Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Stewart Saves it for Extra Again

Shannon Stewart seems to have a pension of saving his best hits for when the Twins really need them. So far this year, he has many game-winning homers and hits that have lead many to see him as the Twins best clutch hitter. He certainly showed that skilled tonight, as his single in the 11th of off Tyler Walker won the game for the Twins 4-3, as the White Sox lost big time to Arizona again, 10-4. It was another game that seem to fall just off out the Twins' grasp, as Johan Santana was not his dominant self and the Twins lost many chances against Giants starter Josh Foppert, whose control was sporadic at best. It was classic Twins syndrome, as it seemed nearly every opportunity ended with a double-play or worse, a Torii Hunter strikeout. The runs came on a Micheal Cuddyer home-run that was nearly caught by Moises Alou and a strange sixth inning that contained some bad plays by the Giants infield. At the end of the game, the Twins were lucky to have won. Santana nearly gave up more runs, if not for the foolish decision to let Yorvit Torrealba swing away instead of buntin with two on and no outs in the fourth.

Of course, the Twins were also guilty of some embarrassing decisions. Michael Cuddyer's first-inning error didn't harm the Twins, but was unpleasant to watch, as it was a simple, routine grounder that he made a rookie mistake on. And Johan Santana almost made two errors to take away from his great play in the second, as he misplayed a bunt by Deivi Cruz that would later lead to a run.

But despite those problems, the Twins usual heroes emerged at the right times. Santana settled down and pitched four scoreless innings before Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan stepped in to do the same. But it was Jesse Crain who took the hill in the 11th and picked up the victory, the sixth of the year for him, all coming in extra-innings games. That leads all relievers so far and is one of many impressive stats for the best middle-reliever in the AL so far. Of all in the bullpen, I think Crain deserves a All-Star nomination this year. (ESPN's Phil Rodgers agrees) He has allowed a .152 opponents batting average, a 0.67 ERA, and seven holds to go along with those six wins in relief. Along with Nathan and Santana, whose breakout years in 2004 should get them nominations as well, Crain deserves to be there.

Besides the efforts of Crain and Stewart to win the game, Cuddyer, despite his ugly play, went 3 for 5 with a HR and scored the winning run after leading off the 11th with a single. Stewart's hit, which came with two outs, was proof that when the Twins play to their abilities, that is, fundamentals, they win often. As the Twins were able to move Cuddyer into scoring position for their clutch hitter, they were able to score. The keys of a good running game, timely hitting, contact over free-swinging, and of course, good pitching is what will win the Twins a playoff spot this year.