With two out in the top of the ninth, the Baltimore Orioles faithful came to their feet. The hometown nine were up 3-2, and Zach Britton was on the mound. According to FanGraphs, the Orioles had an 89.4% chance of winning at that point, and that probably wasn't fair considering how good Britton has been this season; 29 saves, 1.00 WHIP, 1.80 ERA, a 29% strikeout rate, and a .219 opponent average? That's exceptional. On any given day, Baltimore walks out of that situation with a big fat win and fans in the stands wouldn't have broken a sweat.
But today wasn't your average roll-of-the-dice game, by any stretch of the imagination. Shane Robinson was in right field today, and made a spectacular defensive play. Henry Urrutia's crazy little nubber of a swinging bunt somehow stayed fair. Gerrardo Parra looked straight into the sun to make a catch to end the seventh inning and snuff out a Minnesota threat. Miguel Sano homered for the fourth time in seven games (and sixth time in 12 games). And we're not even talking about the end of the game.
In that fateful top of the ninth, Brian Dozier led off the inning with a swinging bunt. He raced Britton to the bag, diving head first a la Nick Punto, and when the dust cleared he'd beaten the pitcher. Britton rebounded to get the next two outs, but with Dozier on second base a Trevor Plouffe grounder found a hole between third and short. Dozier flew around third and slid across home like he slid into first base - face-first in a cloud of dust - and just like that the Twins had finally tied the game at 3-3.
For anyone who's wondering, yeah: it was a pretty sweet moment, considering trigger-happy Gabe Morales at first base had just rung up Sano on what looked like a check swing - only to emphatically eject the Minnesota third baseman. Paul Molitor may have been ejected twice, by Morales and home plate umpire Chris Conroy. Molitor was clearly pretty fired up, not just from Morales' Joe-West-like attitude but also because Dozier had been rung up on similar circumstances earlier in the game. Who knows how things may have turned out otherwise; Morales' borderline call and subsequent ejection(s) may have set up the circumstances in which the Twins came out ahead.
Still, it was a battle just to get to that point. Joe Mauer's 23rd double of the year set the table for Sano's 11th homer of his career, and that put Minnesota up 2-0 in the first. Kevin Gausman settled in and sat down the next 17 batters he faced after that, until Plouffe reached on a throwing error in the seventh. Mike Pelfrey didn't fare nearly as well, struggling with command and getting no help from Conroy on some borderline calls. In the end Pelfrey made it through just four and two-thirds on 93 pitches, allowing all three of Baltimore's runs.
Minnesota's bullpen, however, continued its stretch of improved play with six and one-third innings of scoreless baseball. Neal Cotts made his Twins debut, walking one and striking out one while getting the team through the sixth. J.R. Graham allowed a hit to the one batter he faced leading off the seventh, but Brian Duensing got five outs and Trevor May got four more to send the game into extra innings. Kevin Jepsen and Glen Perkins each threw a scoreless frame to bring the contest to the twelfth. Maybe at some point we can talk about whatever pitch that was Perkins threw to strike out Adam Jones to end the eleventh.
Remember that bit about this not being your average kind of game? It was a theme. A pair of Baltimore errors sunk the Orioles, the first costing them a base runner with one out. With Eduardo Escobar standing on second, a Shane Robinson grounder bounced off the glove of a diving Jimmy Paredes at third base. Escobar scored, putting the Twins up 4-3.
Then, just to make sure we all knew how strange this game was, Tommy Milone came out for the save. It was his first relief appearance of the year and the first save of his career, following on from his start on Friday where he threw 85 pitches. It was clearly a case of "who CAN do the job" over anything else, as Molitor's bullpen was spent by that point. With tomorrow's off-day, the Twins can wait to cycle him back into the rotation when he's ready.
All said, Minnesota follows up on a miserable series versus the Yankees by taking all four games from the Orioles in Baltimore. Now 63-61, the Twins (as of this writing) are just 1.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot. The Yankees now have a comfortable four-game lead on the first spot, while Texas (64-59) sits in the place Minnesota will now be aiming for. The Angels are also 63-61; Baltimore and Tampa Bay are 62-61. It looks like a thick race as we close in on the end of August.
That's all for me tonight folks. I'm exhausted from vacation. Can I take another week off? At any rate, we'll be back with a full schedule of content tomorrow so be sure to check back with us then. Enjoy your Sunday evenings!
|less cowbell, more 'neau
|Blame Mauer bot
COMMENT OF THE GAMETHREAD
Brandon Brooks, pointing us in the direction of this video:
Gabe Morales, obviously