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Hey ya’ll, remember that I’m the positive Twins blogger, right? It’s been awhile since I’ve been as frustrated in a game as last night. If you listen to last night’s podcast, you will get to hear a couple of rants. That doesn’t happen too often. For 8 ½ innings, that was a great baseball game. It stayed a great baseball game, just not for Twins games, starting with the bottom of the 9th:
Joe Nathan was named the Rolaids Relief Award winner earlier yesterday. The award goes to the top closer in the league based on some formula. Nathan had a team record 47 saves on the season. But is there anyone in Twins nation that had any confidence when Joe Nathan took the mound with a 3-1 lead for the 9th inning in Yankees Stadium last night with Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui coming to the plate? My only confidence was this… I was so sure that Joe Nathan was going to blow the save, that I assumed I must be wrong, that just maybe Nathan would actually step up and get the final three outs without coughing up the lead. That’s right, my only confidence in Nathan was that I had no confidence in him, so maybe just this one time he would come through.
But instead, he started nibbling. Sliders just off the plate. Fastballs just off the plate. Falling behind because the Yankees hitters are disciplined enough not to swing at pitches that aren’t strikes. Here’s an idea for Joe Nathan. Hey, you throw 95-96 mph, try throwing one of those over the plate earlier in the count, not after you’ve nibbled your way into a 2-1 or 3-1 count. See, then they know a fastball is coming, and hitters like Alex Rodriguez… they like those kinds of pitches. Fastballs right down the middle travel a long ways. So really, I get that you’ve got like 14 pitches, and that they work for most of the league. But this isn’t most of the league. It is the Yankees, and this is the playoffs.
But again, it was no surprise to see Joe Nathan blow a save in Yankees Stadium. That’s what he does. The Little Engine That Could (as the media loves to portray the Twins) played a great game. They outplayed the Yankees. The Twins had 12 hits, seven walks and were hit by two pitches in the game. They were not overmatched. People can point to the play where Carlos Gomez ran past second base and was tagged out by Derek Jeter before Delmon Young scored. Not a good play by Gomez, obviously a mistake. But honest, if the Twins had a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the 9th, that would only have meant that Nathan would have given up three runs instead of two. Twins fans can play the LF umpire for missing the Mauer should-have-been double in the 11th, a ball that was clearly fair. But it never should have got there.
The Twins lost. The Twins did not choke. No, one player choked, and he’s been doing that in Yankees Stadium regularly since 2004. Some Twins fans look to Ron Gardenhire and his 5-27 record against the Yankees. Or they mention that the Twins are 0-9 against them this year. Well, that can’t all be put on him. Last night, he made all of the right decisions, including replacing Nathan with Jose Mijares in the 10th.
It’s really unfortunate that the game turned out like it did because a lot of very good things happened in this game.
- Nick Blackburn was awesome!! He didn’t give up a hit until the fifth and pitched into the sixth. Had it been a normal regular season game, he would have lasted much longer, I’m sure. He got ahead (with this crazy thing called a fastball, even if it only was 89-91 mph!). He threw a lot of strikes. He had good movement on his pitches. He looked in control. Nick Blackburn again pitched big in a big game!
- The bullpen was good. Jon Rauch and Ron Mahay were terrific. Matt Guerrier had an excellent inning of work.
- Nick Punto was on base three times. He drove in a run with a single and walked twice.
- Brendan Harris will likely be the team’s 3B for the near future. He came in for Matt Tolbert at 3B and hit the big triple that gave the Twins as 1-0 lead. He also mad an incredible diving play at 3B, got up and made a good throw to 1B which Michael Cuddyer was able to pick up on the short hope for an out. Tolbert left the game with a strained oblique.
- Michael Cuddyer had three hits. Denard Span and Joe Mauer each had two. Mauer also walked twice. Nick Punto went 1-3 with two walks.
How many times this year did I count the Twins out? I believe at last count, it was 49 times that I said the Twins 2009 season was over, that there was no way that the Twins could make the playoffs. The Twins backs are up against the wall again. This time, instead of playing another AL Central foe, they are taking on the best team in baseball. They are down two games to none in a best of five series. Things certainly look bleak.
And once again, I have to think, logic tells me, that this is over. Even though the Twins are coming home for Game 3. The effects of the Joe Nathan blown save can’t help but linger. That one was hard to swallow for Twins fans.
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