Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Beginnings of Big Innings

Twins 7, Tigers 2
Tigers 9, Twins 0

Each team won a game in this short series, thanks mainly to one unruly, bat-around inning.

The Twins took game 1 on the strength of a 5-run 7th, turning a pitcher's duel into a solid Twins lead in the span of 4 hitters. Justin Morneau led off with a grounder through the right side. The key pitch of the game came to the next batter, Jason Kubel. With the count 2-2, Tigers starter Edwin Jackson delivered a fastball that narrowly missed the outside corner for ball 3. Another umpire might have called Kubel out there, and I wouldn't have complained if he had. The next three pitches went: ball 4, RBI 2B, 2-run 3B, and Mr. Jackson was headed for the shower, his QS start turned into 5 ER and a loss - exactly what had happened to Scott Baker the day before.

Brandon Lyon came in and threw 2 pitches: the first hit Delmon Young, the second was bunted by Nick Punto in an attempted safety squeeze. I don't think much of Miguel Cabrera as a defender, but he made a good play on the bunt, charging toward the mound and throwing a strike to the plate to get Cuddyer by a step. If Cabrera doesn't come up with that ball, I think Punto probably has an infield hit.

A LHP came in, and Denard Span picked up his 2nd IF hit of the game thanks to a generous scoring ruling on a ball that Adam Everett probably should have fielded. (I was delighted to see Span swing at the 2-strike pitch that resulted in his first IF hit leading off the game - that's the pitch that he has so often taken for strike 3. Even though it sawed him off, I'm glad to see him recognize that it's a pitch he needs to offer at.) Alexi Casilla finally had something drop in, and Punto's astute read on the flight of the ball/positioning of LF Carlos Guillen enabled him to score from 2nd just a few feet behind Young coming in from 3rd. Joe Mauer and Morneau were retired, but the game was all but out of reach, with Francisco Liriano dealing into the 8th inning.

Liriano may still be a bit short of his old velocity, but his stuff looks terrific to me. Everything he threw was breaking sharply downward. He struck out 9 in 7.1 IP and allowed only 4 H, though 1 of those was a HR. I hope everyone can recognize the difference between the pitch that resulted in the HR hit by Cabrera and those that Scott Baker has given up this year. Liriano threw him a pitch down and in that Cabrera simply golfed out of the park - nothing a pitcher can do about that.

For the Tigers tonight, the 2nd-inning damage was all done after 2 were out. Nick Blackburn, who had issued a 4-pitch walk to the hacktastic Placido Polanco in the 1st, managed to issue another to catcher Gerald Laird, who was 1 for his last 21 coming into the game. Obviously a night of poor command for Blackburn - the 0-2 pitch to Clete Thomas following the Polanco BB was up and over the plate, right on the heels of a pitch down and away that had resulted in a swing and a miss. He continued to miss his spots, though the Tigers had the benefit of both exquisite placement of their hits and ugly defense from the Twins.

After Laird's BB, Ramon Santiago drove him in with an RBI double into the RF corner on a liner that was just out of Morneau's reach. Casilla looked unprepared to throw home when he received Michael Cuddyer's throw from the wall. Then Josh Anderson blooped a ball into LF just out of Young's reach for an RBI single; the ball bounced past Young for an error allowing Anderson to go to 2nd. Polanco hit a grounder up the middle that Casilla could only knock down for what I thought was an exceedingly tough error, particularly when compared to the error that Everett avoided the previous night. (The error on Joe Crede was pretty tough, too.) Then Thomas hit a ball just close enough in front of Cuddyer to induce a dive; it got past him to the wall for a 2-run 3B.

With Cabrera coming up and 2 bases open, I would have expected the Twins to pitch around him, if not put him on. After all, he's hitting about .400, and the next batter, Curtis Granderson, was down around .260. Your chances are better with Granderson, even if he is a lefty. But they pitched to Cabrera, and he promptly ripped an RBI single to left. Granderson was retired for the final out of the inning.

It felt like the Twins were sleep-walking through this game. Except for Kubel - maybe it helped that he didn't have to play in the field. R.A. Dickey finally had a scoreless outing, Jesse Crain made a solid return to the mound, and Craig Breslow only walked 1 guy. Pretty good night for the bullpen, I guess.

On to Baltimore...

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