Seven. Twelve. Eighteen.
For most of this game, it was exactly what we thought it'd be: a knock-down, drag-out fight. That includes Francisco Liriano and John Danks, who were as-advertised early on by working around base runners and extra base hits to trade zeros through the first four innings.
In the top of the fifth the Twins finally got the party started when Delmon Young demolished a breaking ball that Danks left up in the zone. It was his 17th home run of the season, giving the Twins a 1-0 lead. A J.J. Hardy double and Denard Span single would open up a 2-0 lead.
A couple of singles, a walk, a stolen base and a groundout would allow the White Sox to tie the game in the bottom half of the inning, before A.J. Pierzynski grounded into a double play in the sixth to plate the go-ahead run. After six Chicago led 3-2, but it would be the best their night would get.
Danks plunked Young on an 0-2 count to lead off the top of the seventh, and he'd later score off a Danny Valencia single and Alex Rios' first defensive biff of the night in center field. Hardy followed that up with his second double of the night, scoring Valencia and giving the Twins the lead back at 4-3.
The bottom of the seventh is where the game was won. In relief of Liriano, Matt Guerrier allowed back-to-back singles to lead off the frame before being pulled. Jesse Crain came on, and after Alexei Ramirez dropped down a sac bunt to move the runners over Crain was very careful and ended up walking Alex Rios. It loaded the bases just in time for Chicago's most dangerous hitters.
Apparently Crain wasn't fazed, because he retired both Paul Konerko and Manny Ramirez on swinging strikes. And it was glorious.
Crain went after Konerko with fastballs reaching 98 mph while mixing in a couple of sliders, but it was the four-seamer on the outer black that brought the whiff. Against Manny, Crain pitched him away with a trio of sliders before showing the fastball, until he got him to swing through another slider down and away. It was a monster display from Minnesota's best relief pitcher this season, and with the bases loaded and just one out while facing the most imposing hitters Chicago had to offer as they fought for their October lives, it couldn't have come at a better time.
In the top of the eighth, the Twins didn't let up. Minnesota gave notice as to why they're the first place team, and Chicago continued to choke under the pressure. Joe Mauer scored on Jason Kubel's double, J.J. Putz lived up to his name and walked in a run, and Rios sent the fans home bitter as Span's liner bounced off his glove in deep center field for a bases-clearing double. By the time the Sox came up to bat in the bottom of the eighth they were trailing 9-3.
Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch each notched a strikeout and a 1-2-3 inning to wrap it up.
This was a huge win. It extended the division lead to seven games, and reduced Minnesota's magic number to 12 with just 18 games remaining. Chicago's best hope for life in October rested on a series sweep, and the Twins outplayed them in every facet of the game to eliminate that possibility.
Let's do it again on Wednesday.
Notes, studs and duds after the jump.
- Liriano dispatched Chicago hitters with haste, averaging just four pitches per plate appearance.
- Chicago's left-handed hitters were helpless against Liriano, going 0-for-6.
- Right-handed hitters were 6-for-17, with all six hits coming off Liriano's fastball.
- 50 of Liriano's 103 pitches were sliders or changeups, then--none of which went for a hit.
- Liriano's strikeout pitches: 4 fastballs, 2 sliders and a changeup.
- Joe Mauer's three hits now give him 1002 in his career. Not bad.
- It was Delmon Young's 25th birthday. Not a bad way to celebrate.
- Orlando Hudson was the only Twins player without a hit.
- I love it when Manny Ramirez goes 0-fer.
Francisco Liriano: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 7 K, 3 BB, -.105 WPA
Jesse Crain: 1 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 2 K, .296 WPA, 4.47 pLI
Delmon Young: 1-for-2, HR, IBB, HBP, RBI, 2 R, .243 WPA
J.J. Hardy: 2-for-4, 2 2B, RBI, R, .241 WPA
Danny Valencia: 1-for-3, BB, RBI, 2 R, .158 WPA
Joe Mauer: 3-for-5, R, .078 WPA
Denard Span: 2-for-5, 2B, 4 RBI, .056 WPA
Matt Guerrier: 0 IP, 2 H, -.186 WPA
Alex Rios: Two defensive miscues...ouch, buddy.
Matt Thornton & J.J. Putz: Responsible for the Twins' 5-run 8th