I was at a friend's birthday party most of tonight's game. Of course that didn't stop me from checking my phone every 20 minutes, which might make me sad if you weren't to understand exactly how pivotal this series is.
BOT 1, 2 OUT - Joe Mauer homers to right field (1-1)
WOO HOO! I turn to my (very British) friends: "Joe Mauer just homered. He's unbelieveable!"
I get blank stares in return. Which is pretty much how it went every other time I went to my phone. (Just saw the replay, by the way, and did he just TURN on that sucker or what? Upper deck! It's nice to see Joe display this kind of power when he has to turn on an inside fastball, instead of "simply" going the other way and muscling it over the left field fence.)
So when I walked in the door tonight and turned the game on in the bottom of the eighth, still expecting the Twins to be down 2-1, you can imagine my surprise when out of nowhere we were up 3-2. I'd missed Denard Span's single and Orlando Cabrera's run-scoring double, and I'd also missed Jason Kubel's RBI single.
I didn't miss Michael Cuddyer's three-run homer. My neighbors may always wonder what the crazy American was screaming about at 11:40pm on a Saturday night.
That five-run eighth inning was like the proverbial sucker punch to the Tigers' gut, and it knocked the wind out of them. Placido Polanco would manage a double with two out in the top of the ninth, but there was nothing threatening about it. As far as anyone was concerned, this game was over.
Justin Verlander pitched well after giving up a solo shot to Mauer in the first inning, holding the Twins scoreless as he pitched into the eighth. While he only managed a single 1-2-3 inning this afternoon, a delicate mix of strikeouts, caught stealings and some reliable defense kept the Twins from capitalizing on what can only be described as ample run-scoring opportunities. Minnesota had managed at least one base runner in every inning bar the fourth, but nothing came across. Until the bottom of the eighth.
Verlander struck out Nick Punto to lead off the inning, bringing his pitch count to 111. His fastball had been averaging about 97 mph on the night, ranging in speeds from 93 to 99. He was locked in.
Then he threw one down the pipe to Span, who lined it into left for a single. After fighting off numerous 98 and 99 mph fastballs, Orlando Cabrera took the ninth consecutive fastball he saw and drove it to left for a double (apparently some thanks due here to the Dome), moving Span up to third. Mauer? IBB.
With his back against the wall and with 125 pitches under his belt, Verlander reared back and proceeded to throw the three hardest fastballs he'd thrown all night: 100 mph, 100 mph, 101 mph. Kubel watched the first flail wide of its mark, fouled off the second pitch that could have been ball two and then got just enough of number three to get it to fall in for a hit. Two runs scored to give Minnesota their first lead of the night.
Brandon Lyon came on in relief of Verlander, who was victimized by the one big inning again, and proceeded to put the nail in Detroit's coffin. Cuddyer was dealt a pair of sliders high in the zone before Lyon tried to tempt him with a high fastball, and Cuddles got it all. BOOM. And the crowd goes wild...
Cuddyer's 28th ties him for second place on the team with Mauer, and the three-run blast brought the game to its final score. Jesse Crain's eighth was perfect, and Jose Mijares and Matt Guerrier shut the door in the ninth.
Minnesota has shown some big balls these last two games, and are now the proud owners of a season-long six-game winning streak. Carl Pavano was terrific, again, putting together his sixth consecutive quality start. He got a lot of help, especially with a big double play to end the bases-loaded threat in the fifth, but he's the one who induced the ground ball. This is fun baseball right now, and if indeed the Twins are peaking they could not have picked a better time.
#5: Denard Span: Another multi-hit day, in spite of being caught on the bases, gets you a star; timing is everything.
#4: Joe Mauer: Batting title number three is already addressed and ready for shipment.
#3: Michael Cuddyer: How much better can a guy be when you need him to be?
#2: Jason Kubel: The two-run single off of Verlander's hardest fastballs of the night? The winner. Priceless.
#1: Carl Pavano: The Twins needed a chance, and he gave it to them. Seven strong innings, just a pair of runs off 11 hits and no walks.
And of course, thanks to the Dome, without whom silly things will not happen so often in the future.