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Garza Survives for Win

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Bartlett, Hunter combine for 6 RBI.

Following what was nearly a two-hour rain delay on Saturday night, the Baltimore Orioles' starting pitcher was Radhames Liz.  In his major league debut, Liz (just called up from AA) carried a blistering 97 mph fastball and a couple of breaking balls.  Like young pitchers often do, he tried to survive throwing his heat a majority of the time, and eventually it caught up with him.

Perhaps that experience (or lack thereof) was the difference between Liz and Matt Garza's performances.  Garza went five innings and allowed just one run, but threw 91 pitches of which only 51 were strikes.  Five hits and four walks meant that he was constantly trying to get out of innings with runners on base, and in the end he was able to do so by mixing his 95 mph fastball with a curveball in the low 80's.  His command was lacking, but a combination of good pitching in certain situations and an aggressive Baltimore offense enabled him to work out of RISP situations.

What led to long innings for Garza were high pitch counts, which would be tougher to deal with considering the humidity in the air following the rain that had travelled through Baltimore.  Of the 23 batters Garza faced, only 14 (61%) had first pitch strikes.  Obviously the key to lower pitch counts would be to carry the momentum of the first-pitch strikes you were able to manage, but of the 14 batters with first pitch strikes only 6 (43%) were dealt a second pitch strike.  Garza was having trouble getting ahead of hitters consistently in the first place and, when he did get ahead with that initial pitch, he was having even more trouble by giving away that advantage with the very next pitch.

Ultimately Garza was able to work around his four walks while Liz paid on all three of his own, in large part because of Garza's willingness to rely on pitches other than his fastball.  His offspeed and breaking pitches led to ground balls or lazy fly outs in key areas, and the end result was that he escaped his five innings with just one run allowed.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Twins were able to give Garza a comfortable layer of support.  After walks by Jason Kubel and Brian Buscher to lead off the top of the third inning, Nick Punto laid down a successful bunt for the second time in as many games, moving each runner up a base.  After Jason Tyner grounded out, Jason Bartlett drilled a line drive to left field for his second hit of the game.  Kubel and Buscher scored, giving the Twins a 2-0 lead.

As the Orioles got one back in the bottom of the inning, the game was largely in flux until the top of the sixth inning.  Until that point each pitcher had done just enough to keep their teams in the game without anything resembling command or control.

When Corey Patterson caught Joe Mauer's sacrifice fly in the top of the sixth, he made a mistake by throwing to third base in an attempt to throw out the advancing Tyner; this allowed Bartlett to move up to second base.  In the end, though, the position of the runners made no difference.

With the outcome of the game very much in doubt, Torii Hunter swung and missed at an inside pitch from Liz for strike one.  In his two earlier at-bats, Hunter had struck out and popped out respectively.  While he'd honed in on Liz's fastball, he just wasn't able to make good contact, meaning he had either been late on the fastball or been too aggressive in looking for a good pitch to hit.  This time, Hunter caught up.

Liz's second pitch came in high over the plate and Torii made good on the promise the swings in his previous at-bats had made.  Hunter shortened up, turned and pulled the fastball, and launched the baseball nearly as high into the night as it was long.  The 3-run shot gave the Twins a 5-1 lead, and Baltimore was unable to mount any sort of a rally for the remainder of the game.

Torii finished the game 2-for-5 with a homer, double and four RBI.  Hunter is now hitting .301/.344/.549 on the season, and a .356/.396/.600 line in August alone.  Not to be outdone Jason Bartlett was 4-for-4, lifting his 2007 offensive numbers to .275/.339/.370 (.354/.394/.554 in August).  Whether it's adjustments to his swing or if he's simply playing with more confidence, Bartlett is slowly but surely resurrecting what was once a miserable offensive line.

In the field, Jason made a couple of nice plays to compliment his day at the plate.  A diving stop behind second base and a flip (from his glove, no less) to Nick Punto induced a force out.  Following a deflection off of Buscher's glove, Bartlett made a nice adjustment mid-motion and tried to make a play to get the runner at second base.  While he wasn't able to get the out, it was certainly a good effort and an even better display of ability.

Saturday night's win was the fourth in a row for the Twins, who are now 66-63.  It puts them 5.5 games out of first place, and 8 games out of the Wild Card.