Saturday, August 26, 2006

Bullpen, Hunter, Chicago Fan Spell Huge Victory

The Twins are once again officially on top of the AL Wild Card race. With possibly their biggest win of the season, the Twins are a 1/2 game in front of the White Sox, 4 1/2 games in front of the Red Sox, and only five games behind the Tigers in the Central, who have now lost three straight.

Of course, its far less likely that the Twins will win the division now than take the Wild Card, since even a five-game deficit game be hard to overcome. Naturally, its quite possible, since the Twins have been hot and the Tigers have finally had some of their luck catch up to them. In order to secure this spot, the game had to be hard fought, full of clutch moments, and as nerve-racking as possible. And it was.

Twins starter Brad Radke, whom I praised yesterday for his long and enjoyable career. Last night, he only lasted two innings, throwing 32 pitches, not striking out a batter, giving up three runs on four hits, and not coming close to sniffing 90 on the radar gun. The Twins and Radke claim that the injury to his shoulder hasn't worsened, but there could be potentially heart-breaking news around the corner. However, everyone should keep in mind that only a few weeks ago, Brad had to leave a start against Detroit early after only 51 pitches because of his shoulder.

He may just need additional rest or, at worse, his career may be coming to a screeching hault. But enough about that speculation. The great news is that the Twins bullpen is so good, that they pulled out a victory regardless. The bullpen pitched seven innings, gave up seven hits, one run, struck out seven, and walked only one. The stellar bunch out last night was Matt Guerrier, Pat Neshek, Dennys Reyes, Jesse Crain (who got the win with two spectacular innings of work), and Joe Nathan, who picked up his 27th save.

It doesn't merit much mentioned that the final out of the game came on fan interference, as it has flooded the ESPN airwaves. There isn't much to discuss, because its quite clear that for one, the right call was made, and two, Morneau clearly would have caught the ball. Even Ozzie admits.

Whats most pressing is the couple clutch hits the Twins had, including a monster home run from Torii Hunter. Torii now has five home runs in his last seven games, batting .348/.400/.957 over that period. He's .276/.348/.471 on the year, with 20 HRs and 68 RBI. In fact, he's hit .306/.352/.531 since the All-star break. Its hard to ignore his awful numbers with runners in scoring position (.256/.336/.395, .242/.319/.484 with two outs) or the 14 double plays he's grounded into, but he has certainly gotten hot at the right time.

The great thing is that last night, you can forget all that. With two outs and two on, after Nick Punto's home run put a run on the board and Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau followed with singles, David Riske was brought in to face Hunter. Riske threw Torii a low breaking ball, the kind he usually swings and misses at trying to pull it, and instead, Torii hits it the other way and crushes it opposite-field over the fence. With one swing, the Twins had a 4-3 lead.

A.J. went on to tie against Pat Neshek in the bottom of the inning, but Jason Bartlett came up big again against the Sox, hitting a single up the middle with two outs in the ninth to bring Lew Ford in and break the tie. Joe Nathan followed with a dominant inning outside of Scott Podsednik's single and the strange fan interference play that followed the Jermaine Dye popout for the last out.

Without a doubt, things now look great. With the Twins ace Johan Santana on the mound tonight, who doesn't feel confident about leaving Chicago with a lead in the Wild Card? How about 10 Ks, a huge win, an upset Ozzie, AJ slamming his bat in frustration, and sorrowful looks from all the White Sox players after our win?