Thursday, May 14, 2009

Patience and Perseverance

Twins 6, Tigers 2
Twins 14, Tigers 10 (13 innings)
Twins 6, Tigers 5

At last, a proper Dome stand. After going 2-2, 4-3 and 3-3 to open the season, the Twins were able to win 5 of 6 against Seattle and Detroit, and came within 2 innings of 6-0.

I will remember the first play of Tuesday night's game as the moment when I finally gave up on Delmon Young. It's possible to tolerate his absence of XBH and plate discipline while he's hitting close to .300, but not when he's also failing to make basic plays in the OF, like reading and catching Curtis Granderson's leadoff liner that sailed over his head for a 2B. Bert Blyleven charitably talked about how easy it is to lose the ball in the lights, but I don't think that's what happened. I think Young just misjudged it. Because he's a bad fielder. And he's not getting any better.

You think you've got a migraine, Delmon? Try watching yourself play. The Twins have a ton of OF between the Majors and AAA who can strike out 5 times as often as they walk and hit for minimal power. But most of them can at least catch the ball, and any of them would be more deserving of regular playing time than Young is right now. Take your time with your family this week, Delmon.

Fortunately, Slowey was able to pitch through that "hit" and another charged to him when Matt Tolbert exuberantly cut in front of Nick Punto on a chopper over the mound. Without those, he allowed only 6 H and 2 BB in 6 IP. The 2 BB doubled his season high, which I think was just an indication that plate umpire Ed Rapuano had way too tight of a zone.

That cut both ways, though, and the Twins took advantage of it by drawing another 7 BB against the Tigers' pitchers. The Twins have done well so far against Armando Galarraga. He's one of those pitchers who doesn't actually throw many strikes, but rather hopes that the movement of his pitches on the margins will induce swings out of the zone. If a hitter comes to the plate with the mentality that they're going to take a couple of strikes, they will usually find themselves ahead in the count, especially if the ump is conservative. Once there, they can pick out a pitch to drive.

The difference between a fly to the wall in LF and a HR can be as little as a foot or two - less than 1% of the total distance from home plate. Joe Mauer has that extra 1% this year, and because of it he's already hit nearly as many HR (4) in 35 AB as he had in his first 300 AB (5) last season. He would have had 5, in fact, had LF Clete Thomas not pulled his first-inning drive back onto the field. Mauer simply hit the ball harder in his next AB, getting the ball to nearly the same spot too fast for Thomas to make a leap.

Wednesday night's marathon was directly caused by plate umpire Paul Schrieber's even tighter strike zone. After one trip through the order (during which Glen Perkins needed to throw just 24 pitches), the Tigers must have noticed that Schrieber wasn't calling anything on the corners, so why were they swinging so early in the count? Perkins, who had walked just 8 batters in his first 6 starts, suddenly walked the bases loaded, where 2 runs could come in on a 2-out bouncer up the middle. (A better throw to the plate from Matt Tolbert, who short-hopped Mike Redmond, might have ended the inning with only one run scoring, saving us all a lot of trouble.) In the 5th, Granderson led off with a BB, stole 2nd, and eventually scored on a WP.

The bullpen has to burst into flames at least once every series, and this was the night. Luis Ayala couldn't retire the first 2 batters of the 7th, so in came Matt Guerrier, and Miguel Cabrera immediately took him deep to put the Tigers ahead. To their credit, the rest of the staff managed to put up zeroes until the 13th, when poor Jesse Crain was duped into balking by a feinted SB attempt by Granderson from 3B just as Crain was beginning his windup.

I said that the offense would have to carry the Twins through this next stretch of games. Every time the pitchers put the team behind, there was the offense to answer. 7 more BB. A couple of SF. A 2-run 3B from Denard Span after the Tigers had taken the lead in the top of the 6th. A 2-run, PH HR from Jason Kubel to tie the game in the 8th. With the Tigers' 'pen beleaguered from 2 straight short starts, Jim Leyland was forced to ride Brandon Lyon to the end of the game, though it would end on his 60th pitch.

I questioned whether giving up Span to put PR Nick Punto into scoring position for Matt Tolbert was a wise move, but Tolbert promptly delivered the game-tying single. 2 more BB filled the sacks for Joe Crede, who smashed a hanging slider into the LF seats for an emphatic, walk-off comeback win.

With Justin Verlander in the midst of a hot streak and both bullpens decimated, the game plan in the finale had to be to get as many innings as possible out of Scott Baker while making Verlander throw as many pitches as possible. Baker delivered by facing the minimum through 5 IP, but the 6th started with a broken-bat bloop single and a hit-and-run single to put runners at the corners with nobody out. Baker struck out the next man and got Granderson to pop up, but couldn't escape the jam when the next pitch was lined just over the glove of Jason Kubel in LF. Luckily, it hopped the fence for a ground-rule double, allowing only one run to score. Unluckily, Magglio Ordonez' grounder sneaked into CF scoring 2 more. Then Cabrera whacked another ground-rule double, and Clete Thomas went down to ground a shin-high curveball into CF for 2 more runs.

Suddenly down 5-0, and with Verlander striking out everyone in sight, it looked like the game was over. But Verlander was already approaching 100 pitches, and though he set his career high for K to start the 7th, Brian Buscher lined a single and Nick Punto drew a walk. With Verlander at 122 pitches and a succession of LH batters coming up, Leyland went to LOOGY Bobby Seay. Span greeted him with a single to load the bases, and Tolbert walked, forcing in a run. Joe Mauer grounded into an RBI FC. Justin Morneau pulled the first pitch into RF for an RBI single, then Jason Kubel raked a ground-rule 2B to right-center to bring the Twins within 1. Zach Miner came in, walked Michael Cuddyer, then gave up a bloop single to Crede to put the Twins ahead.

Craig Breslow earned his first win in his best appearance of the year: 1.2 scoreless IP with 0 BB. Guerrier and Nathan got the final 4 outs, and the Twins at last won a day game.

The selectiveness the Twins showed over this home stand will serve them well as they face the Yankees and White Sox on the road. They might need to keep scoring 6 R/G to be successful. I'm encouraged - things have to go better than they went at the old Yankee Stadium, right?

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