Johan blanks A's through seven, Rincon makes ninth worth sticking around for.
Friday night's game wasn't as close as the 5-3 score indicates. For seven innings Johan Santana scattered five baserunners on four hits and struck out eight, including a very embarassing miscalculation by Bobby Kielty. Our reigning Cy Young champion sent down his first four outs on strikes, and never allowed an Oakland batter to reach scoring position.
What should make us most appreciate what Santana does is the realization that this kind of a streak could end at any moment; the fact that we almost expect Johan Santana to put up goose eggs inning after inning should be made sweeter by acknowledging just how unrealistic his pitching performances (especially second-half pitching performances) really are.
Anyone under 15 skip this sentence: Johan Santana is really fucking good.
Offensively the Twins could have had more runs. Torii Hunter grounded out to leave the bases loaded in the first inning (thanks in part to the umpires missing a ball bouncing off of Bartlett than should have been foul). On two seperate occasions a runner was doubled off of second base due to hard-smashed line drives by Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. There was nothing the runners could have done in either case. One second the ball was off the bat, and by the time you realized you needed to get back to the base Mark Ellis already had the ball in his glove.
Luis Castillo went 3-for-4, including a double (that should have been a triple had Castillo been running hard) that arched over Nick Swisher's head in center field. Swisher had been playing Castillo shallow but it doesn't matter, I doubt Swisher could play right field adequately--do the Athletics really have nobody who can play center field? Swisher is a hitter but he isn't necessarily the most athletic guy...there's a reason he plays first base as opposed to being an outfield-only defender.
But whatever. Play him there as long as you want, Oakland. I'm cool with it. End of rant.
By the end of the sixth inning the Twins had a 5-0 lead, and when Santana left the game after the seventh on just 91 pitches, Pat Neshek retired the Oakland eighth in four batters. It's the top of the ninth that made things interesting.
With Swisher leading off, Rincon threw a called strike before hitting him in the shoulder with a fastball. I heard arguments that it was in response to Colby Lewis catching Jeff Cirillo on the hands in the bottom of the previous inning, but the argument is absurd. First, Cirillo nearly swung at the pitch; had he not moved from his stance the ball would merely have been inside. Second, if Rincon wanted to hit Swisher why would he throw a strike first? Juan's had a rough few weeks, let's not pretend he has the luxury of putting men on base on purpose.
After Swisher stares into his own dugout on his way to first and then tears his batting gloves off with his teeth as though he's some kind of animal (really though I think he is and he scares me), Eric Chavez steps in a quickly launches a 2-2 flat-no-break fastball about eight rows into the upper deck. It was a massive, MASSIVE home run off an 8-pitch at-bat. Mark Ellis singled after Dan Johnson flied out, and that was the end for Juan Rincon.
Joe Nathan enters and nearly ends the game on one pitch by inducing a double-play ball, but Bobby Crosby legs it out to first and is called safe by a hair. With two down, Jason Kendall (remember when he used to hit .320?) laces a 3-2 pitch down the left-field line for a double which scores Crosby. Finally, Shannon Stewart hits a dribbler played by Castillo, who throws to first to end the game...again, by a hair. I haven't seen Stewart run that hard since 2004. Honestly, it suits him and I'm glad he's having a decent bounce-back year at the plate.
It was a good game--they usually are good games with Oakland. Juan Rincon (poor, poor Juan Rincon) made things interesting, but ultimately when you spot Santana five runs and then turn it over to our bullpen it's as close as you can get to a lock in baseball. Two consecutive wins coming out of the break is a great start, and hopefully we can make it three on Saturday night.