Twins 5, Royals 4
There are no shortages of heroes in Minnesota tonight. A four-run sixth disappeared, but today the Twins weren't going to be denied.
For five and a half innings, Zack Greinke and Nick Blackburn traded zeros. The game's first hit didn't even come until Orlando Cabrera led off the bottom of the fourth, but for more than half of the contest it was a beautiful pitcher's duel. Stressful? Yes. But beautiful.
The Twins finally drew blood in the bottom of the sixth. Nick Punto drew an eight-pitch walk off Greinke to lead off the frame, before Denard "ideal leadoff guy" Span dropped down a made-to-order bunt on the first pitch he saw. With LNP standing on second base, Greinke's pitches began to sit high in the zone. He managed to get Cabrera to ground out to third base, but he wasn't able to keep Punto from advancing. With two out and the game still knotted at zero, up stepped Joe Mauer.
Greinke tried to bust Mauer up and in twice, with Joe taking atypical chances and taking cuts on them both and fouling them off. A pair of sliders just under the strike zone followed, leading to a 1-2 count before Greinke tried to come up and in with another fastball. This time, Joe did exactly what he meant to. He pulled it through the right side, and Punto finally scored to give the Twins a 1-0 lead.
Then the Royals ace came off the rails, just a little bit. Jason Kubel took an outer-half fastball and shot it down the left field line, for a moment saving Greinke from a run as it hit the turf and then bounced over the fence, keeping Mauer on third base. Then he hit Michael Cuddyer with a 94-mph fastball. For the third time in two days, the Royals loaded the bases for Delmon Young.
Maybe Greinke was feeling confident. Maybe he just didn't locate the ball where he wanted it to go. Maybe he and Miguel Olivo were over-thinking their strategy. For whatever reason, Greinke served Delmon a 95-mph first-pitch fastball somewhere between the letters and the belly button, and as everyone's favorite play-by-play guy likes to say, he didn't miss it. Young went the other way, dropping the ball into right field, clearing the bases to give the Twins a 4-0 lead.
Kansas City stuck with their man, even after Jose Morales singled on the next pitch. Even Matt Tolbert swung at the first pitch he saw, and he hit it hard. But this time the ball was blind, and Minnesota's rally came to and end. So did Greinke's afternoon.
A Mike Jacobs homer in the top of the seventh put Kansas City on the board, but it was the eighth that, if you were watching or listening or at this game, should have put the fear of the baseball gods right into you. Olivo led it off with a double, signaling the end of Blackburn's night. Jose Mijares replaced him, and I'm starting to wonder if he's inside of his own head a bit after throwing at Adam Everett on Thursday. Alex Gordon took the third fastball he saw and deposited it over the right field fence, cutting Minnesota's lead to one. Another single saw Mijares get the hook for Jon Rauch, who did his job one batter too late.
Willie Bloomquist singled, moving something called Tug Hutlett to third with no outs in the inning. Rauch got Mitch Maier to roll into a double play, but it scored the tying run. The Metrodome fell silent, and if you weren't having images of whatever playoff hopes you had crashing down in your subconscious, then I envy you. For a game that looked so well in hand to fall apart so quickly, it didn't look good.
You know who didn't care? You know who said "Get on my back, I have broad shoulders and really big dimples and the bat of a hero"? Michael Cuddyer. The same guy who Greinke nailed two innings prior watched a pair of pitches miss the zone before he decided to take a chance. Dusty Hughes threw a changeup, as straight as it could possibly be, right over the plate at about Cuddyer's knees. Cuddles turned on it, and lauched it into the home run porch in left field. He breathed life back into the season, into the team, and into the fans.
Joe Nathan struck out a pair in a perfect ninth inning to pick up save number 47, and once again the Minnesota Twins have won. It's not over yet, kids. No matter what happens tonight, tomorrow matters. And if by some miracle the Tigers lose tonight, tomorrow matters even more.
Holy crap. Can they do this?
Stars of the Game
#3: Delmon Young (2-for-4, 2B, 3 RBI, .154 WPA)
#2: Nick Blackburn (7+ IP, 2 R, 5 K, 0 BB, .305 WPA)
#1: Michael Cuddyer (1-for-3, HR, RBI, 2 R, .245 WPA)