Monday, June 7, 2010

The B Team

Twins 5, Athletics 4 (11 innings)

This game was moving along quite well for a while. Joe Mauer drew a 2-out BB in the 1st, followed by Justin Morneau's 13th HR of the season for a quick 2-0 lead. The Twins padded that with a couple of 2-out RBI hits from Jason Kubel and Delmon Young in the 6th. And Scott Baker was absolutely soaring, allowing just 1 ER on 3 H with 3 K through the first 6 IP, and needing only 65 pitches to get there.

We've seen Baker come unraveled from stellar beginnings with shocking quickness, and that was the case again here. He issued his only free pass of the game with 1 out in the 7th, then promptly served up a 2-run HR to bring the A's within 1 at 4-3. He finished that inning with a couple of lengthy AB, bringing his pitch count up to a still very reasonable 87 to start the 8th. 3 pitches later he had surrendered a line-drive HR to Rajai Davis that just cleared the wall down the LF line, and the Twins' offense had to get back to work.

They finally broke through in the 11th, thanks to a leadoff 2B from Morneau and Young's 2nd RBI H of the game. The bullpen combo of Jose Mijares, Matt Guerrier and Jon Rauch allowed 0 R on just 1 H and 2 BB in 3.2 IP.

Twins 4, Athletics 3

Things got challenging on Saturday. Already without Michael Cuddyer for the weekend (Bereavement List) and Orlando Hudson for the whole road trip (wrist), the Twins had to scratch Morneau (flu) and JJ Hardy (wrist) from the starting lineup. That forced them to place Matt Tolbert at 2B, shift Nick Punto to SS, and put Brendan Harris at 1B. Jim Thome got to start at DH and went 1 for 2 with a 2B and 2 BB.

That motley lineup got 3 R on the board in support of Francisco Liriano. Thome was able to advance to 3rd and then home on consecutive outs from Jason Kubel and Young. In the 6th, they cashed in a bases loaded chance with a 2-run single from Young. Liriano got off to a shaky start, as the first 2 batters doubled and singled, but he got the next guy to ground into a DP - scoring the only R he would allow. He completed 7 IP, giving up just 3 more H and 2 BB against 10 K. Hopefully that's an indication that he left his BABIP woes behind when the calendar flipped from May to June.

Enter Jesse Crain to protect a 3-1 lead. He'd been stellar recently, going 8 straight appearances without allowing an ER, with a 7/1 K/BB ratio in those 8 IP with 4 H. He allowed a couple of 1-out singles, but appeared poised to escape the jam when he got Kevin Kouzmanoff to fly out, then got ahead of Adam Rosales 0-2. The next two pitches were fouls from the top of the strike zone. Perfect time for the curve ball. Or waste a slider off the plate. Nope. They went with a fastball down, which could have worked if Crain had hit the glove. Instead, the ball found the middle of the plate, and Rosales raked it into left center for a game-tying 3B.

The critical sequence occurred in the top of the 9th. With one out, the Twins sent sickly Morneau up to pinch hit. The A's elected to intentionally walk him. I know the guy has a nearly .500 OBP, but putting him on makes it 1.000 for that PA. It appeared to take Brad Ziegler out of rhythm, as he followed it with an unintentional BB to Nick Punto. After Denard Span grounded into a force out, Tolbert delivered the game-winning single. The A's put the winning on base, and the Twins made them pay.

Twins 4, Athletics 5

All the lineup carnage from Saturday recurred on Sunday, plus Mauer had to DH after catching the night before, meaning Drew Butera had to get some AB. That left just 4 good hitters in the lineup, one of whom (Span) came into the game in an 0-21 slump. Even so, the Twins managed to scrape enough runs together to stay in the game. Brendan Harris got his first H in ages on a play that should have been made by Kouzmanoff. Span got off the schneid with a 3B and was immediately brought home on a SF from Tolbert. Late in the game, Young hit a 2-run HR, followed by a PH 2B from Thome. Harris took a called 3rd strike to leave PR Hardy in scoring position.

That effort wasn't quite enough to make up for Nick Blackburn's 2nd straight short start. He was not good in this game: 10 H, 5 ER, BB, HBP and 0 K in 2.2 IP. But he wasn't that bad. The HBP was a missed call by the ump on a check-swing foul that should have been strike 2. The first inning was sustained by a broken-bat liner that found grass behind 2nd base - when a pitcher cuts a guy's bat in half, he deserves to get an out, and that could have been the 3rd of that inning. The 2nd run of that inning scored on an IF single to SS - a high chopper just out of Blackburn's reach over the mound. The 2-out RBI 2B Blackburn allowed in the 2nd was a weak fly ball into no man's land down the LF line, and Young got leather on it after a long run. The 2-run rally in the 3rd began with an IF single to the out-of-position Harris at 1B, a play that Morneau probably makes. So Blackburn allowed 12 baserunners in 2.2 IP, but he pitched well enough to have had only about half that many. Which is still way too many in 2.2 IP, but if some of those are outs, maybe it's 7 baserunners in 4 IP, or something like that. Not good, but not as bad as it looked.

Thankfully, the bullpen kept the damage to just 5 runs, and the Twins were down by just 1 in the 9th. Morneau PH again, and this time the A's elected to pitch to him. It reminded me of my softball game last Thursday: I was late, and when I walked into the dugout was told I was in the hole. I put on my batting gloves and maybe swung the bat twice before finding myself at the plate, stone cold. The first pitch missed, and I thought, "Maybe they'll do me a favor and walk me..." Which they did, and I got to warm up running the bases. I expected the still sickly Morneau to be thinking the same thing when he got ahead 2-0. But he started hacking away, eventually striking out in a PA in which he basically saw nothing but breaking balls below the knees. I don't think they threw him a strike - he got himself out.

As depleted as they were, it was a remarkable feat for the Twins to pull out a series win in Oakland, especially when each of the wins required some late-game heroics. Though they went just 3-4 on the road trip, it's still better than they've typically done in Seattle and Oakland in recent years. They should come home confident and ready to kick some interleague butt.

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