- 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.
Things got off to a really good start for the Twins in Oakland. They jumped out to a three-run lead early in the ballgame, with some timely hitting from the bottom of the order (and a bases-loaded, two-out walk by none other than Carlos Gomez). It looked as though the Twins were finally starting to put their previous road struggles behind them. But, as is apparently the custom in visiting ballparks this season, the pitching staff gave the lead right back. Rookie Anthony Swarzak suddenly couldn’t find the strike zone, walking Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi on eight pitches. He then hit Aaron Cunningham right in the head (who stayed in the game, though he suffered a concussion) and surrendered a three-run double. His night was over when he walked Orlando Cabrera, and failed to make it out of the fourth inning for a second consecutive start. In his defense, he seems genuinely frustrated by his struggles, but it’s clear that he isn’t quite ready to pitch at the major-league level. Once Glen Perkins comes off the DL, Swarzak will likely be sent back to AAA. It’s unlikely he’d even earn a spot in the bullpen with the control issues he’s had.
- Is Justin Morneau in a slump?
Four games is a small sample size, but it certainly seems to be the case. He struggled in Seattle, going 1-for-11 and chasing pitches well outside the strike zone. He also went 0-for-4 in Oakland last night, striking out three times, twice looking. And while it’s true that the Twins have faced three left-handed starters in a row, this shouldn’t be much of a problem for Morny. He’s always hit lefties pretty well, but this season he’s been murdering them, batting .380/..406/.663 with an OPS of 1.069 compared to .292/.409/.585 and a .993 OPS against righties. Morny appears to be pressing at the plate, and considering that he’s played in every single game this year, it’s possible that he just needs a day off. Michael Cuddyer and Brian Buscher might not be the greatest fill-ins at first base, but a slumping Morneau isn’t doing the team much good right now, either.
Tonight: I’ll just be happy if Scott Baker has a second consecutive quality start. The Twins have been waiting for their #1 and #2 starters to consistently pitch well all season, especially on the road. Of course, a win would be even better, but I fear that’s asking too much.