Another balanced game from the Twins' offense, as every starter reached base at least once. They abused their beloved former backup C, Mike Redmond, for 3 SB. And they got a bunch of 2-out RBI hits, including a HR from Justin Morneau in his first game back from his back issues.
Kevin Slowey was the beneficiary of a big early lead, but he almost failed to hold it. He was pitching pretty well, but seemed to need 4-5 pitches in every PA. He started the 5th inning with a high-ish pitch count in the 60s, then needed well over 30 pitches to get through that inning. His defense exacerbated the problem when Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer let Redmond's drive to right-center pass between them untouched - they called each other off simultaneously, so neither one caught the ball. That turned out to be the first of 5 H in 6 AB for the Indians. Had Redmond's ball been caught and everything else proceeded as it did, Slowey would have been out of the inning with 0 R allowed and 92 pitches, likely allowing him to start the 6th inning.
The Indians defense didn't do them any favors either. The Twins' 3-run rally in the 2nd resulted from an inability to turn a routine DP off the bat of Denard Span with the bases loaded. 1B Matt LaPorta couldn't dig out a low relay throw from 2B Luis Valbuena, allowing 1 R to score and giving the Twins an extra out. After Span stole second, Orlando Hudson delivered a 2-RBI single, though Fausto Carmona had pitched well enough to put his team in the dugout with 0 R allowed.
Twins 4, Indians 5 (11 innings)
All sorts of lineup shuffling for this one. Nick Blackburn needed family leave, so Jeff Manship was brought up to make the start. He was as good as anyone could have hoped, allowing just 2 ER on 5 H and 1 BB with a career-high 6 K in 6 IP. He was at just 86 pitches, but with 2 big lefties coming up in the 7th and the Twins clinging to a 1-run lead, it wasn't unreasonable to go to the bullpen at that point. And Brian Duensing delivered a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 inning. Then it went to Matt Guerrier, who'd thrown an inning on Friday. He got 2 quick outs, then allowed consecutive 2-out H to the Indians' three best hitters, tying the game.
That put the bullpen was on the spot - they needed to be rescued by the offense. But Joe Mauer had bruised his heel late in Friday's game and was unavailable, and a backup, though en route, would not arrive in time for the game. That meant it was Drew Butera behind the plate, for better or for worse, for the duration. He went hitless yet again, and had the crucial PA of extra innings: bases loaded, 1 out, GIDP. Butera's impotence with the stick made me wish that Alexi Casilla could have PH in that situation.
Alex Burnett had already thrown 1.1 IP, but Gardy tried to stretch him through the 11th. He gave up a BB, 2B and IBB to the first 3 hitters, then left a bases loaded mess for Jesse Crain to try to clean up. He almost did it, getting a shallow pop fly and a K before Asdrubal Cabrera, one of Cleveland's best hitters, ripped a game-winning single.
Twins 8, Indians 3
The Twins desperately needed Francisco Liriano to pitch deep into this game, but it got off to a rocky start for him. He threw the ball past 1B while attempting to get Cabrera leading off. Cabrera made it all the way to 3rd, where he scored on a groundout. Liriano then gave up a hit to Shin-Soo Choo, walked Austin Kearns, allowed Choo to steal 3B, then balked him in. After that, he largely settled down, allowing 6 H, 2 BB and 9 K the rest of the way. He was over 100 pitches after 6 IP, but manned up and got through a scoreless 7th, finishing the day with 123 pitches. That's one of the things Aces have to do: save the bullpen.
Wilson Ramos arrived from Rochester to make his Major League debut, and it could hardly have gone better. He went 4-5 with a 2B - more of an offensive impact in one start than Butera has made in 4. Span, Hudson, Morneau and Delmon Young also had multi-hit games, with Young hitting his 3rd HR and drawing his 8th BB. The Twins still weren't great with RISP, but put up 8 R thanks to the sheer mass of baserunners they accumulated, setting a season-high with 20 H and adding 5 more BB.
Mauer is probably going to be out for a few more days, and I expect Ramos to get the bulk of the playing time until he's healthy. Ramos was not hitting well at Rochester and is still rather inexperienced. But he's so much more talented than Butera, at least everyone can feel like there's a chance he'll get a hit when he comes to the plate. That will help soften the temporary loss of the reigning MVP.
- Span went 5-9 with 2 BB and a HR over the weekend, raising his OPS from .617 to .700. Nothing to worry about.
- Young went 4-9 with 3 BB and a HR, raising his OPS from .684 to .778. Also nothing to worry about.
- Kyle Gibson threw a 1-hit shutout on Thursday night, and has overcome his debut to rank 4th in the Florida State league in ERA through 5 GS. He's got a .200 BAA, a G/F of just over 5/1, and a K/BB of 4/1 with nearly 9 K/9. How many more starts before he heads for New Britain?
- There are 3 guys at Beloit who could deserve to take Gibson's spot in the rotation. Liam Hendriks, Daniel Osterbrock and Tom Stuifbergen all have ridiculous numbers so far. Since Osterbrock is the oldest and longest tenured at A-, I'd give him the first look. But I wouldn't forget about Shooter Hunt, who has shown in 7 appearances since opening night that he's put his control issues behind him. He has a 20/4 K/BB ratio in his last 13.1 IP, with a 2.03 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. At some point he should get another crack at the rotation, right?