Twins 6, Royals 0
Magic Number: 1
First of all, thank you to Scott Baker for giving the Twins the 2nd best game of his career on a day when they had to win. Obviously, the CG vs. the Royals last year when he took a perfect game into the 9th was better. But today, he allowed just 4 singles in 7 IP and set a new career high with 9 K. Before the season began, I said Baker would be the Twins' #1 starter. With his performances on this home stand (14 IP, 1 ER, 9 H, 2 BB, 13 K) he proved that he's an ace. Lots of teams have good pitchers, but an ace is someone who is good when his team has to have a win. We saw a couple this weekend: Johan Santana (3 H CG shutout, 9 K on 3 days' rest) and CC Sabathia (4 H CG shutout, 7 K on 3 days' rest). I hope Baker will get a chance to cement his ace status in the playoffs.
Baker might have been able to complete the game, had Gardy wanted to take him out to 120 or so pitches like Sabathia and Santana threw. The Mets and Brewers have very dicey bullpens, so you'd better leave the ace in there. The Twins can rely on Joe Nathan, of course, but the 8th has been a nightmare since Pat Neshek went down - until Jose Mijares showed up, that is. He allowed just 1 ER in 9 September innings (that coming when Matt Guerrier was on the mound) on 3 H (one a "double" that Delmon Young lost in the ceiling). He and Nathan combined with Baker to hold the Royals to a score even the Twins' sputtering offense could overcome.
I was afraid we were asking for a repeat of Saturday's defeat when the Twins left 7 men on base over the first 3 innings, including 5 in scoring position. They could only muster 2 R from 4 BB, 2 HBP and 2 E, thanks mostly to the fact that they only came up with 2 H. In the 7th, the Twins loaded the bases again, and finally got an RBI hit from Young to give themselves some breathing room. Joe Mauer delivered a 2-run triple in the 8th to put the game away.
Mauer finished the day 2-5, giving him a .330 BA for the season. I guess his batting title isn't official until it's determined if the Twins will play on Tuesday - stats from that game count towards the regular season (although if Morneau were to come up with 2 RBi in game #163, Josh Hamilton would have a right to be ticked). But according to my math, he should have enough even if he goes 0-5.
Now the Twins are like a golfer who has finished his round with a 1-stroke lead. He chills out in the clubhouse while his opponent heads to the 18th tee needing a birdie to force a playoff. With the exception of Mark Buehrle's performance on Sunday, the White Sox have been awful this week starting on short rest. Today, it's Gavin Floyd's turn. Jim Leyland will surely be pumped up to ruin the season for the Sox, but will his team of underachievers follow his lead? Freddie Garcia will start for the Tigers having made 2 starts this season - 1 good, 1 bad. Can he beat his former team? Can he stay in the game long enough to protect his combustible bullpen? Do the Sox have one more crappy game in them?
I guess I'll be watching. Go Tigers.