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That game is enough to incite pretty much every human emotion possible. Excitement. Disappointment. Anger. Surprise. Amazement. Giddiness. Relief. And pretty much every other emotion in between. I have been at a loss for words regarding this Twins team, but tonight, I had prepared an entire list of topics to write about. It likely would not have been an overly positive blog entry.
And then Joe Nathan threw a curveball to Evan Longoria. Longoria nubbed it back to the Twins closer, who fielded it, and threw to Justin Morneau at 1B for the final out of the Twins 11-8 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. It is hardly fathomable. And again, the main word of the night has to be simply, “Wow!”
The phrase of the night could be, “That was incredible” or “What Just Happened?” I’ll try to highlight the game and share some of the thoughts and emotions from an amazing Twins win on the road.
· Top of the First – The Twins couldn’t have asked for a better start. With two runners on base against James Shields, Jason Kubel drilled a home run to give the Twins a 3-0 lead. He hadn’t homered in quite some time. Justin Morneau had just popped up in an RBI situation. Kubel picked him up and more.
· Bottom of the First – If you’re looking for a nice, sarcastic title for your blog on the Twins starting pitcher, you could call it, “Nice Work, Perk!” Glen Perkins had his worst, shortest start of the year. He managed to get just two outs, unable to get out of the first inning. Gifted a large, early lead, Perkins gave up a home run to All-Star Evan Longoria to cut the lead to 3-2. A couple of batters later, All-Star catcher Dioner Navarro hit a two run homer to give the Rays the 4-3 lead. Gabe Gross doubled in a run to make the lead 5-3 Rays. It ended Perkins night.
o In Perkins last five starts, he has given up 24 runs (19 earned) in just 21.1 innings. He walked eight and struck out just ten. He also allowed nine home runs. In that time frame, he is 1-1 with an 8.02 ERA and a 2.11 WHIP. His season ERA has fallen from a very good 3.90 to a very mediocre 4.50.
o Is Perkins tired? He threw so few innings last year and is over 145 this season now. Most likely. I’m sure he is hitting the proverbial wall. But he is healthy, and really needs to try to work through it. It is all part of development.
o Now, I am certain that people will want to tell you that Glen Perkins should not be a starter, that he just doesn’t have the stuff or the makeup to start. What should you tell them? Sure, he’s been pretty non-good his past five starts. I don’t think that can really be argued. However, what he has done in 2008 should leave Twins fans very excited about his future as a starting pitcher. The start before these five bad games, he threw eight shutout innings in Anaheim against the Angels. Two starts before that, he threw eight shutout innings against the Yankees. Previous to that, he went eight straight starts where he gave up three or fewer runs. Has he hit a wall? Probably. But does that mean he doesn’t have a future as a starter? Of course not.
o Should Glen Perkins make his next start, his final start of the year, against the White Sox in the Dome next week? Of course, he should. It’s his turn. This isn’t the Vikings! Perkins is a starter, and they should stick by him.
· Josh Johnson of Josh’s Thoughts has been handing out “Game Balls” all season. If I had to hand out a Game Ball for this crazy game for the Twins, I would personally give it to Phil Humber. The Twins righty came in and got the final out of the 1st inning. He then threw five more innings in relief, just what the Twins needed after such a short start. He did give up the back-to-back home runs to Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena in the fourth inning, but both were solo. He gave up just one more hit in that time. He walked two, but both Ball-Four pitches were very close. He showed a decent fastball, and his curveball was as good as advertised. Clearly the key is consistently throwing strikes. But what Phil Humber did in this game should not be overlooked!
· Let’s jump to the 7th inning. The Twins came into the inning down seven to four. Shields left the game with Carlos Gomez and Denard Span on base. The Rays brought in baseball’s top prospect, lefty David Price. I was excited to see what Price showed. As you recall, Price was named USA Today’s Minor League Player of the Year this year after he dominated three minor league levels to start his pro career. The top pick in the 2007 draft did not pitch last season, as he signed too late. Even this spring the Rays did not have him start the season in a rotation. He was recalled after his AAA Durham team’s playoff run ended. He made his big league debut earlier this week by giving up just two runs in 5.1 innings in Yankees Stadium. He has a fastball in the upper 90s. He has a very solid slider and a good changeup. He was brought in to fact Joe Mauer with the two runners on 2nd and 3rd. Mauer calmly stepped to the plate and said, “I’m still better than you.” I say calmly because he is all about the poise and not doing any more than a situation requires. He simply, and easily, hit a nice single up the middle to score both runs and cut the lead to 7-6. But after that, Price did show what he could do, striking out Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel to end the inning.
· Then in the bottom of the 7th, Bobby Korecky came in to replace Humber. The first batter he faced was none other than Evan Longoria. Longoria proceeded to hit his third home run of the game to push the Rays’ lead back to two runs at 8-6. The 22 year old 3B now has 25 home runs on the season despite the fact that his big league debut didn’t come until almost two weeks into the season, and he missed about five weeks in August with an injury. His big league debut happened on April 12th. On April 18th, he signed a six year, $17 million contract with option years and incentives that could push the deal to over $44 million (over 9 years). In other words, he is a special player.
· I am occasionally asked why the Twins are unable to draft a player of that caliber. Why can’t they draft a hitter who comes up to the big leagues within two years and immediately has a major impact? There is a big reason. It’s not that hard. Those types of impact players get drafted within the first five picks of any draft. The Twins have not drafted that high in the draft since 2001, and I think it’s fair to say that the team drafted pretty well at that time! Secondly, how many of those types of hitters are out there? Longoria was drafted in 2006. Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman and Alex Gordon were all drafted in 2005. Of course, they were all taken in the first five picks. The Twins first round pick that year was the 26th overall pick, and the Twins took Matt Garza. I think they did well. Their second round pick that year… Kevin Slowey… has turned out alright too.
· Before this June’s draft, I participated in a mock draft. With my selection for the Twins at #27, I took Wichita State 3B Conor Gillaspie. In the real draft, he lasted until the middle of the supplemental first round where the San Francisco Giants drafted him. He signed late and spent a couple of weeks in the lower levels of the Giants farm system. Last week, the Giants promoted him to the big leagues and said that he wouldn’t play a lot but would be there basically for the atmosphere. This has to be a case where they made that arrangement to get him to sign because otherwise, it makes no sense at all. Think about it. By putting him on the 40 man roster, it starts the clock as far as options go. Now, if he’s truly that good, he won’t need all three years of options before making it to stay, but that is a risk. That type of thinking makes us better understand what happened with the Giants organization.
· The best part about the third Longoria home run was when Bert Blyleven said, “Who is this guy?” Are you kidding? Bert – do just a little bit of homework. Just a little.
· Am I the only one who wonders if Rays bench coach Dave Martinez could still play?
· Eddie Guardado came in for the bottom of the eighth. Man, he has nothing. He literally goes on grit and brawn because there is no stuff. But, in this case, he gave the Twins a 1-2-3 inning.
· At this point, I happened to note that the Yankees had extended their 7-1 lead over the White Sox to 9-1. All I could think was, There was another chance!!!
· And then came the bottom of the 9th… Dan Wheeler, who has been closing for the Rays, came in. All I could hope was that one of the first two batters (Span and Casilla) would get on just to say that they got Mauer and Morneau up with a chance…
o Denard Span led off with an infield single.
o Alexi Casilla, who had a single and two sacrifice bunts already in the game, came to the plate. All I kept thinking was that Gardy would give him the bunt sign even though Span’s run meant nothing without a second run scoring. Casilla took the first pitch, an 85 mph fastball down the middle and crushed it over the right field fence to tie the game at eight! Holy Alexi!!
o Then Joe Mauer came up and hit a ball much further than Casilla, but to the wall in centerfield where Fernando Perez somehow dropped it. Mauer was credited with a double.
o Justin Morneau was, of course, intentionally walked.
o The Rays decided to make a pitching change, bringing in Trever Miller. Of course, the purpose was to get Jason Kubel out of the lineup. The move completely makes sense.
o I saw that Adam Everett came in to pinch hit. Again, I hate the sacrifice bunt, but in this situation, it was the obvious decision. Everett was the right guy. He fouled off the first bunt. He then took two pitches for balls. With the Rays infielders congregating before each pitch, I laughed when I said out loud, with no one in the room with me, “Swing Away!” Ha! So imagine my surprise when it actually happened. Everett, knowing he would get a fastball down the middle, lofted a line drive well over the left fielder’s head, short-hopping the wall. Mauer scored from second and Morneau advanced to third on the double. The Twins had a 9-8 lead.
§ What a great decision by Everett and Gardy! What a daring decision by Gardy. Imagine if Everett had flown out to left field and the runners not been able to tag up? Imagine if Everett had got on top of the ball and bounced into a rally-ending double play. It worked out. It’s not by the book, not conventional. Sometimes doing the ‘creative’ thing can have tremendous positive impact. Sometimes, it can be negatively devastating.
o Delmon Young then came up and don’t you imagine he was pretty thrilled to be able to drive in another run with a single to right field? Young had previously doubled, so he was 2-5 with his 27th double in his return to Tropicana Field.
o Matt Tolbert had a rough game. He had gone 0-4 and had a throwing error early in the game. But in the 9th, he flew out to deep-enough left field to give the Twins the 11-8 lead.
· Joe Nathan came into the game and closed the door. The Twins had their crazy comeback win. Soon after, the Yankees finished off a 9-2 win over the White Sox, so suddenly the Twins are again 1.5 games behind the Sox.
· I mentioned this on my Monday podcast, but former Twins reliever Grant Balfour has 74 strikeouts in 53.1 innings of relief. Jason Bartlett is now hitting second for the Rays after a very slow start. He is also playing an excellent shortstop. He is being credited a lot for the Rays tremendous improvement on defense this year. And we know that Matt Garza has done a nice job for the Rays as their #3 starter. With the Twins, his stats would make him their #4 pitcher, behind Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker.
· But don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that the Rays have ‘won’ this deal. Delmon Young has been very good since his slow start. Brendan Harris also contributed a lot when the Twins were winning a lot. And Jason Pridie did enough at Rochester to warrant his big league September promotion. The Rays are one of the best teams in baseball. The Twins have greatly overachieved their pre-season projections and have a shot at a playoff berth. I think the deal remains pretty even to this point.
· Friday night, it will be Nick Blackburn going against the Rays Edwin Jackson.
· Joe Mauer went 3-4 with three RBI in the game to end the day at .327, in sole possession of the AL Batting Title lead, a point ahead of Dustin Pedroia and Magglio Ordonez.
What were your thoughts or emotions throughout the game?