There was gray hair on Joe Nathan's face which wasn't there the last time he pitched in a game that mattered. Of course, October of 2009 was a long time ago. His appearance tonight was just as important as the Twins finding a way to hang on and win this game against the Blue Jays, and whether you're talking about that appearance or Minnesota's win in general there's just one thing you can say:
It wasn't pretty, but the job was done.
Drew Butera's primary job in the bottom of the ninth inning was just as much about keeping an amped up Nathan under control as it was calling the game. A couple of times you could see him squatting behind the plate, holding his hands up to Nathan as if to say Just slow down. Nathan's fastball wasn't burning in the mid-90s, and his off-speed selections weren't always going where he wanted them to go, and you could see the frustration on his heavily perspiring face. Absolutely, Joe Nathan was a bit too eager. But he wanted his result.
The entire game came down to the bottom of the ninth inning. While Minnesota had crept out to an early lead thanks to a Danny Valencia home run and a very good outing from Nick Blackburn, Toronto kept it close. Jose Bautista launched his second home run of the series and the Twins squandered numerous scoring chances and it kept them from putting this one out of reach early. So when, of all people, Denard Span yanked a solo home run into the right field seats in the top of the ninth to extend the lead to 4-2, there was a massive sigh of relief. Toronto hitters, generally speaking, owned Twins pitching this series. One run mattered in the top of the ninth. Although, maybe not as much as it mattered in the bottom half of the frame.
J.P. Arencibia nearly tied the game two hitters into Toronto's half of the ninth, but Delmon Young recorded the first out up against the left field wall. Mike McCoy's double down the right field line came off a very good pitch from Nathan, but even Jason Repko's great throw into second base couldn't get him. And then Denard Span made a great running catch in deep center field for out number two, although the runner tagged to close the gap to one.
With two outs and a runner on third, Nathan battled with Juan Rivera before walking him. He even got ahead of the dangerous Bautista before missing his spots and walking him as well.
But on his 31st pitch of the inning, Nathan got Adam Lind to roll over on a weak ground ball to Michael Cuddyer at first base. He held the lead, in spite of fighting wars on the physical and mental fronts, and helped the Twins pick up their first win of the season. I really hate to put too much emphasis on wins and losses in the first series of the season, but this was a big one. Forget about heading to New York for a minute, it's just the fact that the Twins had played so poorly over the first two games. Getting a win to end this series allows the weekend to end on a high note.
And the Twins are one win closer to winning their next AL Central Division title.
Nick Blackburn: Probably lifted too early, considering the trouble he got into could all be traced back to defensive lapses.
Denard Span: Great running catch in center, a walk and two more hits, he's the player of the series.
Drew Butera: Fantastic bunt single, and seemed to do a great job with the in-game situations.
Matt Capps: After Mijares walked the 8 and 9 hitters to start the seventh, Capps got out of the inning without allowing a run. Superb.
Joe Nathan: He got through it. That's what it was all about tonight.
Somewhere in the Middle
Tsuyoshi Nishoka: Some defensive miscues this series, but has displayed good range and picked up a couple hits and a stolen base in the series. He'll be okay.
Justin Morneau: Mashed a couple of balls this series, but finally picked up his first hit of the year on a broken-bat single.
Delmon Young: 0-for-5 in the three-hole today. I believe in you Delmon, let's see how you do in the Bronx.
Jose Mijares: Ended the sixth after Blackburn was pulled, but then walked the 8 and 9 batters to kick off the seventh. On a taxed bullpen, not ideal.