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Le Duel Du Hurlers

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Great Scott returns: Offense bails itself out late in pitcher's duel.

With Kevin Slowey going five innings in Monday's loss to Toronto in the series opener, Ron Gardenhire came out before the game and stated that he needed his starter to step up tonight.  Starters need to go more than just four or five innings, he said, or our bullpen will take a beating.

Scott Baker responded with his second outstanding performance of the summer, going seven innings while scattering four hits, one walk and nine strikeouts while being charged with just one run.  He shredded the Blue Jay offense inning after inning, getting some calls high in the zone.  Baker's breaking balls were the difference between this start and his past handful, as they largely hit their spots and helped set up his fastball...which on occasion Tuesday evening touched 94 mph.

While our own starter was putting up the performance of his young career, 25-year old Shaun Marcum was matching Baker nearly out-for-out.  Marcum's season has been consistently good, and he raised that bar by completing eight full innings, striking out two and walking one with just six hits and one run allowed.

It was a pitcher's duel from the start.  The evening's first baserunner didn't reach until the bottom of the third inning, when Jason Tyner doubled off the bottom of the baggie.  Baker and Marcum were in complete control.

Vernon Wells led off the top of the fourth inning by turning on a Baker offering low in the zone, notching a ground-rule double to left-center field.  Alex Rios then took the first pitch he saw and popped it up to Jason Bartlett.  With just one out, Baker worked Matt Stairs from the outside, in.  After his first pitch missed outside, Scott tallied a called and swinging strike on the outer, then inner half of the plate.  First base open, Baker continued to bust Stairs inside, missing twice in attempts to jam the stocky left-hander.  On the third consecutive pitch in nearly the same location, Stairs finally took the bait and went down swinging.

Wells still on second base with two away, Troy Glaus stepped in for his second at-bat.  Glaus, then 3-for his last-19 with five strikeouts, had gotten himself crossed up in his first time up against Baker, going down on strikes with the help of a nice slider.  Glaus took pitch one, swung through strike two, then flailed helplessly as he struck out again, courtesy of a slider eight inches off the plate.  Glaus is a mental wreck.

Baker and Marcum again rolled to the bottom of the seventh, where with one out, Michael Cuddyer walks on five pitches.  Torii Hunter, who had hit the ball hard in his first two at-bats without collecting a hit, took a 1-2 pitch and pulled it to left field for a single.  Jason Kubel then took Marcum's first pitch and drilled it to right field for a double, scoring Cuddyer.  Sadly, with runners on second and third, Mike Redmond flew out, and Torii Hunter was called out on a play at the plate.  Let's not talk about it.

As the walk haunted Toronto's starter, so did Baker's.  Greg Zaun, the inning's leadoff batter, reached on nine pitches after fouling off three two-strike pitches.  Baker was then lifted after Aaron Hill singled.

Dennys Reyes retired Adam Lind on a sacrifice bunt, but Zaun came in to score on a Howie Clark sacrifice fly via Pat Neshek.  The inning ended one hitter later but the damage was done, and the game was tied at one.

Neshek struck out the side in the ninth.  Joe Nathan collected three strikeouts of his own, pitching scoreless tenth and eleventh innings.  Juan Rincon came on the twelvth inning, retiring the Jays on six pitches to record his second appearance in a row without allowing a run.  Hopefully, Rincon is getting some confidence back.

As the game was in the shadow of the fourth hour of play, the Blue Jays brought in their fifth pitcher of the evening, Brian Tallet.  Joe Mauer grounded out before Michael Cuddyer singled for his first hit of the game.  Torii popped out, leaving Cuddyer at first with two down.

Lew Ford stepped in, getting his first at-bat after pinch running for Jason Kubel in the ninth.  He worked the count full before making contact and pulling a single to left field.  Cuddyer reached third as he was off on the pitch.

Ford then proceeded to take second on defensive indifference, leading to an intentional walk of Mike Redmond to load the bases.  With Jason Tyner in the on-deck circle it didn't appear to be the smartest move, considering how Redmond has been coming through in RBI situations for the Twins recently, but it did happen.  On a bench with no good options to choose from, the Twins sent in Jeff Cirillo to pinch hit for Tyner.

Tallet delivered low and away for ball one.  With the bases full, Tallet would be looking to put the ball over the plate and he did just that.  Cirillo intelligently took his first strike, then fouled off two pitches in a row.

Down 1-2, Cirillo took the fifth pitch of his at-bat and arced it into shallow center field.  Second baseman Hill, shortstop Clayton and center fielder Wells all converged on the ball...

...and it barely dropped in for a base hit.  Cuddyer came into score, and the Twins ground out a win in twelve innings, 2-1 on a Texas-League single.

Each team used eleven position players and five pitchers in the game, and each team's pitching gave their offense more than ample opportunity to earn the win.  The Twins took it, and all the credit goes to Scott Baker and the brilliant bullpen, striking out 15 Toronto hitters on the evening.  Minnesota's bullpen didn't allow a single baserunner.