This was a game where you always had the sense that the Twins were going to be able to pull something off. Maybe it's been the good play of late and the winning streak(s), or maybe it was just something in the air, but even as the Padres lucked into a trio of pair of runs in the fifth and Glen Perkins didn't cover first base in the eighth, I never had that one moment where I thought the Twins were going to lose.
You know that moment. When, in a tight contest, something as intangible as momentum or just that rock that suddenly sinks in your stomach, and you give up the ghost that is hope. Not today.
Francisco Liriano wasn't great today. But he was good. He struck out eight in seven innings, allowing three runs off eight hits and a pair of walks. The Padres challenged him today. A trio of one-out singles in the fourth tied the game at one. Then in the fifth, when an infield single, a bunt and a swinging bunt combined with a walk and a sac fly to plate two runs, Liriano didn't lose his composure. It was a long inning, but he bounced back, and managed to get through two more innings in spite of a rising pitch count.
After Alexi Casilla homered in the bottom of the first to give the Twins a 1-0 lead, the bats went silent. Delmon Young singled to lead off the second, but after that Minnesota didn't pick up another base hit until Michael Cuddyer chucked a double down the third base line and into the left field corner.
At the time, the Twins trailed 3-1 and been all but cut out of the game's equation. Suffice it to say that it woke up the crowd, and it certainly woke up the offense.
Two batters later, Chase Headley threw the ball away, allowing Cuddyer to move up to third base and Luke Hughes to take second on the throw. Tsuyoshi Nishioka grounded out weakly to third, but managed to plate Cuddyer. And with two away, nobody would blame you if you'd have said "well, at least we got one this inning." But, as we've seen so many time before, baseball is a game for the most unlikely of heroes.
Rene Tosoni fought off an assortment of 3-2 pitches before pulling a bouncing groundball just inches inside first base for an RBI double to tie the game. Matt Tolbert followed up with a double into the left-center field gap to give the Twins the lead at 4-3. Target Field went electric.
Glen Perkins pitched the eighth, marking his return to the Twins and the bullpen. Headley struck out to lead off the inning, but Ryan Ludwick and Jesus Guzman singled to put runners on the corners with one away. Perkins got Carmeron Maybin (who looked absolutely terrible today, at everything) to fly out to right field, and Cuddyer's strong throw home kept Ludwick at third. An intentional walk to Orlando Hudson loaded the bases, and then Perk got Will Venable to ground out to first base.
Venable's grounder wasn't a slow roller. It shot across the grass and Hughes dove to his right, making the stop. But when he popped up to make the throw, Perkins hadn't covered first base.
Now, in this situation, as the pitcher you probably expect the second baseman to make that play (if he's in a good position, which Casilla was), but that doesn't excuse Perkins from getting over to cover the base. No matter if Hughes makes the good stop, like he did, or if he retreats to first and entrusts the second baseman to make the play, the pitcher has to cover first. This play wasn't on Hughes. It was on Perkins. And it tied the game at four.
But Perk kept the game tied. He went right after Rob Johnson, striking him out. And Alex Burnett, when the Twins wilted offensively in the bottom half of the inning, pitched a perfect ninth. Cue the bottom of the inning.
Young singled on a ball to shortstop, as Jason Bartlett made a valiant effort but was just too deep in the hole to have a chance at getting Delmon at first. Hughes advanced Young on a bunt (questionable call), and then Chad Qualls intentionally walked Nishioka to get to Drew Butera (solid strategy).
Sometimes in baseball, as in life, even when you make perfect plans or put yourself in the right position, you don't always succeed. And, sometimes in baseball, even when you make a questionable judgment call, or when the game is on the line with the worst hitter in Major League Baseball at the plate, things still manage to work out in your favor.
Butera's ground ball glanced off the glove of a diving Headley at third, and into the outfield as Bartlett couldn't change direction quickly enough to recover the bounce. Young scored from second, game over.
And that's the series, ladies and gentlemen. Your Minnesota Twins have swept the San Diego Padres, have won seven in a row and 14 of 16, and are still the hottest team in baseball. If you want to jump on this bandwagon, now is probably the time to do it.
- Nishioka looks overmatched at the plate. When he's not bouncing out weakly to someone in the infield, his fly balls seem to lack pop and just float up there. I know he's just gotten back and it's early, so hopefully as he continues to adjust we can see him control the bat a bit better.
- Mauer, meanwhile, has hit a few balls hard but still hasn't gotten a hit since his first plate appearance back on Friday night.
- Liriano's ERA drops again, down to 4.59 after the game. Since his return from the DL, he's pitched 19 innings, struck out 24, allowed just 12 hits (no homers) and walked five. That's a 0.69 ERA, 0.62 WHIP, and a 1.50 GB:FB ratio.
- Ben Revere picked up another 0-fer, but made a nice diving catch on a ball that was clearly dancing on him late in the game.
- Casilla's homer was his first since July 30th of last season. Before that, his last home run was September 18, 2008, in a year when he hit seven. He'll never be a double-digit HR kind of guy, but I thought that as a full-time player he'd hit 5-7 a year. He still can this season, but he'd be off to a slow start.
- Revere, Casilla, Cuddyer, Young, and Hughes are all hitting at least .250 following today's game. It's a long climb from the hole they put themselves into, but some of these guys are slowly working themselves back. Young is still frustrating at the dish, so hopefully he can continue to hit well. We need him to if we're going to make a run at the division.
Francisco Liriano, Alex Burnett, Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, Rene Tosoni, Matt Tolbert, Drew Butera
Jury Still Out
I don't think Perk pitched as badly as his line might imply he did, but he needs to cover that bag