The Ice King Cometh

Radke goes five strong.

I watched Radke warming up through the windows of bars as I brusquely made my way toward the Dome.  A childhood hero in the twilight of his career, showing the grit, determination and cast iron will that has earned him that same title.  As much as Radke's performance and health would mean to me over the next couple of hours, you know it means much more to him.  He looks the same.  A bit scruffy, that familiar throwing motion; everything looks systems-go on the surface, but I can't help but wonder if he feels any pain.

You know that this game and this appearance mean something to Brad, and it's what that fact implies that magnifies the situation.  He's not just doing it for the Twins because they need some stability in the rotation going into the playoffs, but he's doing it for himself as well.  This game and baseball in general still mean something to Radke, and he's determined not to leave it until he lets it go.  This is his last campaign, and he's not about to let it be taken from him.

Inning one came and went with nothing to tell.  Seven strikes, five balls, three outs and zero signs of trouble.  The crowd stood and applauded, and just like every other inning in his career Radke began a slow walk toward the dugout; head down, no expression.  Like every other inning he did his job, and he asked for no ovation.

For five innings the process repeated itself.  He left the mound after those five innings and fifty-seven pitches, for what would be the last time.  As I had every inning, I watched him leave the mound and cross the field, and descend the dugout steps.  I told myself I was looking for signs of pain or signs of fatigue, but really I was trying to engrain the memory of a great player who is everything I admire in an athlete into my mind.  This was the last time I'd see Brad Radke pitch in person, and I wanted to remember it.

Early on, there were probably a few more balls thrown than were intended, in the ball-to-strike ratio sense of the word.  Yet over the course of his appearance, the only blemishes on his start were a misplayed ball by Torii Hunter and a ball that may or may not have been fair down the left field line.

But mostly, Brad Radke looked like the Brad Radke we've known for 12 years:

The man has an unflappable calm about him. It doesn't matter if he's getting shelled, throwing a pitcher's duel or comfortably in the lead, you can't tell any of it by looking at his eyes. Ice courses through his veins. His arsenal is the same...you'll find no searing heat, but a 90 MPH fastball that sets you up for anything else he wants to throw. Two-seamer fastballs to fool you, sliders you'll flail helplessly at, curveballs to throw you off, and a devastating, nearly untouchable changeup that by the time you've regained your balance it's just dropping through the zone.[...]Sweat builds, but if he feels it you can't tell. His pitches are always the same. His release is always the same. He turns his back to you and climbs the mound after every pitch...the same.

Tonight it was exactly the same, and yet it had the haunting feel of watching something happen that was already in the past.  If you've had this feeling, and it's not deja-vu, you know what I mean.  It's a strange and slightly chilling sensation, and it's sad because all I wanted to do was watch Radke pitch like he did every other game and remember it like every other game.

But then again, I can be a bit dramatic.  Damn artsy people and their drama.

"I'm amazed at what happened out there," said Radke, who wanted to go deeper into the game, but was shut down by Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson. "I know I'm going to feel like crap tomorrow and probably the next day, but I'll take it."

I'm not naive enough to think that what Radke tells the media and the public is anything but a shadow of his personal prognosis, but this is a positive sign for Brad, for the Twins and for you and me.  The above quote, from MLB.com, tells me most of what I want to know:  He felt he performed adequately and knows he'll still have to endure some pain, but he believes he'll be ready to pitch in the postseason.

In spite of Radke's performance, the offense once again struggled to muster any sort of a charge against Kansas City's own Cy Young award winner Luke Hudson.  Hudson and Redman both shut down Minnesota the last time the Royals and Twins clashed, and they were doing the same this time.  While only striking out one, Hudson allowed a mere four hits through his seven innings of work, giving his club a chance to win a second consecutive game against baseball's hottest team.

That is, of course, until the bottom of the ninth inning.  For all the pessimists in the crowd (you know who you are), I couldn't help but thinking "These are the Royals...we're too good and they're too bad for them not to find a way to screw it up."  And yet, they still managed to give my confidence a run for its money.

Nick Punto came to the plate and managed to last five pitches, taking the last and lashing it fairly hard right to second baseman Esteban "I'm perma-high, I'm hot shit and I'm a bitch" German.  Jason Kubel then stepped to the dish, pinch-hitting for Alexi Casilla, who had collected his first career hit earlier in the night.  Kubel looked rusty, taking a 1-2 pitch and grounding out weakly to, again, second base.

Then came Joe Mauer.  The Sidesburns Kid.  Pitch one sailed across the plate and the bat remained on Mauer's shoulder.  He stepped back from the plate and, per his routine, smoothed the dirt in the batter's box with his foot.  Back into the box, pitch two came in and missed the zone for a ball.  With the crowd on its feet and the Twins' backs against the proverbial wall, Mauer dug in as Joe Nelson went into his windup and delivered...

Off the bat, you knew it was hit hard.  Just a line drive, it wasn't screaming and didn't have the definite "sure thing" majestic arc.  What it did have was just enough.  Emil Brown tracked Mauer's drive back to the left field wall, but couldn't bring it in as the ball cleared the fence and threw the crowd into a frenzy.

In the darkest hour of defeat there shall come The Young One
Donned in white with the helmet of a warrior...

In the bottom of the tenth the Twins won the game on a Jason Bartlett ground rule double with the bases loaded.  Why only one run counted as opposed to two I'm not certain, since walk-off home runs will count every runner.  If anyone knows, feel free to explain.

One other thing I'm hoping someone can draw a picture of for me.  With runners on first and third and one out in the bottom of the tenth inning, the Royals elected to intentionally walk Jason Tyner to get to Jason Bartlett.  Now, I'll walk through a couple of things.

Why this made sense to me:  Scott Dohmann and Jason Bartlett are both right-handers, giving the pitcher an "advantage" according to old baseball rules.  Dohmann was also more successful against right-handed hitters.  There becomes a force-out at every base.

WHY, IN SPITE OF THOSE REASONS, THE DECISION TO INTENTIONALLY WALK TYNER MADE NO DAMN SENSE AND IF I WERE A ROYALS FAN I'D BE PISSED:  Jason Bartlett is a better all-around hitter than Tyner, and more importantly, has more pop in his bat.  Bartlett's OBP and SLG versus RHP is higher than Tyner's.

On a hard-hit infield ground ball, you're not throwing home when the double play was still in order without walking Tyner.  On a softly-hit infield ground ball where the double-play isn't possible, the chances of getting the runner out at the plate are nil.  On a sacrifice fly, which would be much more plausible coming from Bartlett, the runner would score no matter who hit it as long as it was deep enough.  In the end I'm just having a hard time envisioning a scenario where intentionally walking Tyner works to Kansas City's advantage.  Please, paint me a picture.

Mauer's game-tying home run.  The Twins tying the Tigers for first place in the AL Central and gaining a game on the Yankees for best record in the league.  The Twins coming from behind for another dramatic victory.  Of all the stories of importance tonight, Brad Radke's is the most important to me.  He's healthy, he's effective and he's going to be ready for the Yankees, or for the Athletics.

Personally, I hope it's the Yankees...but more on that tomorrow.

Thanks for one last great start, 22.  Good luck in the playoffs.

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