Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Stay 'til the End

Twins 6, Mariners 5
Wow, what a comeback! Trailing 5-3 with the bases empty and 2 out in the bottom of the 9th, 5 straight Twins batters reached, capped by Alexi Casilla's walk-off, 2-run single to center (reminiscent of the last game of the White Sox series last fall). Gardy made judicious use of his bench, getting PH walks from Jason Kubel (for Jose Morales) and Brian Buscher (for Nick Punto), and sending in Brendan Harris to run for Kubel. The inning was made possible thanks to marvelous AB from Carlos Gomez and Buscher, each of whom fouled off a few tough 3-2 pitches while managing to lay off everything out of the strike zone.

After scuffling through an anemic spring at the plate, did anyone need a couple of Dome-ball infield choppers more than Denard Span? I still haven't seen him hit a line drive, yet he's managed to open the season reaching base in 5 of 9 AB, with a sacrifice, SB, and a couple of RBI. He's also made a difference in the field.

The biggest break the Twins got in this game came in the 5th inning, when plate umpire Chuck Merriweather elected to call Erik Bedard's 2-2 pitch to Michael Cuddyer a ball. It looked to me like it had the inside corner at the belt. I couldn't tell the difference between that pitch and the first strike to Span in the 9th. Anyway, the AB continued, and 2 pitches later Cuddyer lined a 2-run single to get the Twins back in the game.

On the pitching and defense side of things, it obviously wasn't a very good night for Nick Blackburn command-wise. He walked 3 batters, something he did in only 5 of his 33 starts last season, and he went to 3-ball counts on several other hitters. He seemed to be overly reverent of Ken Griffey, Jr., especially since he was able to pop him up with RISP in the first inning. A lot of the hits Blackburn gave up were merely well-placed, with Franklin Gutierrez' double in the 1st the only big mistake that comes to mind.

Blackburn was victimized by some poor tactics in the 3rd and 4th. Endy Chavez reached with one out in the 3rd, showing that Span wasn't the only speedy leadoff hitter who could take advantage of the bouncy Dome turf. Nothing anybody could do about that bouncer over Justin Morneau's head. On the other hand, it came on an 0-2 count, so why was Morneau still playing even with the bag? Did they think Chavez would bunt with 2 strikes? Chavez got huge jumps on Blackburn on consecutive 1-2 pitches to Gutierrez back in the first inning, so somebody in the Twins dugout should have been expecting him to run. And run he did, taking off just as Blackburn began to lift his foot. No throw over to keep him honest? Then, with 2 out and Chavez on 2nd, Blackburn basically pitched around Griffey to get to Adrian Beltre. Again, I'm not sure he needs to be so chicken of Griffey there. Beltre lined the first pitch into CF for an RBI single.

In the 4th, after 2 were quickly retired, Blackburn gave up a check swing groundball single and a floater just over the head of Punto into short left. Delmon Young attempted to get the runner advancing to 3rd, rather throwing to 2nd to keep the batter at 1st. Both runners advanced into scoring position, and Chavez was able to squeak another ball through the IF for a 2-run single.

The defense saved the day in the 5th, however. After another wussy walk to Griffey leading off, Blackburn got Beltre to pop out, then gave up a liner down the RF line to Russell Branyan. Span streaked into the corner to cut it off, not only preventing Griffey from scoring, but keeping Branyan at 1B. That kept the DP in order, which the Twins managed to turn when Punto ranged about 4 steps to his right, then fired immediately behind him to Casilla for the force, and Casilla unloaded just as quickly to Morneau for the 3rd out. If anybody hesitates at all, a run scores there. The defensive play of the season (so far)!

White Sox 4, Royals 2
Two things happened in this game that I predicted we would rarely see in 2009: the Sox got a late game-winning HR, and the Royals lost a game they were leading after 7 innings. Of course, KC manager Trey Hillman didn't exactly use the formula I was anticipating when I made that prediction.

His first mistake was pulling veteran workhorse Gil Meche after 7 IP. Meche had allowed just 1 R on 7 H with 0 BB and 6 K, and had thrown just 91 pitches, an average of 13/IP. Over the past 3 seasons, Meche has averaged about 104 pitches/GS, right where he was on pace to be after 8 IP, and he said after the game that he told his manager he was OK to pitch the 8th. But Hillman has some sparkly new bullpen guys on his roster, so why not try out your lockdown 8th-9th inning duo of Juan Cruz and Joakim Soria. Wait a minute, that's not Cruz coming into the game, it's...

Kyle Farnsworth?


Farnsworth has a 4.54 ERA and 1.44 WHIP while allowing 1.54 HR/9 over the last 3 seasons. Did he get the call because he's a Kansas native? Who knows. After allowing 2 men to reach, Farnsworth did manage to strikeout Carlos Quentin for the 2nd out, bringing up Jim Thome. Even in the twilight of his career, Thome has managed to put up a 1.053 OPS vs. RHP over the last 3 seasons. Don't the Royals have any lefties in the 'pen? Sure, they've got Ron Mahay, who's allowed only a .681 OPS vs. lefties since 2006, and part of that was in the hitters haven of Texas. How about bringing in Soria for a 4-out save? He's allowed only a .495 OPS vs. lefties in his brief career.

Nope, let's stick with Farnsworth.


Dumb, dumb, dumb. The Royals have a tough enough hill to climb this season without their manager screwing things up. As I've said to myself so many times over the last several years, I'm glad I'm not a Royals fan.

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