September 16, 2003

Welcome to Thunderdome


"Two men enter, one man leaves."


--- "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome"

Two teams entered the Thunderdome in Minneapolis, Minnesota last night and the Minnesota Twins drew first blood, winning Game One of an incredibly important three-game series.

For the second time in a week, Brad Radke shutdown one of the best offensive teams in baseball and, for the second time in a week, he outpitched one of the best pitchers in baseball:

Date      IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT

9/11 9.0 9 2 2 0 5 2 126
9/16 7.0 8 1 1 0 3 0 93

While Radke was busy stiffling the White Sox with an assortment of 88 MPH fastballs and 72 MPH changeups, the Twins got to Chicago starter Esteban Loaiza early and often.

Loaiza, who has been one of the best 2-3 pitchers in all of baseball this season, came into the game looking for his 20th win of the year. He didn't make it out of the 3rd inning.

Here is the story of Loaiza's night:

1st inning

Walk

Strikeout

Walk

Walk

Sac Fly (1-0 Twins)

Ground Out

2nd inning

Ground Out

Single

Wild Pitch

Single

Walk

Ground Out (2-0 Twins)

Wild Pitch (3-0 Twins)

Walk

Ground Out

3rd inning

Fly Out

Single

Single

And just like that, Loaiza's night was over: 16 batters faced, 5 walks, 4 hits, 2 wild pitches.

Scott Schoeneweis came in to relieve him and promptly gave up a run-scoring single to Michael "Roy Hobbs" Ryan, making the score 4-0.

When they faced Loaiza last week, I was impressed by the incredible patience that Minnesota batters showed in nearly every at bat against him. They took borderline pitches, they worked counts, they made him get the ball up - and they beat him 5-2.

Last night, the level of patience from the Twins was something I have never seen before. Aside from Jacque Jones, they took pretty much every single borderline pitch that Loaiza offered up. He threw 32 pitches in the first inning and 31 in the second inning. Loaiza probably would have broken the 70-pitch barrier in the bottom of the second, but Jones, who swung at a pitch headed for his ankle in the first inning, decided it was a good idea to try to bunt for a hit on the very first pitch he saw - with two outs and two men on base. He nearly beat it out, so I guess I can't blame him too much.

Otherwise, it was take, take, take, take. Jacque Jones swung at (or bunted at) 5 of the 9 pitches he saw from Loaiza. The rest of the Twins swung at just 23 of the 65 pitches they saw, and they got hits on four of them. I'm not sure what the league-wide stats are on this, but that means that, ignoring Jacque Jones, the Twins took 64.6% of Loaiza's pitches, which seems like an awful lot. Even with Jones included, they took 62.6% of the pitches.

It's an interesting approach against Loaiza, not only because it worked each of the last two times they have faced him, but also because I have no idea why it has worked. Loaiza has shown excellent control throughout this season. Coming into last night's game, he had just 45 walks in 204.2 innings pitched and he ranked 8th in the AL in fewest walks per nine innings. Since the All-Star break, he had walked just 14 batters in 11 starts.

While Loaiza was certainly wilder than usual last night, I thought his overall control really wasn't that bad. He was trying to paint the corners of the plate and the Twins just spit on everything he threw up there, forcing the homeplate umpire to call balls and strikes. You're not going to get many hits on 94 MPH fastballs low and away, on the outside corner (which is why Loaiza came into the game with a 2.73 ERA), so it was great to see the Twins have such patience in such a huge game.

Here are your American League Central standings:

                W      L     GB

Minnesota 82 69 ---
Chicago 80 70 1.5

At the risk of completely jinxing my favorite team, let me be the first to say this:

The 2003 AL Central division race is over.

That's right, over. You heard it here first. Whether the Twins win either of the next two games against the White Sox or not, they will win this division. And they will have done it by holding their own against the Chicago White Sox.

I feel so confident about my prediction that you know what you can do with it?

You can put it on the board....YESSSSSSSS!!!!!

Hey Hawk and DJ..........how you like them apples?

Link of the Day:

Mariners Musings - "Truth, Justice, and the Seattle Mariner Way"

Today's picks:

Atlanta (Hampton) -135 over Montreal (Tucker)

Florida (Redman) +115 over Philadelphia (Myers)

Total to date: + 2,470

W/L record: 235-236 (0-4 yesterday for -420. Ouch!)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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