Thursday, April 20, 2006

Unbelievable

In Monday's comment section at Aaron Gleeman's site, I made a few negative statements about Michael Cuddyer. This won't shock most who read this blog, who are probably aware that I'm not a huge Cuddy fan. In Aaron's comments, I stated that Cuddyer is one of the worst clutch performers I've ever seen. This was met with a lot of disagreement, because, well, many people love Cuddyer. I will confess that my negative thoughts regarding Cuddyer's clutch ability might come off as irrational, and I realize that sometimes the statistics don't really back up my position. I guess my grudge against Cuddyer has come from watching him play a lot and seeing him ground into a lot of inning-ending double plays and strike out in a lot of important situations. That and his .204 average with runners in scoring position last year.

Sure enough, last night, Cuddyer hit a walk-off 2-run homer off of J.C. Romero in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Twins a 12-10 victory over the Angels. This two days after I publicly pondered whether Cuddyer has "ever come up with a meaningful hit." There's really not much I can say except that Cuddy shut me right up.

Not surprisingly, Gleeman gave me some crap in his post for today (although he went a lot easier on me than I probably deserved... thanks Aaron.) While this is just one hit and I still don't feel like Cuddyer is a great player by any means, I will say this much: Watching Cuddy gleefully sprint into home plate with his limbs flailing in excitement following that big home run was truly a great thing to see. Cuddyer has always seemed like a good guy, and while it might seem like I loathe the man based on some of the comments I've made about him, I really am happy to see him come through with a big hit. This is a guy that enjoys playing the game, and that was made evident by his behavior last night as he met his celebrating teammates at home plate.

The Cuddyer homer capped off what was truly one of the most amazing Twins games I have ever seen -- at least since Saturday. After another terrible Kyle Lohse outing (his line: 3.1 IP, 7 H, 8 ER, 1 BB, 1 K), the Twins found themselves in another early hole. By the end of the fifth inning, they were behind the Angels 9-4. Last year, the Twins' offense was so punchless that if they fell behind an opponent by even one run early in a game, you got the feeling that the game was pretty much lost. The difference this year has been drastic. Including last night's game, each of the Twins' seven victories this year have involved coming from behind.

Here's a breakdown of the extremely impressive comeback:

Down by 5 runs in the 6th inning, the Twins' offense put together their second 4-run inning of the game, with Lew Ford, Juan Castro, and Shannon Stewart each driving in a run, and the other one coming in when right fielder Vladimir Guerrero dropped a Mike Redmond pop fly. With the score 9-8, Francisco Liriano allowed his first run of the year, which put the Angels ahead by two. Torii Hunter led off the next inning with a solo home run to bring the Twins back within one.

Things looked fairly bleak heading into the bottom of the 9th, as the Twins trailed 10-9 with Halos' closer Francisco Rodriguez heading out for the save. There was no way the Twins could rally against one of baseball's top closers for the second time in five days... was there?

On Saturday night, it was Joe Mauer who led the rally against Mariano Rivera with a crucial two-base hit to put himself on second representing the winning run. Last night, Mauer pinch-hit for Redmond to lead off the bottom of the 9th and he managed to fight off an 0-2 pitch from K-Rod for an infield hit. Ruben Sierra followed this with a walk, and then Torii Hunter tapped a single to right field (third base coach Scott Ullger wisely held Mauer at third on the play, since Guerrero has one of the strongest arms in the league). This loaded the bases with no outs for Saturday night's hero, Justin Morneau. Morneau popped the first pitch into foul territory near third base. One out wasted. Tony Batista was up next. Three-pitch strikeout. Suddenly things were looking quite grim again. In stepped Lew Ford.

Ford worked the count to 2-0. He then swung and missed at a pitch and fouled off the next two. Then he took a ball. Full count. He fouled off another pitch. Rodriguez's next pitch was outside, and Ford took it for ball four to walk in the tying run. Truly one of the most impressive clutch at-bats I have ever seen. While Cuddyer will no doubt receive a ton of adulation for his part in this victory -- deservedly so -- we'd be remiss to forget about the other right fielder's contribution that brought this game to extra innings in the first place.

While it was truly a great game and an important victory, the performance of Lohse is extremely disconcerting. The Twins' starting rotation, anticipated by almost all to be the team's major strength this year, has by and large been horrible this season. Lohse's performance last night might have been the low point of the season so far. The Angels' lineup is not what I'd call elite, yet Lohse got hit all over the place and just couldn't seem to get anybody out. Opponents are now hitting a ridiculous .340 off Kyle. Guerrier's performance was also unimpressive. He allowed the last two of Lohse's earned runs to score when he inherited them in relief, and he also allowed in one of his own.

The Twins' bullpen did look pretty good outside of Guerrier. Despite the fact that he didn't seem to have his best stuff and allowed a run to score, Liriano's outing wasn't too bad. Juan Rincon pitched a very efficient 1.2 innings, needing only 14 pitches to retire 5 men. Joe Nathan picked up the win by pitching a scoreless 10th.

Nonetheless, the starting pitching has simply got to be better. The Twins' offense has been ridiculously resilient in their seven wins this year, but one really cannot expect that to continue on a regular basis.

I certainly learned my lesson regarding Cuddyer last night. And with another brilliant comeback victory, I think that all Twins fans are learning a lesson... don't leave the Dome early.

6 comments:

TheBentKangaroo said...

I think I've only left one game early in my life, and that's because we were done like seven runs after eight innings, and I had a friend with me who hated the Twins anyway (he was there to see Thome).

I'm right with you on Ford. That was one of the most impressive at-bats I have seen all season. When I saw Batista stroll up, I thought to myself, "When he strikes out, I'm so glad Ford is up next. He'll make Rodriguez work." Every time he swung the ball was a strike, and every time he laid off it was a ball. Like Bert, I was surprised he didn't go back to the fastball. The Twins batters, including Ford, couldn't seem to catch up to it, even when they knew it was coming. But hey.

SBG said...

I almost never leave early, but I did leave early on July 29, 1992. That was the day that Eric Fox (career .198/.257/.302/.559 with 5 HRs) hit a three-run homer off of Rick Aguilera in the ninth inning to lead the A's to a 5-4 win (their third win in a row over the Twins). I watched that and said to my brother, the Twins have just been psychologically eliminated from this pennant race. We got up and left.

That game was not only the end of the Twins push for back-to-back World Championships, but looking back, it was really the beginning of a precipitous fall into the absolute dregs.

Now, THAT was a game to leave early.

John said...

SBG,

I too remember that game against the A's. You're absolutely right--that game was the end of the Twins' season in '92.

Their first half was amazing. They were playing like the best team in baseball, but the A's took it to 'em and crushed the Twins' spirit.

SBG said...

The other fact that I left out was earlier in the day I proudly bought my Twins 1991 World Championship coffee mug. Considering what happened after that, I've always considered that thing a bad luck charm.

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