Tampa Bay explodes for seven runs in the eighth.
I stayed up to watch this game last night, from the UK. Why? It was a Francisco Liriano start, that's why. And he didn't disappoint.
Liriano struck out ten over seven innings, including the side in the fifth, Evan Longoria on four straight sliders in the sixth, and every single Rays starter at least once. Tampa did manage to fight for a few extended at-bats, but other than a manufactured run in the third this was a team that was owned by the Minnesota ace.
And Cisco wasn't the only star of the night for your division-leading squad. Jim Thome bounced back nicely from an 0-for-6 performance in his last two starts (which included five strikeouts) by slamming solo shots in back-to-back plate appearances early in the contest. His first, a low and away fastball from Wade Davis, was punched over the left field wall for an opposite-field blast showing exactly how powerful Thome can be when putting good wood on the ball. His second was an uppercut into the left-center field bullpen.
In the bottom of the ninth Thome followed up a Michael Cuddyer double with one of this own, charting his third RBI of the night. Unfortunately, inbetween the second home run and the double, Liriano departed the contest. He left holding a 4-1 lead, with the normally reliable Alex Burnett taking the hill.
Burnett lasted all of two batters, both reaching. His replacement, Jose Mijares, allowed a double before being removed. Matt Guerrier allowed the fourth and fifth hitters of the inning to reach before finally picking up the first out, but by then the game was tied. A couple of batters later, Matt Joyce silenced the Target Field crowd by launching a dagger of a grand slam to straight away center field. Denard Span ran out of room as the ball barely cleared the fence, and Joyce's first home run will be one for him (and Rays fans) to remember.
The Twins rally in the ninth fell two runs short, and for the second time in three games the Twins bullpen has blown a late lead. Against good offenses like the Rays it's going to happen from time to time but twice in this series, in a big series against a team that will likely be heading to October, it stings a little bit more. Bullpens are never perfect. You'd just prefer them to prove reliable against quality teams.
This has been bad timing for implosions.
- All four hits the Rays had off Liriano last night came off his fastball. On balls in play, the Rays were 0-for-11 against his slider and 0-for-2 against the changeup.
- Every two-strike at-bat for the Rays was converted into an out by Liriano.
- 22% of Liriano's strikes garnered a swing and a miss last night, and ramp that up to 30% overall. The man was on fire.
- Jim Thome's two home runs allwed him to leap frog Harmon Killebrew into solo possession of ninth place all-time on the career home run list, with 574. He's now just nine away from Mark McGwire, and considering Thome's now blasted five homers since June 19 McGwire's 583 suddenly doesn't seem so far away.
- Thome also leap frogged Delmon Young last night, and is now tied for second on the Twins with 10 home runs along with Jason Kubel.
- Justin Morneau's home run last night was his 17th.