July 1, 2004


One mistake.

That's all Johan Santana made yesterday. In the first inning, Santana retired the first two batters he faced, walked Frank Thomas with two outs, and then gave a two-run homer to Carlos Lee that just cleared the outstretched glove of Lew Ford in left field.

After that, Santana was just about unhittable. In fact, I'm going to say that, aside from the one pitch to Lee, Santana was as good as he has ever been. He finished the game with the following outstanding line ...

 IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT

8.0 3 2 2 2 12 1 109

Santana's fastball/change up combination had the White Sox, owners of the best offense in the league, completely baffled. Consider that, after the first inning ...

... Chicago managed just two harmless singles and one walk.

... 12 of the 24 batters Santana faced struck out.

... 72% of the pitches Santana threw were strikes.

... Santana retired 11 straight hitters at one point, including four straight on strikeouts.

... Santana needed just 93 pitches to complete seven innings, or 13 pitches per inning.

Now, clearly Santana didn't have "no-hit stuff," even after the first inning, and it's silly to simply ignore a home run, no matter how early in the game it came. That said, it was amazing to watch him pitch yesterday.

Of course, since Santana made the mistake of pitching brilliantly for a team without an offense, he was rewarded with a loss for yesterday's effort.

One pitch. That's all the separated Santana from a win and a loss yesterday. Hell, it's all that separated him from just another "tough loss" and perhaps one of the best pitching performances in the history of the Minnesota Twins.

Here are the facts from the Chicago series: The White Sox came into Minnesota down one game in the standings and swept the Twins, dominating them in the first two games and eking out the third game, despite Santana's amazing performance. The White Sox beat the Twins in a normal game (6-2, Game 1), a slugfest (9-6, Game 2) and in a pitcher's duel (2-1, Game 3).

Ron Gardenhire didn't have to do a whole lot in Game 3, since Santana was just about all the pitching he needed, but the few decisions he was faced with resulted in his totally mismanaging the game.

Consider ... Bottom of the 9th inning, Chicago up 2-1, left-handed reliever Damaso Marte pitching. We know Marte is either going to close out the game or lose it himself, because the White Sox didn't have anyone warming up in the bullpen at any point in the final two innings.

Due up for the Twins ...

1) Torii Hunter, RH

2) Jacque Jones, LH

3) Michael Restovich, RH

4) Joe Mauer, LH

Now, Marte is a sidearming lefty who came into the game having held left-handed hitters to a measly .111 batting average and .200 slugging percentage this season. He's also very tough on righties, but they did manage to hit .230 off him, with a .378 slugging percentage.

From 2001-2003, Marte held lefties to a .183 batting average and a .185 GPA, while righties hit .223 with a .223 GPA. So, clearly, you want as many right-handed hitters as possible up there when Marte is on the mound.

Meanwhile, Jacque Jones, the second batter of the inning, is a left-handed hitter who has never hit lefties in his entire career, including this season, as he came into the game hitting .259/.337/.294 against southpaws. From 2001-2003, Jones hit .231/.274/.336 against lefties.

The third hitter due up, Michael Restovich, is a big right-handed slugger who, as I discussed in some length earlier this month, has a long history of doing very well against left-handed pitching. In his limited big league experience, Restovich has hit .290 with a .452 slugging percentage against lefties. While at Triple-A in 2002 and 2003, Restovich combined to hit .317/.408/.574 against lefties.

So, to recap:

- A sidearming left-handed pitching is on the mound and he has a history of doing much better against left-handed hitters.

- The second batter up is a left-handed hitter who can't hit lefties to save his life.

- The third batter up is a right-handed hitter with a good track record against lefties.

A normal person faced with this situation and the decisions involved with it might think, "I'll pinch-hit for my left-handed hitter who stinks against lefties, and let my right-handed hitter hit."

Ron Gardenhire thought exactly the opposite. He allowed Jones to make his out (on one pitch, no less) and then pinch-hit for Restovich, sending Michael Cuddyer, another right-handed hitter with a track record of bashing lefties in the minors, to the plate.

In that same article in which I discussed Restovich's prowess against lefties in the minors, I also showed that, from 2001-2003, Cuddyer hit .363/.458/.674 against lefties in the minor leagues. And wouldn't you know it? Cuddyer came off the bench with a pinch-hit double down the right field line.

Only problem was, since he did it pinch-hitting for Restovich and not Jones, there were already two outs in the inning and, instead of having Restovich up to try to drive him in from second with the tying run, he had Joe Mauer, a left-handed hitter with a grand total of two hits off southpaws in his entire big league career. Mauer struck out and the game was over.

To me, there is just no way to excuse the sequence of events that took place in the bottom of the 9th inning yesterday. Now, if Ron Gardenhire does things differently and pinch-hits Cuddyer for Jones and leaves Restovich in to hit, it's certainly possible that the end result would have been the same. However, the job of a manager is to make the decisions that give his team the best possible chance to win games, and Gardenhire certainly did not do that yesterday.

If you're not sick of the Twins after their awful series against the White Sox and you're not sick of me talking about them after this latest rant, I have a brand new, Gleeman-length article about the team over at The Hardball Times. Here's the link ...

The Hardball Times: The Minnesota Twins, by Month (Through June)

Oh, one more thing before I say goodbye for the holiday weekend ...

Last night's Boston/New York game was very likely the best regular season baseball game I have ever seen. It had everything. The best rivalry in sports, Yankee Stadium, Pedro Martinez going against a rookie pitcher who looks like he's about 12 years old, extra innings, back-and-forth scoring, strange plays, amazing plays, Derek Jeter getting his face busted open, weird roster shenanigans, and much, much more.

I don't know where you can watch the game if you missed it last night, but there's gotta be a way to get a hold of it. I bet the YES Network is replaying it today, for those of you who get that channel, and those of you who have MLB.TV can watch it on the computer. If nothing else, make sure to catch the highlights, although I'm sure those will never do it anywhere near justice.

Just amazing baseball. Sometimes people ask me why I love baseball so much or how I came to like it more than basketball or football. There's no real answer, but that game basically sums it up. Of course, I speak as a Twins fan. If I were, say, a Red Sox fan, the game might drive me to hate baseball.

Today's picks:

Chicago (Loaiza) +150 over Chicago (Zambrano)

Arizona (Sparks) +110 over Minnesota (Lohse)

Total to date: -$1,990

W/L record: 120-152 (1-1 yesterday for +5, with one no-bet because of a pitching change.)

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

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