You always want the victory to come in a complete game, but this one looked like a win regardless.
Five strong innings from Scott Baker. Bombs from Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau. Solid releif pitching, focused (yet damp) defense and a saturation of precipitation bullets; all these things combined for a win the Twins needed. It wasn't complete, but it was a win.
After poor pitching and some ass-bats in Friday's loss to the New York Mercs, in which I found myself wishing for a rain-out before the 5th inning was complete, Minnesota rebounded and looked like the familiar team of the last twelve weeks or so. Michael Cuddyer helped the Twins get on the board right away, scoring Luis Rodriguez from third on a sacrifice fly. After MVP candidate Derek Jeter tied the game at one in the bottom of the third on an RBI double, Torii Hunter came through with a 1-0 cut that ended with a ball in the seats. It was Hunter's 22nd homer of 2006, and more importantly, swung momentum in the Twins favor.
Baker took control of the Yankee hitters, and the Twins didn't look back. He retired the Yankees in order in the bottom of the 4th, before working out of a two-on, two-out jam in the 5th. With something called Sal Fasano on second and Johnny Damon on first, Baker caught Jeter looking at a strike with the bat on his shoulder. It was a gorgeous breaking ball, right down the middle of the plate, and the future Hall of Fame shortstop was absolutely frozen. Baker won't win that battle every time, which is what made the pitch and non-swing such a sweet moment. New York didn't threaten again.
With rain saturating the field with every passing minute and threatening to end the game without notice, Justin Morneau came to the plate in the top of the 8th inning with two men on base. On an 0-2 pitch, Morneau took Ron "Sorry I hit you in the head, Justin" Villone's outside pitch and went with it. Left field in Yankee Stadium is about 316 feet, and Morneau's punch/line-drive gave the ball just enough height to leave the field. If there was any doubt to the outcome of the game, Morneau's opposite field line drive homer put these doubts to rest. Five runs in two innings against the Twins' bullpen is about as impossible as it gets.
With Chicago playing the Royals tonight, the Twins momentarily have an identical record to the boys from the south side. If Kansas City can somehow take two in a row from the Sox (hey, they did it to us!), the Twins would again take the lead in the Wild Card race.
The good news/bad news is that if either the Twins or Chicago can find enough focus over the next two weeks to win the games they're supposed to win, the Wild Card may not come down to the final three games of the year. Minnesota and Chicago have traded wins and losses on opposite days, giving the race a see-saw motion over the last two weeks. All that needed to happen was for the Twins to actually take three from Kansas City, or for Chicago to take their games from Tampa Bay, and things could be looking a bit more desperate for the loser. Instead, both teams find themselves losing games they shouldn't, and as a result neither has been able to shake the other.
Consequently, the Twins are hoping for a little help from the Royals tonight, because they've proved that every bit helps. It's one less win the Twins have to overcome, and that's a big help with the schedule down the stretch. Tonight, all of us should be Royals fans. Go, Mark Teahen!
If any of you kids out there saw Justin Morneau mouth a few words rounding first base after his three-run shot, what he actually said was "Oh, gosh! I'm sure glad I can help out the team! Gee, I hope we win this one!"
What he did NOT say, my dear lip-readers, was #$!@ YEAH!