For the past couple days, last night's matchup was being hyped as a premier pitchers duel, and it did not disappoint. Johan Santana and Curt Schilling were both in top form. Schilling took advantage of a weak Twins lineup that featured three players hitting below .240 (Lew Ford, Luis Rodriguez and Juan Castro, all of whom went hitless on the night) and allowed just six hits and one walk over eight innings while striking out five. Santana had one of the most dominant outings of his career, striking out 13 over his eight innings while allowing just five hits and walking none. Santana struck out six of the first seven batters he faced and fell behind in the count against just four batters in the eight innings he pitched.
Santana was near-perfect until the seventh inning, when Jason Varitek hit a line drive over the center-field wall to put the Red Sox up 1-0. The Twins quickly retaliated in the bottom half of the inning with a solo shot from Michael Cuddyer to knot the score. Both pitchers came out of the game one inning later with the score tied, meaning neither would figure in the decision despite brilliant outings from both.
The bullpens dueled until the 12th inning. At that point, the Twins had used up both of their good relievers -- Joe Nathan and Juan Rincon -- which meant it was time to go to Jesse Crain. It was a good bet that the Sox would break the tie against Crain, against whom opponents are hitting .351 this year. Sure enough, Crain made a valiant effort at picking up his fifth loss of the season by loading the bases and then delivering a pitch to Alex Gonzalez that would have been a two-run single if not for a phenomenal play by Nick Punto at shortstop. Punto, who had entered the game defensively in the ninth inning after Terry Tiffee pinch-hit for starting SS Juan Castro, dove to his left to stab a grounder that seemed totally out of reach. He flipped it to Luis Castillo who got the out at second and threw to first to nearly complete an inning-ending double-play. Even though the go-ahead run scored, the play by Punto was a game-saver, as it saved a run and produced a big out. There's absolutely no question that, had Castro still been at short, the grounder would have rolled into center field for a base hit that would have kept the Sox rally going.
The Twins entered the bottom of the 12th down by a run. Julian Tavarez plunked Michael Cuddyer with a pitch. This put a runner at first with one out for Justin Morneau, a guy who has come through with several clutch late-game hits for the Twins this year and who we have praised on this blog quite a bit over the past few days. In fine fashion, Morneau drove a 2-1 pitch into right-center field for a double that would've easily scored Cuddy from first and tied the game had it not bounced over the fence. The Sox intentionally walked Torii Hunter to bring up Jason Kubel with the bases loaded and one out. Kubel, who has struggled in pressure-packed situations at times in his young career, worked the count full, and then hit a fly ball to right. Off the bat, it looked like the ball would be caught in medium-deep right field and Cuddyer could tag up and score from third to tie the game. Instead, the ball carried over the baggie for a walk-off grand slam.
The dramatic homer brought an exhilarating end to a long and thoroughly entertaining ballgame. Afterwards, we were treated with another sweet bit of news. The Twins have finally decided to cut bait on the disastrous Tony Batista experiment and will free Jason Bartlett from Triple-A. I have been waiting for two and a half months to read this beautiful sentence:
Bartlett will join the team tonight and replace Juan Castro as the team's starting shortstop.In fairness, Rondell White is probably more deserving of a pink slip than Batista, but the atrocious defense at third base had become unbearable. Hopefully Bartlett will get the rest of the season to audition to be the Twins' starting shortstop of the near future. Meanwhile Castro, Punto, Tiffee and Rodriguez will all split time at third base.
Savor the sweetness of last night's win while you can, because the outlook for the rest of the series is not nearly as good. The Twins have a decent shot at winning tonight with Brad Radke going up against Matt Clement, who's been shaky this year, but I'll eat my laptop if they win tomorrow with Carlos Silva going up against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.
On a final note, if anyone needed any more evidence that The Win is one of the most worthless statistics in baseball, keep this in mind: Dennys Reyes, whose night consisted of getting Coco Crisp to ground out to second base to end the 12th inning, "earned" the win in last night's game, while Santana was awarded a no decision for his incredible outing. Thank goodness we have Reyes to carry the team to victory when Johan can't get 'er done.