- 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.
- Dutch eliminated in WBC, 9-3
Team Hollandaise was sent packing in spectacular fashion by the heavy-hitting American team last night. The USA pounded the Dutch pitchers for nine runs on twelve hits, including a two-run homer by Jimmy Rollins and a solo shot by Adam Dunn. The Dutch, on the other hand, eked out a mere three runs (though they also had twelve hits). Things got a little chippy in the eighth, when Bryan Englehardt spent a little too much time admiring his solo shot (the Dutch were down 8-1 at this point) off of reliever Matt Lindstrom. Lindstrom proceeded to throw behind Vince Rooi, and both benches were warned. That was about as close to any actual fighting as the two sides got, and the Dutch would score one more run on a sac fly before the US put the game away in the bottom of the inning.
As I’ve said before, the Americans had a lot more on the line in this game than the Dutch. The US was absolutely embarrassed in the 2006 WBC when they failed to make it past the first round. They had already been humiliated by the Puerto Ricans, and a loss by the underwhelming Netherlands team would have struck a blow to the already-flagging interest in the tournament on the part of American baseball fans. The Dutch, on the other hand, weren’t even expected to win a game in the WBC, let alone knock off a Dominican team that was loaded with major-league talent. Losing to the Americans will do nothing to diminish interest in baseball or the WBC in the Netherlands, considering that there wasn’t much to begin with.
There is some bad news for Team USA (and the Marlins): Matt Lindstrom has a strained rotator cuff and will be unable to pitch for at least 10 days. This isn’t the first time the Americans have suffered injuries in the WBC, Chipper Jones, Ryan Braun, and Dustin Pedroia have all suffered injuries of varying seriousness. While none of these guys are likely miss any of the season, fans and baseball executives alike are all nervous about their favorite players suffering devastating injury in a tournament that isn’t very important to them. This is one of the major criticisms of the WBC: that it is held during spring training, when guys aren’t quite in game-shape and are much more injury-prone. It has gotten so bad that Team USA manager Davy Johnson has threatened to forfeit the tournament if anyone else gets hurt.
- Twins fall to Yankees 5-1
I’m not going to harp on the lack of offensive production in Sunday’s game at Steinbrenner field, considering that the lineup was full of guys who have no chance to make the team this year (though the few regulars who were in did pretty well, except for Denard Span). I’m also not going to rake anyone over the coals for the piss-poor defense, either. While no Twins players were actually charged with any errors, those of us who actually saw the game know better. There were some defensive miscues by the infield, and a dropped pop fly by SS Trevor Plouffe that led to some not-so-earned Yankee runs. While Glen Perkins officially gave up three earned runs on five hits, in truth he probably gave up one earned run on three hits. Other than that, the pitching was really good (aside from Bobby Keppel, but he’s probably going to start the season in AAA). Nick Blackburn pitched two spotless innings in relief, and gave up only one hit while recording a strikeout. Blackburn is scheduled to make his next start on Tuesday, as the soreness in his knee is apparently gone now. Philip Humber will start in his place today against Baltimore.
By the way, Perk is apparently fine after getting hit in the calf by Hideki Matsui’s broken bat (he even got Matsui to sign it). He wanted to come back out and pitch the fourth, but the team decided not to take any chances on the projected fourth starter for a spring exhibition game and put in Nick Blackburn instead. He should make his next start against the Yankees on Friday.
Andy Pettite looked really sharp on the mound for the Yanks, shutting out the Twins for three innings. More importantly, though, Jorge Posada caught three innings without experiencing any pain in his shoulder. He also went 2-for-2 and plated a pair of runs. That is very good news for Yankee fans who already have enough to worry about as it is.
- Twins vs O’s
The Twins were hitting! And not stranding that many runners for once! Most importantly, Denard Span went 2-for-3 with a triple, which is his first extra-base hit of the season I believe. Span has been struggling at the plate so far, and it appeared in yesterday’s game against the Yankees as though his timing was off. It was pretty clear that he was seeing the ball well, as he was taking a lot of pitches and was working some deep counts. However, he would end up either grounding out or popping out, and it appeared he was a little in front of the ball. Hopefully Span has finally found his swing. Joe Crede hit a two-run homer in the third with two outs, that put the Twins on top for good. Crede hasn’t been having a good spring, either, but considering that he only played in 91 games last year because of his back, and that he tends to be a bit of a slow starter, it’s a little too early to panic just yet.
And Philip Humber pitched well, giving up no hits and no runs while striking out two in his two innings of work. Actually, the only runs given up by Twins pitchers were by guys who will most likely spend the season in Rochester: Armando Gabino (leadoff homer to Aubrey Huff) and Sean Henn (another leadoff homer to catcher Guillermo Rodriguez). Oh, and Rule 5 draft pick Jason Jones gave up one run on four hits in two innings. I’m not sure if Jones is going to remain on the roster or not. Although the Twins will have to offer him back to the Yankees if they choose to send him down, it doesn’t sound like the Yanks are too interested in him so some sort of deal might be worked out.
- Still No Mauer News
There’s still no official word on what is ailing Joe Mauer. According to the Star Tribune, he was in the clubhouse this morning and seemed to be in a good mood, so maybe there isn’t anything seriously wrong. While it would be nice to know what, if anything, is going on, I doubt it is serious otherwise there would have been some sort of announcement by now. At least that’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.
- Jose Mijares gives up four runs in one inning, Twins lose 9-5
Well, today’s game against Florida started out really good. The offense finally started coming to life, and Kevin Slowey looked really sharp out on the mound. The Twins had jumped out to an early 5-0 lead, and the relief pitchers were effectively shutting down the Marlins’ offense. Until Jose Mijares came in to pitch the seventh, that is. Mijares gave up four earned runs on three hits and recorded only one out. He was yanked in favor of knuckleballer R. A. Dickey, who quickly mopped up the mess (before getting into trouble himself in the eighth). What was once a five-run lead became a mere one-run lead. Then it became a four run deficit due to some defensive miscues by, well, a bunch of guys who have no chance at making the team anyway so I guess it doesn’t matter that much.
Mijares was very impressive with his few appearances with the Twins when he was called up in September. The hard-throwing lefty gave up one earned run on three hits in ten relief appearances last year, posting an ERA+ of 465. His stuff was absolutely filthy, and he wasn’t afraid to challenge big-league hitters even if he was behind in the count. Mijares will probably be a dominant set-up man, and could perhaps take over for Joe Nathan at some point. However, he needs a lot more work. He showed up grossly overweight at camp this year, after the coaching staff told him he needed to get in shape during the offseason. Although Mijares was very good in his first appearance, clearly his lack of physical fitness is affecting his effectiveness. He’s labored in his past couple of appearances, and has just generally looked like he was out of breath out there on the mound. It wouldn’t be so bad, but Mijares refuses to take responsibility for his lack of physical conditioning and instead blames a sore ankle for his poor performance (um, a sore ankle wouldn’t cause you to huff and puff after throwing a single pitch). It seems as though Mijares thought he was a lock to make the active roster out of Spring Training (despite Bill Smith’s assertion to the contrary) and simply failed to put forth the effort necessary to compete for a job. The best thing for the young lefty at this point would be to send him to AAA for more seasoning. He certainly can’t be relied upon to pitch out of the bullpen in such poor shape, and he really needs to learn to listen to the coaching staff.
- Francisco Liriano pitches effectively enough, Twins lose 1-0 to Reds
Francisco Liriano wasn’t that sharp against the Reds yesterday, but he was still effective enough. His one bad mistake was a solo homer to Jonny Gomes, but that was the only run he allowed in 3 1/3 innings of work. Frankie struggled to locate his fastball and his changeup wasn’t terribly impressive, but he still only gave up three hits and struck out five batters. Although he isn’t exactly the same pitcher he was before his Tommy-John surgery in 2006, Liriano is on track to become one of the top pitchers in the American League. While it’s a bit premature to say he will be a legitimate Cy Young contender, I do think that Frankie will at least challenge Scott Baker for the top spot in the rotation.
Jesse Crain looked really good on the mound yesterday, too. Crain has been having a really good spring, and his stuff was electric when he pitched for team Canada in the WBC. This is very good news, considering how awful the bullpen was last season. The team is still in need of a set-up man, and Crain is making a very good case for himself to earn that job.
I was going to complain about the lack of offensive production from the regulars yesterday, but Micah Owings and Edison Volquez are both some of the best young pitchers in the National League, so I guess I won’t whine too much. Besides, they more than made up for it in today’s game against the Marlins. Too bad the defense couldn’t make it stick.