From start to finish, this was undoubtedly the best game of the series so far. Both teams were in this right to the finish, but sadly it wasn't the Twins who came away with the win and a chance to sweep the White Sox tomorrow. The opportunity was there, but the bullpen allowed Chicago hitters to come through with some big hits late in the contest.
There was a lot of back-and-forth. Chicago broke it open early with a run in the bottom of the first, but Ben Revere and Alexi Casilla picked up RBI singles in the third to give the Twins a 2-1 advantage. A Paul Konerko sac fly in the sixth put us back to zeroes. And with the infield in and one away in the top of the eighth, Casilla did his job and brought home Jason Repko on a sac fly of his own. With that, the Twins took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth.
Glen Perkins opened the inning by, apparently, hitting Juan Pierre. I'm not actually 100% sure Perkins did hit Pierre. The ball was well inside, but on the replay Pierre backed out of the way and Joe Mauer reached behind him and caught the ball without a problem. Call me crazy but when a sphere hits something, its trajectory generally changes.
Regardless, Pierre took first. Alexei Ramirez put down a nice bunt to advance the runner and nearly beat out the throw from Perkins. With one away Konerko took the intentional walk, and then Adam Dunn flew out down the right field line.
Michael Cuddyer caught the ball and as Pierre tagged up, he spun and threw a killer strike to Danny Valencia at third. The tag came in a split second too late. At the time I wondered if Cuddyer would let it drop into foul territory in order to keep Pierre at second and then hope that the next ball in play wouldn't be a hit, but in retrospect you have to take the out there. And Pierre barely made it.
At this point the Twins turned to Joe Nathan, who didn't look his best today. He threw a couple of nice strikes to Carlos Quentin before a fastball caught too much of the plate and was lined into left. Nathan would retire Alex Rios but the damage was done.
After Minnesota went quietly in the ninth, A.J. Pierzynski led off the bottom of the frame with a double off Jose Mijares. A couple of fly outs made the situation far less dangerous, until Mijares walked Pierre. With that Gardy went with the platoon split and brought in Alex Burnett the righty to face Ramirez (although looking at it now I see Ramirez has actually hit righties just as well as lefties this season). Alexei has had a killer series so far and delivered again, lining the ball to center (he's now 6-for-12 in the series) and scoring Pierzynski from second.
Minnesota goes for a big series win tomorrow afternoon. A split on the road and in Chicago is great, but after winning the first two and seeing this one slip away I think everyone is eyeballing that third victory.
- On the final play of the game, Revere's lack of arm strength was evident. It was going to be a tough pay anyway, but the ball bounced in the grass just beyond second base and rolled to Mauer. A cutoff man in a better position may have been able to make a quick catch, turn and relay to Joe, but it's unlikely. The only real chance at getting A.J. was with a good throw from center field. It was accurate enough, but the strength just isn't there.
- Revere did flash his range and athletic ability in center earlier in the game however, splaying out with a nice dive to pick one almost out of the grass. Some of that lack of arm strength is certainly made up for with his great range.
- Jim Thome was hopeless today, striking out four times. He's a patient hitter but he took a lot of good pitches today. I realize he was likely waiting for something specific, but a couple of those pitches he took were fat ones.
- Casilla had a one-out double in the sixth. After Mauer advanced him to third on a groundout, the Sox intentionally walked Cuddyer. The Twins were leading 2-1 at the time. That's respect.
- Mauer made a good defensive play early in the game. As Gordon Beckham tipped a pitch he thought went foul, he turned away. The ball bounced in front of the plate and was about to roll foul when Mauer stood up, picked up the ball, turned around and tagged Beckham. Easy outs are the best ones.
- We shouldn't overlook Brian Duensing, who was brilliant today. Seven strong innings in which he essentially owned a Chicago offense stacked with his kryptonite: right-handed hitters. A pair of strikeouts to go along with five hits and a walk in seven innings will get the job done on most occasions. He left after seven strong with his club leading 3-2.
Mauer, Thome, Valencia, Perkins, Nathan, Mijares, Burnett