Well, it took 118 games, but last night, Nick & Nick finally made their first joint trip to the Metrodome for a Minnesota Twins game. Crazy, I know, but our conflicting schedules simply make it difficult to plan on getting out to a game on the same night. After parking in the sacred $4 lot and picking up an issue of Gameday Magazine (great work as usual, TG), Mr. Mosvick and I took our seats and were treated to a pretty darn good baseball game. Coupled with a pair of dollar dogs, it was an enjoyable experience despite the screeching child seated directly behind us.
At a glance, the 7-2 Twins victory might look like it wasn't much of a game, but that is certainly not the case. When previewing this series on Monday, I said that "my hope is that, win or lose, the games are more engaging than the ones the Twins played against the Blue Jays over the weekend." Sure enough, both games so far have been entertaining and close (and the Twins have won both, which just makes it that much better).
As has very frequently been the case this season, the Twins' offense stumbled along last night through the early portion of the game, wasting numerous opportunities before finally breaking things open in the late innings.
Luis Castillo was the big rally-killer for much of the game. Oddly enough, the second, fourth, and sixth innings all ended in the exact same manner: In each of those innings, the 8 and 9 hitters, Luis Rodriguez and Jason Bartlett, picked up back-to-back singles with two outs; and each time, Castillo stepped up and made an out to end the inning.
In the eighth inning, Jason Kubel delivered a leadoff single and Rodriguez drew a walk to put two runners on with no outs. Up steps Bartlett, and predictably, Ron Gardenhire puts on the bunt sign. This struck me as a very silly decision. First of all, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to take the bat out of the hands of a guy who was hitting over .360 and was 3-for-3 on the night. Second, Bartlett was to be followed in the order by Castillo, who had already left six runners on base in three at-bats, and then Lew Ford who was hitting .230. It was an instance of the manager playing things by the books despite the fact that under the circumstances it really made no sense, and it's the type of thing that drives me nuts.
Fortunately, in this case, it didn't hurt the Twins. Bartlett layed down a magnificient bunt and beat out the throw to first for his fourth hit of the game, and Castillo followed that up by hitting a chopper up the middle for an RBI infield single. It was the start of a five-run inning capped off by a Michael Cuddyer three-run homer that sealed the victory.
For his part, Carlos Silva was solid, going five innings and giving up two runs on five hits while striking out four and walking one. Around the start of the game last night, an anonymous commenter on this blog made the following observation: "Now, if we could just convince [the Twins' coaches] to have a little quicker hook on Silva/Bonser/Baker when it gets into the 5th/6th inning and they've been struggling. Too often they don't come out until after they've given up the big inning, instead of letting a Reyes/Neshek/Crain try and get the team out of the jam."
No doubt this person was happy with the way Gardy handled Silva last night. Though he wasn't in a jam persay (he had taken care of the Indians 1-2-3 in the fifth), Silva was at 94 pitches after five innings and he was getting to the point where he has struggled this season. Rather than sending Silva out again to try and squeeze another inning out of him, Gardenhire wisely handed things to his stellar bullpen and the decision paid off. Jesse Crain, Dennys Reyes, Pat Neshek and Matt Guerrier combined to give the Twins four innings of shutout ball, notching five strikeouts in the process.
Silva's outing was not amazing by any means, as he left the ball up in the zone at times and gave up some deep fly balls, but he kept the ball in the park and got some big strikeouts. It was exactly the type of outing the Twins need to get regularly from the back of their rotation: five or six innings good enough to keep the team in the game before the bullpen can step in and take care of the rest.
The last thing I want to talk about with regards to last night's game is the guy who got the win, Neshek. While sitting at the game, Mr. Mosvick and I both observed some similarities to the situation in which the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez came up in 2002. Now, of course, Neshek's call-up has come a lot earlier than K-Rod's did that year and Neshek is seeing a lot more action in the regular season (Rodriguez threw just 5.2 innings during the regular season, in which he racked up 13 strikeouts). Still, like Rodriguez, Neshek is entering a Wild Card race and is joining a staff that already features a solid bullpen and an established dominant closer. Also like Rodriguez, Neshek has a funky deliver and is absolutely baffling major-league batters. After entering last night's game and promptly striking out Ryan Garko to end a Cleveland threat, Neshek is now 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA and .092 opponents' batting average to go along with 30 strikeouts and three walks in 20 innings. If the Twins make the playoffs, can Neshek be the same type of dominant postseason force that K-Rod was for the Halos in 2002? It'd be interesting to see.
This afternoon, Matt Garza will make his second big league start, and we can only hope that he fares a little better than he did in his debut. He won't catch much of a break with the Indians offense, but if he can piece together a decent outing and pitch the Twins to a sweep, it would be very nice heading into a big weekend series against the White Sox.