Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gomez Woulda Had It

Twins 2, Angels 1 (12 innings)

Whew! I don't know about you, but I don't think I could have handled another 12 inning loss. Thank goodness the Angels finally opened the door for a run in the top of that inning, courtesy of our old buddy Torii Hunter. Nick Punto's drive to the wall in right center ticked off his glove for a leadoff triple, setting up Denard Span's game-winning RBI single through a drawn-in infield. Torii actually slightly overran the ball, definitely a play he normally makes - definitely a play that Carlos Gomez makes. Ha!

That gift triple allowed the Twins to redeem a night of magnificent pitching from Scott Baker and the bullpen. For Baker it was the 5th time this season he's allowed 2 or fewer runs in 7 IP without earning a win. As with the Cleveland game in June, his only blemish came in the first inning, when Mark Texeira reached down and practically one-armed a good low, outside fastball over the wall in CF. Not even a mistake by Baker, really. Still, this was the effort the Twins needed to combat Anaheim's ace, John Lackey, and Baker showed himself to be every bit our ace, actually out-doing Lackey's line by one hit in an otherwise almost identical performance. Great way to kick off the road trip.

The bullpen will need to be solid on this trip, and they got off to a good start as well. Matt Guerrier managed to avoid the Oakland series, so he'd had 3 days off to get his game back together. He was asked to pitch the 9th, and escaped allowing only a walk. I considered that to be the positive outing he needed to get his confidence back up, so I was a little alarmed to see him back out there for the 10th. He got himself into immediate trouble, giving up a leadoff single, but the Angels helped him out by popping up their sacrifice attempt. Guerrier still allowed another baserunner in the inning on a walk, but he was able to finish the inning unscathed. Jesse Crain followed with a most expedient 11th inning, needing just 6 pitches to march through the heart of the Angels order. Joe Nathan, as usual, was nails in the 12th.

(By the way, isn't it amazing how much more quickly the game flows along when the plate umpire has a liberal strike zone? Yesterday's 9-inning game took 2:56 to play; tonight the 2 teams needed just 20 minutes more to play 12 innings. Granted, the Angels aren't nearly as patient as the A's, but there were a ton of pitches (namely the first strikes of the 10th to Gomez and Span) that would have been called balls yesterday. Think the games are too long? Tell the umps to call more strikes!)

Torii's gift also absolved the Twins offense of a mostly ineffective night at the plate. John Lackey is among the best pitchers in the league, so scoring on him was never going to be easy. But when you have runners at second and third with nobody out and your 2-4 hitters coming up, you gotta be able to come away with something. If I had to blame one hitter for tonight's low run total, it would have to be Justin Morneau. Three times he came up with RISP with less than 2 outs, and he went K, DP, K (awesome turn by the Angels on the DP in the 8th, though). I'm just so used to seeing him come through in those situations, it was disappointing to see him struggle. If I had to blame 2 hitters, the other would be Alexi Casilla. He came up in the 8th and 10th with first base open and less than two outs and failed to put the ball in play. In the 8th, he flailed at a pitch over his head. Obviously, his rehab assignment wasn't long enough to get his plate discipline back up to the level it had been.

Anyway, it was a very important win for the Twins. They need to at least split this series in order to get this monster road trip off to a good start, and now they only need to win 1 of the next 3 in order to accomplish that. Also, they've moved within 0.5 games of the idle White Sox, and tied the Red Sox for the Wild Card lead. Keep up the good work, fellas!

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