May 10, 2005

Twins 6, Orioles 4

Last night was one of those games that just felt like a loss from the outset. Brad Radke had a bad case of homeritis, serving up long balls to Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Brian Roberts before he had recorded his 13th out, Baltimore's starting pitcher, Erik Bedard, shut the Twins' lineup down for the second night in a row, and it was 4-1 Orioles after five innings.

Yet somehow the Twins managed to tie it up and then win it in extra innings, and come September wins like last night's are what can put a team over the top. Plus, it didn't hurt that the Devil Rays, fresh off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Twins, miraculously beat the White Sox for the second straight game. It doesn't get much better than watching Joe Nathan slam the door on a Twins win and then flipping channels in time to see Jorge Cantu take Shingo Takatsu deep for a walkoff homer.

The key moment of the game took place in the top of the 10th inning, after the Twins tied the Orioles at 4-4 on the strength of three sacrifice flies. With Jason Bartlett due to lead off the inning against righty Todd Williams, Ron Gardenhire brought Jacque Jones off the bench to pinch hit. Baltimore manager Lee Mazzilli countered by bringing in lefty Steve Kline from the bullpen to face Jones.

It was a no-brainer move on Mazzilli's part, as Kline is Baltimore's situational lefty and Jones has been significantly worse against southpaws for his entire career. Add in the fact that left-handed batters Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, also significantly worse against southpaws during their brief careers, were due up two batters after Jones and it was about as good a move as Mazzilli could have made and about as good a situation as he could have asked for.

And, thankfully, it completely backfired. Jones fell behind Kline 0-2, and just when I started cursing at the TV set he fought back to bring the count full at 3-2. Then, just as I started begging the TV set for a walk, Jones hammered Kline's 3-2 offering into the seats in right-center to give the Twins a 5-4 lead. Prior to that pitch, Kline had allowed a total of just three home runs to left-handed batters since 2002, a span of 306 at-bats. Similarly, Jones had hit just five homers off southpaws in his last 330 at-bats.

Shannon Stewart capitalized on what was surely a shell-shocked Kline, swinging at a first-pitch fastball right over the heart of the plate and driving it out to left field to put the Twins up 6-4. Kline then got Nick Punto, Mauer, and Morneau on two ground outs and a strikeout, but the damage had already been done. Nathan came in for the bottom of the 10th and was his typically unhittable self, recording his 10th save of the season.

Last night's game was definitely one of those hard-fought, gritty, gutty wins that everyone loves to wax poetic about. The Twins fell behind early, scratched out enough runs to stay in the game despite an overall lack of hitting, and captured an unlikely win when an unlikely hero came through in a tough situation. Suffice it to say I won't be complaining about Jones being in the lineup against a lefty for at least a week.

And let's talk a little bit about Punto. In his first game since being publicly handed the second-base job, Punto had the sort of night the Twins have long dreamed of Luis Rivas having. He got on base in a key spot and changed the game with his speed and hustle. With the Twins down 4-3 in the eighth inning, Punto reached on an infield single, stole second base, narrowly advanced to third on a ball in the dirt, and sprinted home with the tying run on a Mauer fly ball to left field.

It was "small ball" at its finest, and the sort of all-out effort that had to have Gardenhire smiling from the bench and feeling good about his decision to bench Rivas. And you know it had me smiling. As Jim Young once said: "Look at the f---ing smile on my face. Ear to ear, baby."

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Introducing PrOPS (by J.C. Bradbury)
- Business of Baseball Report (by Brian Borawski)

Today's Picks (30-20, +$1,130):
Chicago (Hernandez) -145 over Tampa Bay (Brazelton)
Minnesota (Santana) -155 over Baltimore (Ponson)

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