Starters pitch well, but late-inning heroics tell the tale for Minnesota.
In last night's game thread scouting report on Francisco Liriano, we talked about one main goal: getting the big pitches and big outs when he needed them. It can't be said he did that job completely on Wednesday night, but he at least did it better. Six innings, three runs and seven strikeouts is a good night for Cisco.
After Oakland touched him for consecutive singles in the third he induced a big double play off Orlando Cabrera, limiting the damage to one run. The next inning saw back-to-back doubles off the bats of Matt Holliday and Kurt Suzuki, and an eventual walk to Aaron Cunningham to put runners on first and second. A Rajai Davis single scored the second run of the inning for the A's and gave Oakland a 3-2 lead, but where in the past we saw Liriano struggle to get out of big innings, he came back and got his third out on a four-pitch strikeout.
Already at 71 pitches through four innings, the last thing the Twins needed was for their starter to have another long fifth. Liriano responded with a 10-pitch frame. A scoreless sixth made it a quality start.
For his part, Braden was as advertised. He was much more efficient than Liriano, throwing 96 pitches over his seven innings and throwing 62 of them for strikes. After a 30-pitch third inning when the Twins scored a pair to take a 2-0 lead, he settled down and would blank the Twins offense for four innings before leaving the game. Braden scattered his six hits and two walks while striking out four.
The heroics came late, when Jason Kubel pinch-hit for Carlos Gomez to lead off the eighth inning against the first Oakland pitcher not named Braden. Michael Wuertz threw a pitcher's pitch on his second delivery to Kubel, but Jason muscled it. Wuertz' changeup was low-and-away, still managing to end up over the center field fence. Kubel's ninth home run of the season tied the game at three.
But while the eighth was fun, the ninth was even better.
Joe Crede tripled on the first pitch he saw from Andrew Bailey, a fastball at the letters. A Michael Cuddyer pop-out and a Mike Redmond ground out sandwiched a RBI single from Delmon Young, scoring the pinch-running Alexi Casilla from third. Matt Tolbert worked a walk, a wild pitch scored Young, and Kubel was given a walk of the intentional variety before Brendan Harris came through with his first hit of the night. It was a messy inning, which isn't so bad when it's not your team pitching, and the three-run frame gave the Twins a three-run lead.
Joe Nathan? Shut the door. Of course.
Luis Ayala, Jose Mijares, Matt Guerrier and Nathan combined for three scoreless innings, allowing just one hit (off Nathan, of all people) and striking out three.
Any time the Twins put together a complete game, one where the offense, defense, starting and relief pitching combine for a quality game, it's a beautiful thing to see. It was also nice to see the Twins put together a pair of big-offense games back-to-back; they're usually few and far between on the road.
Of all things, the bottom of the order was huge Wednesday night. The 7-8-9 hitters went a combined 4-for-9 with one RBI, four runs and three walks. When the bottom of the lineup can do that, it's an immense help and, clearly, much easier to win.
Minnesota goes for the series win this afternoon, with the opportunity to take three out of four.
Stars of the Game
#3: Matt Tolbert (1-for-2, 2B, 2 R, 2 BB, .155 WPA)
#2: Joe Crede (1-for-4, 3B, .214 WPA)
#1: Jason Kubel (1-for-1, HR, IBB, .329 WPA)