Friday, September 29, 2006

Shouldering the Load

No one knew what to expect when Brad Radke took the mound last night. This wasn't a situation like Francisco Liriano's comeback a few weeks ago. When Liriano returned, there was reason to believe that he had recovered from his elbow injury. In this instance, everyone knew that Radke's shoulder was extremely screwed up and wasn't going to improve much. Nevertheless, each Twins player (including Radke) had to cross their fingers and hope he could make it through five innings without his arm falling off.

Well, he did. In fact, Radke pitched pretty darn well. He tossed five innings, allowing just thee hits and one unearned run. He issued two walks, but erased them both with double-plays. Radke was efficient, needing just 57 pitches in the game and throwing mostly strikes despite the pair of walks. He proved himself to be the definitive option for game three of the ALDS, if he is healthy enough to make a start. Of course, that is a big if. Radke might feel some signficant soreness in his shoulder over the weekend, and if that's the case, he probably won't be able to throw in the playoffs, regardless of how badly he may want to. Still, if he can pitch, it would give the Twins a major edge. Radke is a professional and he knows how to pitch, which he proved that last night. Granted, it was the Royals, but it was his first start since August 25 and he made it with a bum shoulder.

Despite his impressive and encouraging performance, Radke did not provide the lasting memory of the night. No, that would be a late exhilarating comeback by the Twins which put them in a tie for first place in the AL Central with three games remaining. The Twins offense looked totally stagnant for most of the game, going scoreless for the first eight innings. Then, with two outs in the ninth, they finally put a run on the board, with Joe Mauer taking a solo shot to left field for one of the season's most dramatic home runs of the year. Mauer's 13th homer tied the game 1-1, and in the bottom of the 10th Jason Bartlett knocked a base hit over Joey Gathright's head with Justin Morneau on third to give the Twins to victory. With the Tigers losing 8-6 against Toronto, the Twins put themselves in first place in the division for the first time all year.

Winning the division will still be a daunting task, as Detroit hosts the lowly Royals this weekend while the Twins will face the White Sox. If the Tigers lose their series against KC while the Twins take two of three against the Sox, the division is ours. Of course, that's a fairly tall order, so the Twins will just have to bring their game against Chicago and hope that Detroit falters at home.

It all starts tonight, with Boof Bonser getting his final post-season tune-up against Freddy Garcia. If the Twins want to win the division, this is pretty much a must-win; however, if the goal is simply to keep their starters healthy and continue to prepare for the playoffs, let's just hope Bonser looks good and the offense makes more of a solid effort than they did against Luke Hudson last night.