Both teams had their share of headaches this afternoon. Hank Blalock running into Ivan Rodriguez in foul territory, Josh Hamilton dropping a ball in the gap, Nelson Cruz letting the ball get by him. Twice. Denard Span getting doubled off second base. Joe Nathan double-clutching to botch a double play. There were a lot of mistakes made; more than the fair share for one game.
The Twins still managed to pull it out.
Elvus Andrus singled to score Rodriguez in the third, but until the seventh inning it was the only damage Texas could land off of Scott Baker. Baker had a tight curve this afternoon, and mixing it in with some good movement on his fastball cruised through six innings. All six of Scott's strikeouts came between the second and the sixth, including a pair each for Blalock and Cruz. Even when he allowed base runners, Baker maintained control, and even though he tired in the seventh he gutted out seven great innings.
Jason Kubel had a great afternoon, including giving the Twins their first lead of the day on a frozen rope of a line drive into the right-center field gap that cleared the fence. It was Jason's 21st home run, scoring Justin Morneau who had doubled, and it gave the Twins a 2-1 lead. Oddly enough, Kubel's smash wasn't the highlight of the inning.
Now leading 2-1 and with two outs, Mike Redmond stepped up to the dish. Redmond, who has struggled for much of the season; Redmond, in twilight. Redmond, who until today, had not hit a triple since 2003.
A line drive into the left-center field gap snuck past Cruz just as Redmond rounded first, and as the ball trickled away along the base of the wall, Redmond treated 32,000 fans to something special. He was out of gas by the time he rounded first base, and by the time he turned the corner at second base you could see the mixture of pain and glory in those eyes. Six feet shy of third base Redmond
dove belly flopped into the dirt to complete his triple. It energized the fans, it amused the Twins, and there's no doubt it's one of NBP's highlights of the year.
Baker had owned Cruz most of the game, but in the seventh there were some hard-hit balls. Ian Kinsler battled, earning a hard single on the ninth pitch of his plate appearance. Blalock smashed an inside fastball to right field, which Michael Cuddyer caught over his head. Then came Cruz, who homered into the same gap Kubel did, and gave the Rangers their second lead at 3-2.
Jon Rauch's debut was a successful one, giving up a two-out double to Marlon Byrd but logging a scoreless eighth inning with a pair of strikeouts. He did his job, and held the game where it was.
If you missed the bottom of the eighth inning after watching the rest of the game, I pity you. There are certain points in a season that seem pivotal, that are all at once beautiful and magical and perfect, and that's exactly what the bottom of the eighth inning was in today's game. With southpaw C.J. Wilson on the mound, Morneau led off the inning with a six-pitch walk. Gardy chose to leave Kubel in, in spite of his troubles against lefties, and Kubel rewarded his manager's faith with a solid single up the middle.
Cuddyer battled hard, but eventually went down swinging on a wicked slider. Brendan Harris, who had been hitless on the night, then took the first pitch he saw and singled through the hole on the left side of the field to tie the game. Redmond stepped in again, this time half-swinging on a chopper up the first base line. Blalock fielded the ball with no chance to get Redmond at first and went to the plate, where Carlos Gomez (pinch-running for Kubel) slid around the outside of the plate to give the Twins their second lead at 4-3. Nick Punto, who had doubled earlier, showed bunt the whole way and dropped down a brilliant one. No play was possible, Harris scored from third, and the Twins took a 5-3 lead.
It was a gorgeous inning, as entertaining as it was clutch, as it was perfect, and it could only be spoiled by Joe Nathan blowing it in the ninth. Which he nearly did.
Blalock walked and Cruz singled, but when Rodriguez hit a slow chopper right back to Nathan it looked like those mistakes were about to be erased. Nathan fielded, turned and had to double-clutch because nobody was yet covering second base. When he finally threw it was behind Punto, and just like that the bases were loaded with nobody out.
Then the game ended. If you blinked you missed it, but those 11 pitches seemed to take forever. Elvis Andrus down on three pitches; Julio Borbon flying out to Span (now in left); Michael Young grounding out.
This is a long, LONG recap, I know, but the game was over hours ago and I'm still excited by it. Rangers fans probably didn't enjoy the outcome, and it definitely wasn't the most fundamentaly sound contest but it was a great game to watch. The Tigers won, but the White Sox lost, meaning that for the moment our lead for second place in the division is slightly larger.
I could keep going. For now, I'm leaving it here.
Joe Nathan (in the end)