Sunday, August 24, 2008

That Darned 8th Inning

Angels 5, Twins 3

You know how some old buildings superstitiously avoided putting in a 13th floor? The buttons on the elevator skipped from 12 to 14. Bad luck to do anything on the 13th floor.

Sometimes I wish the Twins could just skip over the 8th inning. You know, have Dennys Reyes come in with a 2-run lead and 2 RISP and get a couple of ground balls, getting out of the 7th with only 1 scoring. And let's go straight to Joe Nathan for the 9th vs. the heart of the Angels' order!

I can't really fault Gardy for any of the moves he made. Mark Teixeira had been tearing up the Twins' staff from the right side all weekend. His HR off Kevin Slowey in the 6th was like a rerun of his HR off Scott Baker on Thursday: decent pitch, low and outside, just muscled out to left of CF. Why not turn him around to the right side? Reyes tends to get ground balls - how bad could it be? Well, Teixeira once again came up with the perfect swing on a well-executed pitch, lining a fastball knee high on the outside corner down the opposite foul line for a leadoff double.

Should Joe Nathan have come in at this point? I can understand why one would want him to, with Vlad Guerrero coming up next as the go-ahead run. But recall that Guerrero and Torii Hunter were 2 of the 3 batters that Jesse Crain dispatched in a matter of 6 pitches to earn the win on Thursday night. He showed then that he was capable of getting those guys out with the game on the line. He nearly retired Vlad on a foul pop on the first pitch, but the ball dropped in the perfect spot (for the Angels) between Justin Morneau, Alexi Casilla and Denard Span for strike one. Crain's next pitch was supposed to be low and inside, but instead it was just low, and Vlad mashed it to CF.

There's something about the way Vlad hits the ball that makes Carlos Gomez, normally the most confident of fielders, suddenly look like Delmon Young. As with Saturday's 2-run "double," Gomez misjudged the ball, beginning to square up too early and winding up a step short when he had to leap. The ball hit the CF wall on the fly and took the worst possible carom, allowing Vlad to just make it into 3rd with an RBI triple.

Crain got a badly needed strikeout of Torii, and worked the count to 2-2 on Gary Matthews, Jr. The sequence went 3 fastballs up and in (the first a swinging strike, the second 2 balls) and one low and away for a called strike. Having shown him an outside strike, Mauer and Crain decided to go back to the location Matthews swung threw on the first pitch. This time he started his swing early enough and lined an RBI triple into the RF corner. He would score the 5th run on a SF.

3 XBH, only one of them coming on a mistake by the Twins' bullpen. Teixeira and Vlad are scary hitters to be facing while trying to protect a 1-run 8th inning lead, especially with Teixeira as hot as he's been. Would Nathan have done better? Or a healthy Pat Neshek? Maybe. But those hitters are definitely good enough to beat good pitchers every now and then.

Anyway, the late inning loss overshadowed another solid pitching performance from Kevin Slowey. He left a few too many pitches up, and I was very disappointed that he allowed the pinch-hit single to light-hitting catcher Mike Napoli that chased him from the game after just 91 pitches. But his overall line was 6.1 IP, 2 ER, 8 H, 0 BB, 5 K. He definitely gave the Twins a chance to win. He's allowed just 5 ER total over his last 4 starts, averaging over 6 IP/start.

Justin Morneau finally had a big game vs. his nemesis. He went 3-4 with a double and a HR, driving in a run with each hit. The out he made was a liner that nearly carried over the head of RF Matthews. These were merely his 7th and 8th XBHs of August - just his 2nd HR. Hopefully the big day will carry over into a good last week vs. the Mariners and A's.

It's easy to be disappointed that the Twins failed to win the last 2 games - one because of poor defense and the other because of an inability once again to hold a late-inning lead. But coming into this series the hope was that they'd be able to split the 4-game set with the AL's winningest team, and they accomplished that. Now they need to focus on winning at least 4 of the next 7 against 2 of the teams that have struggled the most over the past few weeks. The test continues...

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