Great pitching outdoes very good pitching.
When I said in last night's pregame that Scott Baker had to come up with a way to correct his mechanical issues in order to give the Twins a shot, mostly I was just hoping for a quality start--six innings, three runs. What Baker gave last night was obviously quite a bit more, and while he may not have displayed his emotions like John Lackey (aka Cap'n Fistpump), it was clear that he was pitching with a little purpose.
Trying to turn things around after a disappointing series with the Tampa Bay Rays, in which they dropped two of three (and had lost five of seven overall), the Angels couldn't get anything going. Even on the run they did score, it was a good pitch by Baker--low in the zone--but even on what was a defensive swing, Mark Teixiera simply muscled the ball over the fence. It was a first inning homer that put the Twins in an early 1-0 hole, but it was the only time the Angels ever threatened. In fact, after walking Erick Aybar to lead off the sixth, Baker retired the final nine batters he faced. Aybar was the only baserunner allowed by Bakes for the Angels after the fourth.
Through the early and middle innings, Baker succeeded by pounding the strikezone with fastball after fastball, only going away from it to mix in both the curve and the slider to keep hitters honest. With 103 pitches through eight innings, 71 were fastballs--but only six in the seventh and eighth. What made him dangerous, besides being able to locate the fastball, was that his breaking balls were working. When he did throw them, and he did so even when behind in the count, they served him well. It was the performance that, even after a series of underwhelming outings, reminds you exactly how good Baker can be.
Lackey's performance was just as impressive, matching Baker's eight innings, six strikeouts, two walks and one run. He wasn't around the strikezone all the time like Baker, but he was just as effective and gave the Angels their chance. Thankfully, it was just like the old days with the Twins' pen, and Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain and Joe Nathan combined for four scoreless innings. Guerrier's two innings made for his first scoreless appearance in four stints, but it was also just his second appearance in nine days. Hopefully his arm has been able to recover a bit, and we'll start seeing the reliable version on a more regular basis.
As exciting as pitcher's duels can be, it did mean the Twins had a quiet night at the dish. Nick Punto, Carlos Gomez and Denard Span, hitting eight-nine-one, were the only players to collect multiple hits, but they were big ones. Punto doubled in the fourth before Gomez scored him on a single, and Punto was also the catalyst for the winning run as well. His 12th-inning drive to deep center field saw Torii Hunter leap at the wall, the ball hit the glove...and then bounce away from the seven-time Gold Glove defender. Punto was credited with a triple on the play, but to be fair it was a play that Torii should have made. Standing on third base, he scored easily on Span's single to left field. Nathan came on to close it out, and the Twins took game one of four from one of baseball's elite teams.
These are the kinds of games that get you pumped up for the next one. I don't know about you, but I can't wait for tonight. Finally, before we get to the Stars of the Game, here's last night's Roll Call. Three huzzahs for 33MorneauMVP, whose nimble fingers and high-speed interwebs keep many of us updated quicker than ESPN or MLB.com:
|Name||# of Posts|
|Eric in Madison||7|
|Alexi Casilla All-Star||4|
Stars of the Game
#3a Denard Span (2-for-4, 2B, RBI, SB)
#3b Carlos Gomez (2-for-5, RBI, SB)
#2 Nick Punto (2-for-5, 2B, 3B, 2 R)
#1 Scott Baker (8 IP, 4 H, 6 K, 2 BB, 1 R)