A rain delay that lasted one hour and fifty minutes, followed by a 12-inning game that lasted three hours and fourteen minutes. The seven fans that were still around for Jim Thome's home run certainly had their money's worth.
For the longest time I was convinced that the Twins would be playing a double-header on Sunday. I came home early from a party last night to watch the game, and only slightly buzzed noticed the rain delay and decided the best thing for me to do was to watch the Chicago feed of the White Sox - Royals game. And boy am I glad I did. Before falling asleep on the couch in the sixth inning, I had the pleasure of listening to Hawk Harrelson continue to bitch and moan like the terrible broadcaster that he is. Bless his soul, even when his team was getting their asses handed to them by Kansas City, he still managed to bring out the "HE GOWN" when a Chicago pitcher tallied a strikeout. What a trooper.
Meanwhile, sometime after I'd fallen asleep on the couch with a smile on my face, the Twins game actually did take place. It was worth waiting for.
Both Nick Blackburn and Carlos Carrasco pitched well. Carrasco allowed five hits, walked three and struck out four over seven and a third. We talked about how many ground balls he was getting coming into this game, and the trend continued as 14 of his 17 outs on balls in play came off grounders.
Blackburn was just as consistent, with 15 of 20 outs on balls in play coming off the grounder. His line was slightly better than Carrasco's: five hits, two walks and three strikeouts in eight innings. Granted, the Cleveland offense is terrible, but Nick actually had a no-hitter going until Lou Marson broke it up with an infield single to lead off the sixth.
Obviously, neither pitcher allowed a run.
Jesse Crain pitched scoreless ninth and tenth innings, striking out two and allowing just one hit. Randly Flores started the eleventh, giving up two singles in six pitches before Gardy saw enough and pulled him. Matt Guerrier came in, and with ice in his veins went ground out - pop up - ground out to end the threat. In six pitches. Which brings us to the top of the twelvth.
Justin Germano didn't do himself any favors. He started Thome out with a changeup and fastball outside, and putting himself in a 2-0 hole was just asking for trouble. So when he left that 2-0 changeup right over the heart of the plate, when Thome connected on a ball that came in mid-thigh, when his pure strength muscled the ball through the damp, dark Cleveland night...nobody should have been too surprised. It's the kind of mistake that the greatest hitters of all time will feast on, and when the ball bounced into the Indians bullpen Thome had done just that.
Career home run number 587.
And that was all she wrote. Matt Capps came on for the bottom half of the frame and recorded a 1-2-3 inning for his 38th save of the year.
One night after moving in the wrong direction, Minnesota's AL Central lead is back to six games with an even 20 left to play. A combination of Twins wins and White Sox losses that adds up to 15 will now put the lid on the division crown in 2010.
Notes, studs and duds after the jump.
- For how late we are in the season, only four American League teams have been mathamatically eliminated from the playoffs: Baltimore, Seattle, Kansas City and Cleveland.
- The Twins are now just three games behind the Yankees for the best record in the American League. Also, two-and-a-half games behind Tampa Bay.
- Cleveland stacked their lineup with left-handed hitters, who actually aren't hitting Blackburn as well as right-handers this season. Lefties were 4-for-20 last night; righties 1-for-8.
- Blackburn's off-speed stuff was key again last night. While he didn't get many hitters to chase (he never really does), the Indians didn't hit a single off-speed pitch well.
- The Indians didn't hit Blackburn well as all, really, no matter what he threw. In addition to a .000 well-hit average against Nick's off-speed offerings, as a whole Cleveland's well-hit average of at-bats last night was just .107 (.203 league average).
- In four starts and one relief appearance since returning from AAA, Blackburn has thrown 31.2 innings with the following rate stats: 1.71 ERA, 6.3 H/9, 2.0 BB/9, 5.5 K/9, 0.3 HR/9.
- In seven appearances, Randy Flores has recorded just four outs while also notching seven hits, one walk, one strikeout...and, oddly enough, just one run.
Nick Blackburn, .556 WPA
Jim Thome, .273 WPA
Jesse Crain, .280 WPA, 2.60 pLI
Matt Guerrier, .317 WPA, 3.97 pLI
Matt Capps, .205 WPA, 2.67 pLI
Randy Flores, -.117 WPA, 2.73 pLI