The winning hit came off the bat of Jeff Cirillo, who was pinch-hitting for Jason Tyner against left-hander Brian Tallet after an intentional walk to Mike Redmond had loaded the bases with two outs. A guy standing a couple rows behind me saw Cirillo walk up to the plate and said, "Jeff Cirillo?!!" in a tone of voice that can only be compared to Jim Mora's during his famous "Playoffs" rant. My buddy turned around and said, "Would you rather have Tyner going up there?" The guy responded with a smug, "Uh, yeah." Of course, subbing Cirillo for Tyner was a good decision, especially against a lefty reliever, and it paid off as Cirillo dropped a blooper into shallow center just in front of a diving Vernon Wells to lift the Twins to victory and even the series at a game apiece.
Of course, the late-game heroics would not have been possible if not for some brilliant work by the Twins' pitching staff. Scott Baker, who recently nearly lost his spot in the rotation by putting together a stretch of ugly outings following a strong debut, was in the zone like I've never seen him before. Through the first seven innings of the game, Baker allowed just three hits while striking out nine and walking none. He started the eighth inning with a walk and a single, prompting acting manager Scott Ullger to remove him from the game. The Blue Jays managed to get one of those runners in on a sacrifice fly, but Baker finished with an extremely impressive line nonetheless: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K. He did an especially great job of suppressing the big boppers in the middle of the Jays' lineup; Matt Stairs, Troy Glaus and Frank Thomas combined to go 1-for-9 with five strikeouts against Baker. In his last two starts, Baker has lowered his ERA from 7.33 to 5.77.
The Twins bullpen backed up Baker's great start with five excellent innings. Dennys Reyes, Pat Neshek, Joe Nathan and Juan Rincon combined to allow zero base-runners over five frames while racking up six strikeouts (all from Neshek and Nathan). In total, the Twins' staff allowed four hits and one run over 12 innings while walking just one and striking out 15. It was one of the better collective pitching performances I've seen.
Credit must be given to the Toronto pitching staff, which pieced together a heck of a game in their own right. Starter Shaun Marcum delivered eight innings of one-run ball, allowing six hits and one walk while striking out two. He lowered his ERA to 3.13 for the season and is holding opposing hitters to a .202 batting average. The Jays' bullpen was very effective for three innings before Tallet finally gave up the winning single to Cirillo in the 12th.
The Twins' offense didn't look great, but we'll give some credit to Marcum and the Toronto bullpen in this one and hope that Justin Morneau's return (which apparently could be within the next few days) can help provide a jolt.
For those who didn't make it to the last blogger/reader get-together back in April (and for those who did as well), there will be another one taking place this Saturday at Park Tavern in St. Louis Park to watch the Twins take on the Tigers. The game starts at 2:55 p.m., but we have a reservation under the name Nick Mosvick for 2:30 in case anyone wants to show up a bit earlier. Both of us Nicks will be there, and other bloggers scheduled to attend at this point include Aaron Gleeman, Howard Sinker and Corey Ettinger. I suspect some others will be adding their name to the hat as well over the next few days. I hope to see you there!