Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Game 1 – Advantage… Twins!
The Twins got exactly what they needed in the first game of the series against the White Sox. Seven strong innings from their starting pitcher, solid defense, and plenty of runs! Most important, the Twins got the win. That means that the Twins have cut the White Sox lead to 1.5 games. Of course, the important thing to remember is that it was, in fact, just one game. On Wednesday, an equally important game will pit Nick Blackburn against Mark Buehrle. It is another must-win for the Twins.
It’s always amazing to me how many emotions must be going through the players and coaches minds. You want players who are fired up and get up for these big games. But you also want a guy who doesn’t show it, who is completely poised even if his heart is just racing. It is so clear that if the Twins really want a good chance at making the playoffs, they have to sweep this series. At the same time, it is vital that they remember that they can’t sweep the series if they don’t win today. That old Tom Kelly “One Game At A Time” philosophy that I used to find so annoying, I now find is the only way that a team that wants to be good can think. I guess to summarize, “Players need to be fired up and emotional but cool, calm and collected, while the fans expect to “see” fired up because they too are fired up.”
As fans, isn’t this all we can really ask for? The organization put together a team that has us watching games on the edge of our seats with just five more games to go.
Here are some of my thoughts on the game:
· Scott Baker got a lazy fly ball and two strikeouts in the top of the first. I thought that was vital really. Although just 3/27th of the outs needed, it did set the tone.
· Denard Span was called out looking on a pitch that was clearly four to six inches inside. It was nearly the identical pitch that Scott Baker had thrown to AJ Pierzynski in the top of the inning that was called a ball. Now, I am definitely not one to subscribe to the theory that a veteran team has an advantage over a young team. However, those types of calls are those “respect” calls that a veteran player can (and frequently does) get over the course of a game.
· Baker gave up two softly-hit singles to lead off the second inning to Jim Thome and Paul Konerko. That had the makings of a huge inning except that Baker got Ken Griffey to ground into a double play. Sure, the run scored, but the damage was held to a minimum. At the time, we knew that it was big. Had we known that it would be the only run allowed by Baker, it would have been all the more impressive.
· Baker was excellent. He had two very long at bats with AJ Pierzynski, and I worried that he may not pitch more than six innings. But he really bore down and in the end, go the final seven batters he faced to complete seven innings and record his 10th win of the season.
· In the bottom of the second inning, Javier Vazquez started by throwing four straight balls to Justin Morneau. He started Jason Kubel with two more. A couple of strikes later, Kubel drilled a long home run well over the baggy in right field to help the Twins reclaim the lead over the White Sox at 2-1. It was just the start of a huge game for the Twins DH, a game in which you had to wonder why he was in the lineup. As Joe Christensen pointed out on his blog before the game, Kubel came in to the game having gone just 2-21 (.095) in his career off of Vazquez while Michael Cuddyer had been 12-35 (.343) against the White Sox starter. Kubel responded by hitting the two run homer. His next at bat, he hit a triple beyond the reach of a diving Ken Griffey. After a ground out, Kubel hit a second home run, a solo homer that extended the Twins lead. It was his 20th homer of the season. He also has 78 RBI. (I believe a couple of people owe me lunches and drinks!!)
· While the crowd was cheering Kubel’s second home run, Delmon Young took the next pitch, a hanging slider from lefty Clayton Richard and hit it well into the left field bleachers for his 10th home run of the year. In the game, Young was 3-3 with an opposite field single, a bloop double to right, an intentional walk all before the home run.
· Morneau batted a few times with the chants of “MVP! MVP!” in the background. He went 1-3 with the walk and his team-record 47th double on the year. He also drove in his 129th run.
· The bottom of the order came through too… Nick Punto and Carlos Gomez each went 2-4 with an RBI and a stolen base. One of Punto’s hits was really supposed to just be a squeeze bunt to score a run, but it obviously caught the White Sox by surprise as no one even really played it and he easily beat the play at 1B. Punto deserves some credit, for sure. If he’s considered the weak-link of the lineup, and he’s hitting .285 in the 8th hole, I don’t think that the Twins have a real problem.
· That said, this offense can be better, if you can believe it! Denard Span and Alexi Casilla combined to go 0-10 from the top two positions in the lineup. That normally isn’t going to be an equation to get many wins. Thankfully Kubel and Young picked up the slack down in the lineup, but those two guys will have to try to find their way on base whether with a hit, a bunt or a walk.
· Really, the only negative of the game came in the top of the 9th inning when Matt Guerrier gave the White Sox a little life. With two outs, he walked Paul Konerko and served up a long, majestic home run to Ken Griffey. Now, Griffey struck a pose and watched it go as if it was a Game-Winner or something, which was ridiculous, but that little bit of life could carry into Wednesday’s game. I’m not too big on that, but I also think that the Twins need to really be pretty perfect down the stretch.
· There was one thing that absolutely stood out as a major difference between the Twins and the White Sox… Team Speed. You can see how the White Sox have twice as many homers as the Twins, but less runs scored. They almost never take an extra base. You almost wonder how they score runs when they don’t hit the ball over the fence. It is very much station to station. How about in the Top of the 5th when Ken Griffey was on 2nd base. There were two outs and Orlando Cabrera singled to right field. Replays showed that Denard Span was ready to throw the ball in to second base, until he realized that Griffey was not even going to try to score. With two outs, Baker got AJ Pierzynski to ground out to end the inning with no runs scored. Now, that would have only made the game 5-2, but it would have been a run.
· Looking at the incredibly skinny, very free-swinging Alexei Ramirez, how similar is he to Alfonso Soriano?
· Seeing Juan Uribe and that weird orange-ish goatee made me wonder one thing… I wonder what Ugueth Urbina is doing these days to keep busy.
· If you happened to be at the game on Tuesday night, please comment about the atmosphere. Just watching on TV, it had to have been loud and full of excitement the whole night!
· Finally, Joe Mauer was 1-4 to drop to .329. Dustin Pedroia went 2-4 to move up to .324. Magglio Ordonez was 0-4 to fall to .319.
I will be hosting a Twins podcast Wednesday night, live at 8:00 at www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SethSpeaks. I've got a couple of guests and we'll be talking Twins, so check it out if you're able to.