Monday, June 30, 2008

Contradictory Positions

Tigers 5, Twins 4

This was a tough loss to swallow. The Tigers had been playing shockingly poor defense, and Glen Perkins found himself in the 4th inning as the Twins built a 4-1 lead. I was almost ready to feel comfortable - then Jesse Crain came in with one out in the 7th and failed to induce a swing from Edgar Renteria, who had been hitless up to that point. Placido Polanco jumped on the first pitch and blooped it into an uninhabited area for an RBI single, and I was suddenly reminded of April. You remember, the first trip to Detroit, when the bullpen imploded on back-to-back nights after the Twins had been leading through 6+? Dennys Reyes came in to try to get a ground ball from Carlos Guillen - he did, but it rolled into LF for another RBI hit. Suddenly, our recently invincible bullpen was showing some cracks.

Matt Guerrier got the Twins out of the 7th, but couldn't avoid damage in the 8th when he allowed a 1-out RBI 3B to recent call-up Matt Joyce, who scored on a bloop single by Curtis Granderson. The Tigers have now won 6 in a row - the Twins must stop them tomorrow.

Gardy was ejected in the 3rd for his favorite reason: the plate umpire warned both benches after the other team's pitcher tried to hit one of our players. I agree with Gardy's reasoning completely. It's clear that they wanted to send a message for an inside pitch that Perkins threw in the 1st under Guillen's chin, but pitching inside was just part of Perkins' game plan. When Armando Galarraga sent 2 straight pitches behind Joe Mauer, obviously trying to hit him, the proper response should have been to throw Galarraga out of the game. By warning both benches, James Hoye sends the message that the Twins trying to pitch inside is equivalent to the Tigers trying to hit someone, and that's not fair.

With Gardy out of the game, 3rd-base coach Scott Ulger became acting manager. It's easy to second-guess his decision to remove Perkins after Granderson's 1-out single in the 7th. Perkins had only thrown 91 pitches, and prior to that hit, he'd been cruising, retiring 10 batters in a row. I'd like to see a young guy like him get the opportunity to work out of a spot like that - he's going to need to learn to do it sooner or later. But I can also understand making the move. After Livan Hernandez, Perkins has been the Twins' shakiest member of the rotation, and the bullpen had been rock solid, going 2 weeks without allowing an ER. Crain had been particularly good, so I can't fault Ulger for starting with him. The bullpen is going to give up runs every now and then - too bad it had to be tonight.

Offensively, there were enough hard-hit balls right at Tigers defenders (5, accounting for 6 outs, I believe) that I'm willing to shrug my shoulders and write this game off as just not our night. What's amazing to me is that, for as badly as the Tigers misplayed bunts/infield hits/fly balls, resulting in most of the Twins' runs, they positioned themselves perfectly on so many occasions. And they made some good plays when they needed to: Polanco cutting off Morneau's 1st-inning single before it could sneak into the outfield (saving a run), Ryan Raburn charging in on Carlos Gomez' bloop single in the 9th, keeping Denard Span from going first-to-third, from where he would have scored easily on Alexi Casilla's deep fly to center. I guess they must be a team of contradictions, but they're rolling now.

I was pleased with Span's re-entry into the lineup tonight. Dick Bremer had scarcely finished introducing him when he had to scurry over to the line and make a sliding catch of a slicing blooper on the game's first pitch - a fair ball. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Cuddyer wouldn't have gotten to that. Span grounded weakly into a DP in his first AB, then worked the count 2-1 before lining out to RF in his second AB. His sinking liner just fell in before the diving Raburn for an RBI 2B in the 6th, and he started the Twins' 9th inning rally with a single up the middle.

I also want to mention that Francisco Liriano had himself a fine outing for AAA Rochester tonight. He threw 7 scoreless innings vs. Lehigh Valley, allowing 4 H, 1 BB and 9 K. 7 of his last 10 outings have been Quality Starts, and his average during that stretch is 6.1 IP, 3.90 ERA, 1.14 WHIP. Looks to me like he's capable of eating as many or more innings as Livan, while allowing considerably fewer base-runners in the process. They can't call him up soon enough for me.

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