Friday, August 22, 2008

Big Night at the Big A

Twins 9, Angels 0

I had a bad feeling about this one early. The Angels kept giving the Twins gifts, and the Twins kept rudely refusing them:

1st inning: Denard Span led off the game with an infield hit when Angels pitcher Joe Saunders failed to cover first base on a grounder to first. Span moved to second when catcher Jeff Mathis failed to catch a low pitch on which Alexi Casilla bluffed a bunt; it hit Mathis in the foot and rolled away for a wild pitch. RISP, 0 out. Casilla failed to advance Span to 3rd, where he easily would have scored on Joe Mauer's deep fly ball to left. Justin Morneau once again couldn't get the ball out of the infield.

2nd inning: Randy Ruiz reached on an error by shortstop Eric Aybar to lead off the inning. The next three batters flied out, and Ruiz never left first base.

3rd inning: Carlos Gomez led off with a single to right. While stealing second, Mathis airmailed his throw into CF, allowing Gomez to move to 3rd. Runner on 3rd, nobody out, top of the order coming up. Except Gomez overslid the bag and was tagged out, so there was no one to score on Span's subsequent grounder to second.

4th inning: Joe Mauer led off with a HBP. Morneau and Ruiz couldn't advance him. But then, Delmon Young worked himself ahead 2-0 and mashed a low fastball over the high wall in right-center field for a 2-run HR.

Things started to go the Twins' way pretty quickly after that, although they still had a gift to give back to the Angels: after Adam Everett and Gomez started the 5th with a single and double to put runners at second and third, Span lined an RBI single to left. Gomez stopped at third, the throw to the plate was cut off, and Span got himself caught rounding first base too far and was run down for the first out. That made Joe Mauer's sizzling liner to right the 3rd out of the inning instead of the second, which would have brought Gomez home with a SF.

A 3-0 lead is hardly comfortable, especially on the road or with the way Perkins has allowed runs in the 6th/7th inning in some recent starts. So it was great to see the Twins break it open in the 6th. With 1 out, Ruiz singled, Young boomed an RBI double over the head of Garrett Anderson in LF, and Nick Punto grounded an IF single to deep short, chasing Saunders (nice read on that grounder by Young, who advanced to 3rd on the play). Everett greeted reliever Shane Loux with an RBI fielder's choice (thanks to some big-time hustle from Punto, who beat the throw to 2nd). After Gomez had one of his better looking strikeouts of the year (7 pitches, and he fouled off some tough ones, almost checked in time on strike 3), Span put the game out of reach with a 3-run HR over the high wall in RF.

While all this was going on, Glen Perkins was his typical, effective self for 5-6 innings. He allowed only 2 H and 2 BB through the first 5 IP. It was the 8th time in his last 10 starts that Perkins allowed 1 or fewer runs in the first 5 IP. It's the 3rd time through the order that can do him in. But, tonight, Perkins never let up. He scattered 3 singles over his final 3 innings, finishing the night with 8 IP, 0 R, 5 H, 2 BB, 3 K. For the month of August, he's allowed 9 ER on 29 H and 6 BB in 28.1 IP for a 2.86 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. And 8 of those ER have come in 2 bad innings and 4 HR vs. the Mariners. He'll get another chance against them next week.

Since completing that shaky Seattle sweep last weekend, the Twins have gone 4-1. The pitching staff has allowed 5 ER in 48 IP over those 5 games. The starters have completed 7 IP in 4 of the 5. The bullpen hasn't allowed a run in 12 IP. This last trip through the rotation has lowered the Twins' team ERA for the month of August to 3.33, best in the league. No wonder they're 14-6 so far this month.

The defense has come together with 2 errorless games to begin the road trip. Casilla has been disappointing at the plate so far, but I love his glove out there at second base.

I've talked a lot about how important it is to catch teams at the right time. As well as the Twins are playing right now, especially pitching-wise, the Angels are definitely in a slump. Two weeks ago, I doubt the Twins could have gotten away with the sort of blunders they made in the early innings. But now, the Angels are making fielding mistakes, taking bad ABs, and making life as easy on the Twins as it can be (considering the Halos are still a first-place team playing at home). May their funk continue for 2 more games.

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