Bonser, Bartlett and Hunter shine.
Such is the tale of champions. There are no losses committed to memory, no deficit that cannot be overcome, no expert who cannot be proved wrong. Somewhere, be it in Joe Mauer's sideburns, in Nick Punto's massive forarms, behind Torii Hunter's sweet smile or inside Brad Radke's determination...there be magic.
No, Lew, no...not magic cards. Just the ethereal, intangible, frosted lucky charms magic.
Curt Schilling. The name lingers in the back of the mind of many youth; it's a name they're sure they should know, as some sort of all-powerful creature who has chosen a mortal life. For most of us, however, the memories remain of great feats. We know, someday, he'll be enshrined. Six-time All Star; three-time 20-game winner; NLCS MVP; World Series MVP; two-time league leader in strikeouts; 206 career victories in over 3100 innings pitched. Wednesday night, this untouchable-come-mortal was outpitched by a rookie called Boof.
Yet Schilling still had enough to be effective. More often than not, the Minnesota offense surged, only to be held back at the last...just so. He went five, throwing over 100 pitches, and actually left the game in a tie.
Boof Bonser. Boof took 74 pitches to finish seven innings, roughly the same number it took Schilling to finish three. Striking out five and walking none, Bonser allowed two runs to plate. The second came on David Ortiz's 50th blast of the season; a solo shot that saw echoes of Torii Hunter's past climbing a wall, a foot catching in the wall, and a dismal remainder of the season. This time, the only damage done was the run.
Working his magic early and often, Boof kept the hitters off-balance with a deceptive fastball kept live via a sharp breaking ball and change. While the Red Sox had sold out another home game, it was Boof Bonser, not Curt Schilling, working deep into the game and pitching like a champion. In spite of this, the Twins came to bat in the top of the 8th inning, trailing 2-1. Bonser, who had pitched his 3rd quality start in his last four outings, was on the ropes for a loss.
Suddenly there was a hard liner screaming down the left-field line. Michael Cuddyer's double with nobody out set the tone for what was about to turn into a huge inning. Justin Morneau walked on five pitches, leaving two men on for Torii Hunter.
In Tuesday night's game, Hunter belted his 27th homer of the season before fouling a pitch off his injured left foot late in the game. After slowly picking himself up out of he dirt, he got back into the batter's box and drew a walk. Even though he hobbled to first base and limped off the field after the inning, there were no ill signs of the injury Wednesday.
On the first pitch he saw, Hunter took a cut on what would be one of the hardest hit balls of his career. There was no Torii home run bat-flip...he just sort of let the bat slip from his hands as he started toward first base. As a momentary silence fell over Red Sox fans everywhere, Hunter's 28th cleared the Green Monster, cleared the highest seats above the Green Monster, and cleared the stadium all together. Torii Hunter hit the ball out of the park. Literally.
Then the flood gates opened.
For those of you who missed Wednesday's game, you missed more than Bonser's big game and Hunter's heroics. Jason Bartlett made two spectacular plays from deep in the hole in the bottoms of the sixth and seventh innings. Both plays saw him ranging far to his right, literally into shallow left field, where he was able to not only get to the ball (impressive on its own), but was able to turn and throw to get the runners (Mike Lowell and Dustin Pedroia, respectively). These weren't just Webs Gems--these were Gold Glove caliber plays. Jason Bartlett is the real deal, and he could be a big part of the puzzle for the Twins for a few years.
As close to dead as you can be without being quite there, the White Sox still did the Twins no favors tonight in regards to first place. They could muster no fight, and fell to the Tigers 6-2. But for one moment, for one brief moment...the Twins were in a tie for first place.
Right now, everyone's sights are on the bunch from Detroit. Once upon a time, the Twins were 12 games back...and this was as late as July 13. Now, there is nothing that seems to intimidate or conjur images of fear. There is no doubt.
Here there be magic, my friends. There's something special going on, and I hope you're paying attention. Because this has been one hell of a ride, and the best is yet to come.