Twins 7, Indians 1
Kevin Slowey's best games last season all came in his final start of the month: CGs at the ends of May, June and July. Saturday night's game was his last start of April, and it was easily his best start of the year so far. He took advantage of a generous strike zone to strike out 8 and carry a 5-hit shutout into the 9th inning before being chased with three straight hits to open the final frame. Luis Ayala came on to get a strikeout, RBI single and DP to end the game. Slowey's ERA has now joined Nick Blackburn's in the reasonable mid-4.00 range.
Carl Pavano did a serviceable job for the Indians. He threw quite a tantrum when he was pulled with nobody out in the 6th, but he shouldn't feel too badly about how he pitched. Though his final line wasn't pretty: 5 ER on 11 H and 1 BB with 3 K, most of those hits were nothing to write home about. This game was the equalizer for Wednesday night's game, when several liners were caught by the Red Sox. Here in the first, the Twins scored on a grounder up the middle, stolen base, 4-hopper through the right side. In the 4th, it went single off the 3rd baseman's glove, grounder over 3rd for a double, 4-hopper through the left side for an RBI single, 6-hopper through the right side for an RBI single. After Jason Kubel's HR in the 5th, Pavano was chased with a ground-ball single to LF, BB, and bunt single. Plenty of hits, but I thought the Twins had better swings against Brad Penny.
What a relief to see the Twins lead pole-to-pole for 2 straight games. And great that they kept piling on, adding back-to-back HR in the 9th from Kubel and Joe Crede. A series win against a division rival on the road!
Indians 4, Twins 2
This was more like what I was expecting from Glen Perkins this year. He had a much tighter strike zone to work with than Slowey did, and his control wasn't what it had been in his first three starts, so he wound up allowing 4 ER on 7 H and 2 BB with 4 K in 5 IP. The bullpen did a pretty nice job behind him as Matt Guerrier, Craig Breslow and Ayala finished the game with three scoreless innings. Perhaps the biggest news on the defensive side of things came when Jose Morales managed to throw out Mark DeRosa attempting to steal second - the first time a Twins catcher has thrown out an attempted base stealer this season.
Morales also had his best career day at the plate, going 4-4 with a double. He raised his BA to .375 over the weekend, and for once made me feel like the Twins wouldn't have done a lot better had Joe Mauer been there instead. Unfortunately, he was the only RH batter who was able to do anything against Aaron Laffey. Still, the Twins got back into the game in the 7th, as Denard Span pinch hit for Carlos Gomez and drove in 2 with a single. After Brendan Harris walked, the Twins had a golden opportunity to tie the game, but Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, the Twins' two best hitters this month, both struck out against rookie Tony Sipp with the bases loaded.
And still the Twins had a chance to tie things up in the 9th after Morales reached for the 4th time and PH Brian Buscher drew a 4-pitch BB off of Indians closer Kerry Wood. Gardy had pulled all the right strings up to that point, but missed an important call during Span's AB. He was right to take a strike following the 4-pitch walk, but he should have been bunting on the next pitch. In that situation, the bunt accomplishes 3 important objectives: it moves the tying run into scoring position, it eliminates the groundball DP, and it all but ensures that Morneau will bat with a chance to drive in the tying run. Instead, Span was allowed to take strike 2, nullifying the bunt and enabling Wood to induce Span to hit into a 4-6-3 DP. Harris struck out to end the game with Morneau in the on-deck circle.
Still, a good series win on the road, and an encouraging conclusion to a road trip which began with 2 embarrassing losses in Boston. Now the Twins will have another tough test vs. Tampa Bay at the Metrodome. Hopefully, Scott Baker is ready for a Slowey-style adjustment.
Minor League Notes
Mauer, feeling normal soreness after his 2 straight days of catching 7 IP, went 2-4. Not bad, but maybe not quite in Morales' league. And Shooter Hunt delivered a line for the A- Beloit Snappers that Nuke LaLoosh would've been proud of:
2+ IP, 1 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 1 K, HBP, 2 WP
Yikes! Watch your back, mascot! Looks like someone needs to tie this kid to the bedposts and read him some Whitman. Breathe through you eyelids, Shooter!