throw got Abreu at first by a half-step.

The first indication Perkins might be able to shake off the blow came when he pointed to a spot above the knee.

Later, Perkins was at his locker and said: "I got hit at the bottom of the quad. If it had been the knee, I don't think I would've finished the seventh. Or the eighth. Or that I'd be standing here now."

After Abreu's bolt, Perkins limped around for a time and suggested he might be able to continue.

"Andy [pitching coach Rick Anderson] and I weren't paying any attention to what Perk was saying," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We were talking about who were going to get up [to pitch] in a one-run ballgame.

"I didn't think he had much chance to stay in the game."

Finally, Gardenhire redirected his attention to Perkins, the lefty threw warmup pitches and said he was good to stay in the game.

Perkins struck out Torii Hunter and retired Kendry Morales to finish the seventh, then pitched around Erick Aybar's bunt single in the eighth.

"It's my push-off leg, and it will hurt tomorrow, but I was good enough to pitch," Perkins said. "I didn't feel it at all in the eighth."

How's the bruise? "I haven't looked yet," he said. "I don't want to."

Perkins had allowed four hits, walked one and thrown 84 pitches to get through eight innings. He won't pitch again until Sunday in Cleveland, since the Twins have a week with two off days.

This was the first perfect setup for Perkins' first complete game in 29 big-league starts. Yet, Gardenhire went with Joe Nathan to finish the 3-1 victory, offering Perkins being "smoked in the leg" as the reason.

Perkins has made three starts, all eight innings, and has a 1.50 ERA. This was his first victory because of puny Twins hitting behind him. That's the opposite of 2008, when he was 12-4 with heavy run support.

There were a couple of victories that got away last season when Perkins' pitch count mounted and he suddenly ran out of petrol in the middle innings.

"I came to spring training with the idea of being more efficient with my pitches this season," Perkins said. "I'm trying to get hitters to swing at my pitches, get some quick outs and stay in the game.

"Today was good. I've never gotten this deep into a game on 84 pitches."

Perkins builds a game off a fastball on the hands of righthanded hitters. He's making better use of a changeup, he gets a few outs with the slider, but it's the fastball on the inside corner that makes him unique.

What was extra impressive Sunday was that plate umpire James Hoye didn't give Perkins those pitches in the early going, calling several fastballs that appeared to be on the inside corner a ball.

"Perk was asking about it between innings, asking what he should do?" Anderson said. "I said, 'Stay in there.' That's what he did. Pretty soon, the ump saw he was hitting the corner and started calling strikes."

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. •