Twins 4, Reds 3: Willingham's Ninth Inning Homer Lifts Minnesota to Series Victory

CINCINNATI, OH - JUNE 24: Aroldis Chapman #54 of the Cincinnati Reds reacts after giving up a two-run home run in the ninth inning to Josh Willingham #16 of the Minnesota Twins during an interleague game at Great American Ball Park on June 24, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Twins won 4-3. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Scott Diamond could very easily be the story of this game. A rough fourth inning led to a run, and a late-game two-run blast off the bat of Joey Votto put the Twins back in a hole, but three runs across eight innings has to be considered a win for any starting pitcher.

Just eight hits and a walk versus seven strikeouts, Diamond was good but also had some help from his defense. Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier both made strong and athletic relays from the left side of the infield, and Dozier's relay to Joe Mauer to cut down Jay Bruce in what could have been a game-tying run in the sixth was huge.

Trevor Plouffe snapped the Twins out of their scoreless streak in the fifth by jacking his 15th home run of the season, a solo shot that tied the game at one. At the time it gave him sole possession of the team lead in home runs. It's his 10th homer of the month, and his 14th since May 16. There's a good chance we're seeing the evolution of a dangerous and unexpectedly powerful hitter. Plouffe always had pop, but I don't think anyone pegged him as a potential 30-homer guy.

Justin Morneau momentarily put the Twins up 2-1 by bringing home Mauer on a fielder's choice, but Votto's aforementioned jack meant the Reds led 3-2 heading into the ninth inning.

Mauer came up huge with a big one-out double off the wall in left field, the first extra-base hit that Aroldis Chapman has allowed to a left-handed hitter all season. In his fury Chapman must have lost all sense, dealing Josh Willingham five consecutive upper 90s fastballs.

Willingham got hold of the fifth, launching it into the second deck. The Great American Ball Park fell silent.

Jared Burton picked up his first career save in the bottom half of the frame, walking two but escaping in spite of Alexi Casilla clearly not expecting a throw from Jamey Carroll to end the game. It looked like he expected Carroll to throw to first but he went to second for the force instead, and Casilla flopped on the base after making the catch to ensure he got the runner.

With this win the Twins have now taken four series this month, snapping a three series losing streak and pushing them to 11-10 in June. Notes, studs, and duds after the jump!

Notes

  • Plouffe and Willingham still share the team lead in homers after this afternoon's game with 15 apiece. That's just as many as Miguel Cabrera, which is fun for a little perspective.
  • In spite of each having 15 bombs, Willingham has driven in 49 runs. Plouffe has just 26 RBI. Placement in the order will have something to do with this, but it's just another way of showing that driving in runs has more to do with it than just power...even if the power really helps.
  • The Twins are apparently going "closer by committee" since Matt Capps is headed to the disabled list. Glen Perkins picked one up earlier this weekend, and now Burton. I'd be surprised if one of those guys just wasn't given the job straight up over the next couple of days.
  • Mauer's batting average just keeps going up. He's still sixth in the AL in that category. A batting title in 2012 seems unlikely, and somehow I can see it actually making people even crazier.
  • After a few strong games in a row earlier this month, Morneau continues to struggle at the plate. He's hitting under .200 in his last ten games, and his triple slash this month is just .211/.277/.303. He steps into the box and takes some big swings, but his timing and plate coverage and pitch recognition just aren't where he'd like them to be at this point. It's common to see him take a big cut that results in a dribbler to second base. How he responds and performs over the next couple of months will be very important to how the Twins will approach building their team this winter.
  • The only time Diamond came inside all day was with his fastball against right-handed hitters. He's not allowing anyone opportunities to turn around on something off speed, which is one of the things he's doing well. This afternoon he worked ahead early and stayed there on most occasions, with his biggest weakness being an inability to turn hitter's counts into outs. Other than that, Diamond was outstanding again today.
Studs
Joe Mauer
Josh Wilingham
Trevor Plouffe
Brian Dozier
Scott Diamond

Duds
No duds! Hooray for winning a series again!
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