For as close as this game ended up being, it never really seemed as though it belonged to the Rays. Matt Joyce hit a solo home, and Evan Longoria's big time two-run shot put Tampa Bay up 4-2, but unfortunately for the Rays the Twins currently have a secret weapon. And they call him Yes Pig.
Joe Mauer drove in each of the Twins' first two runs, the latter coming in the fifth to back a strong start from Liam Hendriks. Mauer would reach four times in tonight's game. But let's talk about Liam.
The line for Hendriks doesn't read pretty. Four runs over five and two-thirds isn't stellar, and most of the time you'd rather not take that. But apart from the home runs to Joyce and Longoria, he only allowed three other base hits and a pair of walks. I know, I know: you can't remove the bad parts and then look at the whole as though it's something entirely different, but I do think Hendriks was just a bit better than his line. Well, just a bit better.
Down 4-2 heading into the seventh, seeing Josh Willingham's name just a few batters down the line was like a sixth sense. A single from Alexi Casilla. A single from Denard Span. Jamey Carroll walks. After a Mauer fly out (his only out recorded tonight), Yes Pig stepped into the box.
His features were hard and tight
Eyes piercing the 1-2 flight
Yes Pig crushed it to the gap, center-right
Twins win! Twins win! On the back of Willingham's fight
I totally just made that up. On a Friday.
Joel Peralta left a fastball up to Willingham, who has been so dangerous this season it's sick. B.J. Upton didn't field the ball cleanly, the bases cleared, and the bullpen did the rest.
This week has been full of exceptionally good, fun games. Winning certainly helps. Notes, studs, and duds after the jump.
- Span, Carroll, Mauer, and Willingham were a combined 7-for-15 with five walks. YES. In 19 plate appearances, the first four batters in the order reached base 12 times.
- Matt Maloney, Jared Burton, Brian Duensing, and Matt Capps combined for 3.2 innings of scoreless baseball.
- Hendriks wasn't particularly efficient, but he worked off the plate quite a bit tonight. Only 56 of his 101 pitches were for strikes.
- Doumit and Carroll teamed up to gun down Longoria trying to swipe second in the second.
- Trevor Plouffe picked up a rare start, going 1-for-3 with a walk.
- The only starting position player for the Twins who didn't reach base at all was Ryan Doumit.
- Justin Morneau did not play. But not for any averse reason. He's fine as far as everyone knows.
- We can't say that Longoria's home run still would have happened, but if Casilla didn't start a huge bases loaded double play in the bottom of the sixth the deficit could have been a sight worse.
- Josh Willingham set a record tonight for the longest hitting streak to begin a career with the Twins. He couldn't have chosen a better time to continue that streak, for the record. His bases-clearing double raised Minnesota's chances of winning by nearly 29%. Prior to that play, Tampa's win expectancy was near 80%. Congratulations to Willingham, who need to pick up another hit in his next game in order to tie Kirby Puckett for the franchise record to start the season.