Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Kansas City Barbecue

Twins 19, Royals 1

This was easily the most lopsided victory of the season. It's always a rare feat when a team is able to put up double-digit runs on 20 H. But this game was especially amazing, because:
  • It was started by Zach Greinke, the reigning Cy Young winner. He was tagged for 6 ER in the 1st inning, and gave up 8 ER overall on 8 H and 2 BB in just 4 IP.
  • Danny Valencia finally hit his 1st MLB HR, which was also his 1st HR at any level this season, off said Cy Young winner. It was a grand slam, the Twins' 2nd in 3 days after they'd had just one in the first 97 games of the year. Valencia was the 1st Twins rookie to hit a slam for his 1st MLB HR. He went on to add 2 doubles, a single and a BB to finish the day 4 for 4 with 9 TB, 4 R and 4 RBI. And that wasn't even the best line of the night.
  • That honor went to Joe Mauer, who went 5 for 5 with a homer, 2 doubles and 2 singles for 10 TB, 3 R and 7 RBI. Satisfied, Mauer declined to bat in the top of the 8th.
  • Those 2 made Delmon Young's 4 for 6 with 2 doubles and an RBI look rather pedestrian.
  • In addition to the 20 H, the Twins drew 6 BB and a HBP, giving them 27 baserunners - one for every out in the game.
The beneficiary of all this carnage was Francisco Liriano, who could have easily made due with a fraction of it. He threw 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K on 84 pitches. Though he was easily on pace to complete the game, I guess Gardy didn't feel like it was necessary to put any more miles on his arm with the score 19-0. The Royals averted the shutout on a 2-out RBI double which scored the man who had walked with 2 outs. More tough lessons for Anthony Slama.

Twins 11, Royals 2

I always get nervous when the Twins score way too many runs in one game, because it may leave them susceptible to a substandard performance in the next, and it'd be a shame to lose a series in which they drastically outscore their opponents (as happened on that Yankees/White Sox road trip last May). We certainly couldn't expect them to have a 3rd big offensive day in a row. But they did. 7 of the 9 starters had multi-hit games, including another 4-hit barrage from Valencia. He wound up 14 for 19 over his last 4 games. JJ Hardy tagged his 1st HR since April. Even Drew Butera had 2 H.

Carl Pavano wasn't able to take advantage of the run support in the usual way. He was troubled by a miserly strike zone, forcing his pitch count up to 98 through just 5 IP. Along the way he walked 3, matching a season high and giving a pretty clear indication that the ump was being too stingy. (The other hint of that was the fact that this game lasted close to 3.5 hours, just 2 starts after Pavano participated in one of the shortest games of the year). With the score 6-1 after 5.5 innings, Gardy probably figured there was no need to put any extra miles on Pavano's arm, so he turned to the bullpen. They pitched well enough, allowing only 1 R on a couple of soft singles off Ron Mahay.

Twins 6, Royals 4

The Twins had scored 47 R on 72 H over their past 4 games, an average of about 12 R on 18 H. Surely, the letdown was coming in the finale. Instead, they jumped out with another crooked number in the 1st inning, thanks to a 3-run bomb from Young. Jason Repko, in the lineup because Jim Thome wasn't feeling well, hit a HR in the 2nd, and the Twins quickly amassed 5 R and double-digit H off Brian Bannister. They finally cooled off after chasing him in the 7th, adding only 1 R on 3 H and 2 BB the rest of the way.

That run came off Joakim Soria, who was brought in to keep the Royals within striking distance in the top of the 9th. Soria threw just 6 of 15 pitches for strikes, walking Mauer, moving him to 2nd on a WP, to 3rd on a Young single and scoring on a SF from Jason Kubel. The Twins finished with 5 guys with multiple H and at least 14 H as a team for the 5th straight game.

Brian Duensing made his 2nd start, stretching out to 83 pitches through 6 strong IP. His only trouble was a 5-H 5th inning in which several of the base hits were not particularly firmly struck. Things got dicey in the 8th, when the Royals got an extra out on a missed force attempt from a sprawled out Hardy. That play was originally ruled an error, but was subsequently changed to a H. Matt Guerrier eventually loaded the bases, turning the ball over to Jose Mijares to get Rick Ankiel, who came into the game 1 for 21 vs. LHP. He'd already singled off Duensing earlier, and lighting can't strike twice, right? Nope, he drilled an 0-1 single to drive in 2 and make it a tight save situation. Jon Rauch was up for the challenge, despite a long break between save opportunities. He threw 11 of his 12 pitches for strikes, allowing just a 2-out single.

When a team gets hot, they can beat just about anybody. When they're a good team, the margin of victory doesn't have to be as fine. When they're playing a bad team, the wins can get rather comfortable. When the bad team is playing bad, the games can become embarrassing. That's what happened in this series. The Twins finished this road trip with 5 straight wins, the first time they've done that since the end of May. It restored them to 10 games over .500, about where they were before the Collapse. There is still work to do, though. The White Sox matched the Twins by sweeping Seattle. If they can do it, so can we.

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