- Twins survive ninth-inning nightmare to beat Oakland 10-5
This game was much, much closer than the final score would indicate. The Twins had a 10-0 lead going into the ninth. Scott Baker had pitched brilliantly, holding the A’s two just two hits in eight innings, and since he’d thrown only 96 pitches, was going for a complete game. And that’s when things got a lot more interesting than they really needed to be. Baker was obviously gassed, and loaded up the bases without recording an out (although he didn’t get any help from Alexi Casilla, more on that in a minute). Jesse Crain was brought in to relieve Scotty, but ran into trouble of his own. After Alexi Casilla again failed to field a routine ground ball that allowed a pair of runs to score, Crain had trouble finding the strike zone. He walked Jack Cust with the bases loaded, and was yanked in favor of Jose Mijares. Mijares struck out Jason Giambi, but then suffered some control issues of his own. He walked the next two batters and forced in a pair of runs. With the score now 10-5, and the bases loaded with only one out, Joe Nathan was brought in to complete what had suddenly become a save situation. He struck out Jack Hannahan and Rajai Davis to end the threat and pick up his 12th save of the year.
I’ll admit that I was nervous before Nathan came in. If there’s any team that can screw up a 10-0 lead in the ninth inning, it is the Twins. They’ve had such awful luck on the road this season and it really wouldn’t have surprised me if they ended up losing 11-10. Besides, it’s not like this kind of thing has never happened before.
The horrorshow that unfolded in the ninth overshadowed what had been a rare quality road win. Not only did Baker pitch a gem, but the bats sprang to life and gave him some much-needed run support. Delmon Young, who’s really been having a rough season both on and off the field, went 2-for-4 with a double (his first extra-base hit since April 22) and three RBI. Justin Morneau made me look silly for suggesting he might be in a slump, going 4-for-5 with a solo home run. Jason Kubel hit a three-run homer. Brendan Harris, who saw his career-high 12 game hitting streak come to an end on Monday night, went 3-for-4 with a walk and a run scored. Even Carlos Gomez, who was put in the leadoff spot when Denard Span was forced to leave the game, came up with a big two-run double (though he also struck out twice). It’s a good thing too, because the Twins needed every single one of those runs to hold off the A’s and get the win.
- Bert Blyleven is an a**
OK, here comes a mini-rant. I’m not really a fan of the Twins’ broadcast team, but I don’t usually complain about them here because it’s a waste of time. The Twins aren’t going to fire Bert and Dick simply because I don’t like them, and rehashing ad nauseum all the dumb things they say is enough to give me a headache. And since most of my readers don’t have to listen to Dick and Bert, they’d probably have no idea what I’m talking about, anyway. But when Blyleven called out Scott Baker during the broadcast for failing to pitch a complete game, I felt I needed to make an exception. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but he made it sound like the ninth-inning collapse was all Scotty’s fault, and it wasn’t (Alexi Casilla had a lot to do with it, but I’ll get to that). Baker was on his game all night: he struck out eight batters, didn’t walk anyone, and allowed only one extra-base hit. He retired fourteen straight batters coming into the ninth inning, and considering how much Baker has struggled this season, his performance had already exceeded expectations. The complete game would simply have been icing on the cake. But Bert ripped into Scotty when he loaded the bases without recording an out (again, not really his fault), accusing him of lacking the mettle to pitch a complete game. Ridiculous. If Baker truly wasn’t interested in trying to finish the game, then what the hell was he doing out there in the first place? It was obvious that he was exhausted, and one would think that if Baker didn’t care about finishing the game himself, he would’ve simply told Gardy that he was done for the night. Scotty didn’t deserve the public tongue-lashing Bert doled out from the safety of the broadcast booth, not after pitching eight innings of two-hit ball. And it will never happen, but Bert owes Scotty an on-air apology. Maybe I should change the title of this blog to “Fire Bert Blyleven”.
Worse yet, there was little rage directed at the true goat of the game: Alexi Casilla. The second baseman booted a couple of routine ground balls, one of which might have been a double-play. If Alexi even made one of those plays, Baker likely would’ve escaped the ninth having pitched a three-hit, maybe one-run complete game. But because of Casilla’s incompetence, Baker had to settle for eight innings and three unearned earned runs. And the Twins had to use their closer to save what should have been a complete blowout (of course, Jesse Crain and Jose Mijares could’ve pitched better, too). Ugh, I never thought I’d be so happy to hear that Nick Punto is coming back soon. I will take a sub-.200 middle-infielder who can make routine plays over a sub-.200 middle-infielder who can’t any day.
Well, I certainly can’t blame any of these losses on the starting pitchers. Unless, of course, you want to blame them for not pitching complete-game shutouts, which is essentially what they’ve needed to do to beat the Yankees. All three pitched well enough to earn the win in every single game of this series, but the bullpen and the offense haven’t exactly held up their part of the bargain. Francisco Liriano gave up one earned run in six innings, and although he wasn’t particularly sharp, consistently managed to pitch himself out of trouble. Which pretty good for a guy whose emotions often get the better of him when things don’t go his way and would subsequently let the game get out of hand (like in this game against the White Sox). Nick Blackburn was also pretty effective, giving up a three-run homer to Mark Teixeira, but settled down nicely after that and surrendered only four runs through 7.2 innings. Kevin Slowey pitched an absolute gem through 7.2 innings, striking out eight batters and outlasting A.J. Burnett. Unfortunately, the two earned runs he surrendered in the bottom of the seventh kept him from actually out-dueling his Yankee counterpart and earning a much-deserved win.
While it’s tempting to blame the bullpen for everything, the truth is that the Twins left a lot of runners on base. Yes, Joe Nathan deserves the blame for blowing the save on Friday night. Yes, Craig Breslow surrendered a two-run homer to A-Rod in the bottom of the thirteenth in game two. And yes, today Jesse Crain gave up the game-winning homer to Johnny Damon in the tenth. But it doesn’t really help that Twinkies have stranded 34 runners on base in the first three games of the series. Twice they loaded up the bases in today’s game, and twice they failed to drive in any runs. It’s somewhat understandable that they couldn’t do much against A.J. Burnett, but the failure to do anything against a journeyman like Brett Tomko is simply inexcusable. All of the games in this series have been decided by two runs or less, and the Twins have led going into the later innings in every single one. But the failure to capitalize on scoring chances, and the failure of the pitching staff, particularly the bullpen, to hold the lead has been frustrating. It is costing the team wins, plural. And even if they manage to win the division anyway, which they could, so what? They are likely to meet one of the AL East teams, such as the Red Sox or Yankees, in the first round. And will likely get swept in the first round if they don’t do something to shore up some of the glaring weaknesses in the bottom of the lineup and in the bullpen.
By the way, how amazing is Joe Mauer? This has to be the play of the decade. I don’t care what it costs, Joe has to stay in a Twins uniform until he dies.
Oh, I could talk about last night’s EPIC FAIL at Yankee Stadium, but there’s already a pretty good postmortem here. And I really don’t feel like it. I will say this though: there is no team in the league as adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory quite like the Twins. The Yankees did everything in their power to ensure the Twinkies would win, including surrendering three homers to our M&M boys and stranding ten runners on base, and yet our boys still found a way to lose. I predict a four-game sweep by the Yanks. The Twins will lead in all of the next three games, and then something really weird will happen in the later innings. Like that bizarre inside-the-parker on a ball Denard Span would normally catch. This is the kind of thing that always happens whenever the Twins visit the Bronx, new stadium or not. Oh well, at least Justin Morneau likes the short porch in right.
No, I would rather talk about drinking games instead. I haven’t really found a good one for Twins games. During Wild games, we usually just do shots whenever they score. Which is usually only two or three times per game (Well, except during the last two games of the season, in which they scored a combined fourteen goals. I have never been so sick in my life). That doesn’t work so well during Twins games, though. I mean, that 11-0 victory over Seattle probably would’ve killed me. And it’s tough to do shots on things like two-run singles or a grand slam. I suppose you could simply take a shot whenever someone hits a home run, but then you’d go through long stretches of consecutive games without drinking at all. And Twins games are tough to watch without getting drunk. Some people like to make a drinking game out of the dumb things Dick and Bert say, but then you end up getting hammered before the damn game even starts. Maybe it would be easier to give up on the whole game thing and just focus on the drinking.