Friday, April 29, 2005

Fallen Angels - Twins 7, Angels 4

Tonight, an announced crowd of nearly 30,000 people packed into the Metrodome to watch the Twins FINALLY play a team from another division. In taking on the Halos, this is the first time that we have faced an elite offense since we left Seattle on the 6th (since Cleveland really hasn't stepped up yet). We didn't fare too well. Not at first, anyway. Over the first half of the game Carlos Silva looked more like the Carlos Silva I expected to see coming into the year than the one who we've seen in his couple of starts so far. After three innings, the Angels had scored 4 runs on six hits. And these weren't squeakers that snuck through the infield... they were absolutely rocketing the ball to all parts of the field. The Twins were down 4-1, Terry Mulholland was loosening that rubber (but crappy) arm in the bullpen, and it seemed like the Twins were going to lose some credibility by getting slaughtered by the first decent team they had seen after inflating their record by beating up on Kansas City all month.

The next couple innings featured some classic Silva. In the fourth, a leadoff double followed by a single led to runners on first and third with no outs. Then catcher Josh Paul hit a weak line drive up the middle which Nick Punto quickly tossed to first to double off Dallas McPherson (who displayed some terribly baserunning on that play... what was he thinking?). Then Jeff DaVanon mysteriously decided to bunt with two outs and a runner on third... the bunt went straight to Silva for an easy out. In the fifth, the Angels loaded the boases with one out, only to have Silva ground Steve Finley into an inning-ending double play. You gotta love it. In the end, Silva managed to pull it together and pitch seven innings, collecting the victory as the offense rallied to produce some late runs.

That was not the most astonishing part of the night though. No, that would be the performance of one Michael Cuddyer. As many who read this blog know, we are not big fans. And for the first chunk of tonight's game, it seemed Michael was headed for another of his typical performances; he grounded into a double play in his first plate appearance and struck out in his second. Then in the bottom of the sixth, he finally made something happen at the plate. With runners on the corners, Cuddyer hit a weak liner to the right-center field gap that crept out to the wall for an RBI double. Nice, but still not entirely impressive. In the eighth, Mike stepped in with the bases loaded in one out. I found myself praying that he would strike out instead of grounding into a DP. He would do neither. Instead, he DROVE the ball to right-center again, this time for a two-run ground-rule double. Now that was impressive.

I'm sure all of the Cuddy-backers out there will be quick to say "I toldja so!", but let's keep things in perspective. The guy's batting average is still a miserable .217, and one game does not a season make. I'm not pushing his despicable April out of memory because the guy had a couple clutch hits. However, if this is the springboard that he needs to gain some confidence and start performing with some consistency (since I know he has always been a confidence guy), then I'm certainly willing to lay off him if he keeps it up. On the other hand, I saw a quote in Star Tribune from Ron Gardenhire today stating his reasons for starting Punto over Luis Rivas regularly. "He's out there and has played well the last couple of days, I see no reason to change that. Luis has not played well on this road trip. He has struggled at the plate. And when a guy goes out there and has played as well as he has the last couple of days, I think he deserves to be out there." I thought to myself... what makes that situation different from Cuddy and Terry Tiffee? Oh well, maybe Cuddyer can pull himself together and revive this season.

Speaking of Punto, he looked very good on defense again tonight. In the first inning, he had a great relay throw to third to out Chone Figgins who was trying to stretch a double into a triple. Punto went 1/4 at the plate tonight but showed some nice hussle on the basepaths. Rivas hasn't been playing the worst baseball of his career, but the presence of a half-decent alternative has him seeing his starting position slip away. About time, I say.

I'll end tonight's post on a sad note. The Twins learned today that relief pitcher Grant Balfour's season is lost, as he will need Tommy John surgery. I guess I never really expected the guy to come back this season, the erratic pains he felt in his arm are never a good sign. Still, he has a very live arm and it is going to be hard to lose him. The Twins may need to consider a mid-season trade to add some depth to their bullpen, unless Jesse Crain can really step up or they call up Scott Baker or JD Durbin to replace the pointless Matt Guerrier. Let's hope Balfour is able to come back from this surgery eventually and still have a productive career.