These Twins are no strangers to comeback victories -- they had a few memorable ones last year. Yet, last night's 6-5 victory over the Mariners came about in perhaps the most unlikely of ways.
The Twins had struggled offensively for much of the night in large part because they consistently put together poor at-bats. Against starter Erik Bedard, Twins hitters struck out eight times over five innings while drawing zero walks and chasing several pitches out of the zone. Yet, in the ninth, the Twins took advantage of a potent but erratic young arm, spoiling Brandon Morrow's first save opportunity of the year by drawing three straight two-out walks and then bringing them all around to erase a 5-3 deficit and notching their first win of the season.
The real highlight of that thrilling ninth inning was the work put in by the Twins' bench bats. As I discussed with John Bonnes on the GameNight podcast following the game, this bench is one of the best the Twins have boasted in recent memory, and it was on full display last night. Jason Kubel, who was the odd man out of the outfield shuffle last night, followed Carlos Gomez's two-out walk by drawing a four-pitch walk of his own while hitting in place of Jose Morales. Nick Punto was next in the lineup, and so Ron Gardenhire went to Brian Buscher, who put together a great at-bat of his own and ended up walking to load the bases. That sent the action back to the top of the Twins' lineup, where Denard Span and Alexi Casilla delivered consecutive hits to give the Twins an exciting first victory.
There are plenty of interesting storylines to come out of this game -- from Nick Blackburn's disappointing start to the bullpen's resilient performance to Span's great night at the plate -- but in the end the quality pinch-hit at-bats late in the game are the lasting memory. A bench made up of Buscher, Brendan Harris, Mike Redmond (once Joe Mauer returns) and whichever outfielder isn't starting has the potential to be one of the best this franchise has seen in years, and perhaps one of the better units in the league.
The Twins have struggled against the first two starters they've faced this season, but in both cases they've had a pretty good excuse. If they both stay healthy, Bedard and Felix Hernandez can potentially be one of the very best 1-2 punches in baseball this year. If the Twins lineup continues to struggle against Carlos Silva tonight, though, perhaps some criticism will be deserved. For now, though, I'll just bask in a wild but supremely satisfying finish to the second game of this young season.