Seven innings of solid baseball erased by the sweetest swing in the history of baseball.
After pounding out two big-offense wins in the first two games against the Mariners, Nick Blackburn did a superb job of keeping them off the board in a close contest. The Twins managed to support him with a pair of runs; Justin Morneau doubled in Joe Mauer in the third, while Michael Cuddyer singled in Morneau in the fifth.
Seattle hitters seemed to be baffled by Blackburn at times. His 90-mph fastball missed a lot more bats than I expected, and he did a good job in general of hitting his spots with all of his pitches. He had a bit of trouble in the second, but it was more about long at-bats (two of which ended in strikeouts) than it had to do with avoiding trouble with men on base.
Minnesota meandered into the eighth inning with a 2-0 lead, and after 99 pitches Blackburn was awarded with two innings with which to watch his bullpen nail down the win. Jose Mijares started the inning, and quickly dispatched Ichiro Suzuki.
Then everything crashed, I blacked out, and woke up in the bottom of the ninth. Here's what happened:
- Four very obvious fastballs out of the zone to Jose Lopez.
- A fifth consecutive fastball out of the zone, ball one to Ken Griffey Jr. The next pitch was down and in, and Griffey absolutely demolished it. I remember screaming something like this: "NOOOO!" It ties the game at two.
- Jesse Crain replaces Mijares.
- Adrian Beltre singles.
- Russell Branyan singles.
- Beltre advances to third.
- A wild pitch by Crain, which looked more like a Mike Redmond passed ball to me, allows Beltre to score. And there's still just one out, by the way. 3-2, Seattle.
- Wladimir Balentien nearly knocks the ball out of the park. Five consecutive fastballs, with three of the out of the zone, ending with a ball bouncing off the top of the baggy. Branyan scores, and suddenly a game well in hand looks lost; the two-run lead was a two-run deficit.
- Matt Guerrier comes in with Balentien on second and retires the next two batters.
Sure, Craig Breslow would give up another gopher ball, this one to Lopez, but the damage was done.
If you were part of the game thread, you saw me tracking the Twins chances of winning. At one point FanGraphs gave Minnesota an 87% chance of pulling off the victory. It's amazing how quickly things can change.
There was some excitement at the end. Nick Punto singled to lead off the inning, and was singled in by Mauer three hitters later. Eight pitches later the bases were loaded with two down, with Morneau and Michael Cuddyer loading them up with Mauer. Brendan Harris battled Brandon Morrow for eight pitches, fouling off pitches near the zone before grounding out to third.
Blackburn earned a win tonight. Six strikeouts, five hits and a walk over seven innings should be good enough, especially when you don't allow a single run. But the story tonight wasn't Nick's great start, and it wasn't the runs the Twins managed to scrape together with timely hits. Once again it was the bullpen, focal points of yet another massive let-down.
Stars of the Game
#3: Justin Morneau (1-for-3, 2B, 2 BB, RBI, R)
#2: Joe Mauer (2-for-4, BB, RBI, R)
#1: Nick Blackburn (7 IP, 5 H, 6 K, 1 BB, 0 R)
Duds of the Game
#3: Brendan Harris (0-for-3, 2 BB)
#2: Jose Mijares (0.1 IP, BB, HR, 2 R)
#1: Jesse Crain (0 IP, 3 H, 2 R)