You know those crisp pitchers duels that guys like Carl Pavano or Mark Buehrle tend to pitch, games that finish in just a shade over two hours? This afternoon wasn't one of those games, three and a half hours long, 28 hits, 12 walks and three batters hit by pitch. Definitely not a game that will be used as an example to youngsters during extended spring training. In the end, the Tampa Bay Rays outlasted the Twins late, scoring seven runs in the 8th and 9th innings to blow a 5-5 tie wide open and salvage the last game of a three game series.
Francisco Liriano was anything but sharp tonight, hitting Rays leadoff batter Johnny Damon with his second pitch of the game, and struggling to throw strikes through 4-1/3 innings and 91 pitches (49 strikes), giving up six hits, five runs (all earned) while walking four and hitting another three Rays for good measure. This was one of those days where you understand why the Twins haven't locked Liriano up long term. But as bad as Liriano was, the Rays pitchers, beginning with starter Wade Davis, coughed up separate 2-0 and 5-2 leads through the first five innings, as the Twins hitters got Liriano off the hook for a loss. Anthony Swarzak kept the Twins in the ball game, throwing two scoreless innings in relief of Liriano. And after Jose Mijares (struck out the only batter he faced) and Alex Burnett got the Twins through the top of the seventh, it felt like the Twins would pull another one out late. But in the top of the eighth inning, Burnett gave up four runs on a ground ball single, squeeze bunt and a two run Sean Rodriguez home run to put the Rays up 9-5. That was all she wrote as Phil Dumatrait came out for the ninth and gave up a three run home run to Evan Longoria and put the Twins down for good.
Tomorrow, the Twins begin a four game series in Chicago against the White Sox. Let's hope the bullpen arms aren't too wiped out after back to back short outings from Scott Baker and Liriano. Studs, duds and notes follow after the jump.
Michael Cuddyer (ALL STAR): 2-4, HR, 3 RBI, BB. Contributed +1.77 runs offensively, hitting his 13th home run of the season. Too bad we'll likely see him traded to a contender if the Twins become sellers later this month.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka: 3-3, R, BB. Contributed +1.41 runs offensively. I've been as critical of Nishioka as anyone, but he looked much more comfortable out there tonight, both offensively and defensively.
- Anthony Swarzak: 2.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 SO. Swarzak kept the Twins in the ball game before other relievers blew it. Swarzak is beginning to look like a guy who could get more appearances in higher leverage situations, may be another failed starting pitcher who has success in the bullpen when he doesn't have to pace himself.
- Tom Kelly: With Bert taking a day off, it was enlightening to hear his perspective on the Twins players throughout the game. And for repeatedly calling Dick Bremer "Richard".
- Francisco Liriano: Pitched behind in the count all night, falling behind 11 of 24 batters 1 ball - 0 strikes.
- Alex Burnett: 1.1 IP, 4 H, 4 R, BB, HR. Not much nice to say about that 8th inning. Other than the home run, he wasn't hit that hard. But he can't afford to walk guys with the meat of the Rays order coming up.
- Phil Dumatrait: 1.0 IP, 3 H, 3 R. I have no idea why Chuck James is in Rochester right now.
- Rene Rivera: 1-3, GIDP. Contributed -1.13 runs offensively, mostly due to a crushing double play after Jason Repko lined a perfect one-out hit-and-run single to right field with Danny Valencia running.
- Steve Liddle: For sending Jim Thome home to get thrown out by a couple feet to end a two out rally in the sixth inning.
- In the third inning, Alexi Casilla made a great turn and a strong throw to get the speedy B.J. Upton and complete an inning ending double play, preventing a run from scoring on the play. But replays showed Upton was safe at first, similar to the game ending play last night. Rays manager Joe Madden argued, but to no avail.
- In case you were in a cave today, Joe C. and others are reporting that Joe Mauer will make his first major league start at first base tomorrow in Chicago.