THAT’S How Ya Do It!

After attending the debacle Friday night and then reading that Francisco Liriano had been scratched from his Saturday start in favor of Anthony Swarzak, who would be facing off with Jared Weaver, I can’t say I was optimistic about the possibility of witnessing a Twins win Saturday night.

Silly me.

OF COURSE this would be the circumstance under which the wins would put things together to pull out a W!

There was a great crowd on hand, reminding me a bit of the enthusiasm I felt during so many games last season. I think we all knew that the Twins were likely to have trouble scoring much off of Weaver, who’s had a pretty strong year, thus far. But Swarzak was every bit Weaver’s equal as the two pitchers matched one another almost pitch for pitch from one inning to the next.

Toward the 7th inning, Swarzak gave up a couple of pretty deep, well hit balls that found the gloves of Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young. In fact, the defense tonight was very solid all night long. It hasn’t been often that we’ve been able to say that this year.

With one out in the 8th inning Peter Bourjos laced a line drive down the left field line for a double to ruin Swarzak’s no-hitter bid and the crowd immediately rose to give the young pitcher a huge standing ovation. As we sat down, the three 20-something women sitting to my left asked me why everyone had been cheering… they had no idea Swarzak had a no-hitter going. I’m not sure they even knew what a no-hitter was, to be honest. Ah well.

The guy to my right almost flipped out when Matt Capps entered the game to start the 9th inning on the mound for the Twins… but he stood and gave Capps an ovation with the rest of us after his hitless inning. Alex Burnett followed with a clean inning of relief, himself. (Where have THESE versions of those two pitchers been lately… and can we keep them a while?)

And then it was the bottom of the 10th. Lefty reliever Hisanori Takahashi took over for Weaver and struck Jason Kubel out looking before giving up a solid line drive single to Justin Morneau. Jason Repko ran for Morneau and righty Kevin Jepson took the mound for the Angels. Michael Cuddyer grounded a single past the SS in to left field and Delmon Young lined a single to center field. Unfortunately, Repko couldn’t get a jump on that single because there was a real chance it could have been snagged by the shortstop (I thought he was going to catch it from where I sat).

A lot of people around me were upset that Repko didn’t score, but to be honest, he HAD to make sure that ball got through. The LAST thing you want is to have him get doubled off 2B to end that inning. He still got to 3B and the bases were loaded with just one out and Danny Valencia at the plate.

The Angels used five infielders, all playing in on the grass, and just two outfielders, but it didn’t matter. Valencia lifted a fly ball to RF and right off the bat, everyone knew it was deep enough to score Repko from 3B. Torii Hunter jogged back a bit but he knew it didn’t matter whether he got to it or not and it landed well beyond Hunter. Game over.

The Twins celebrated on the field and you could just tell this was a win that made everyone feel good… players and fans alike.

I didn’t take as many pictures this trip as I usually do at games and many I did take are far from high quality, but I thought I would post a few anyway… hope you enjoy!

– JC

Pregame fraternization between Torii, Denard and Cuddy, as well as Justin and Russell Branyan
TC Bear fires tshirts in to the crowd
Anthony Swarzak was very, very good
Jared Weaver was also very, very good
Torii Hunter went hitless... but looked good doing it
An appreciative crowd gives Swarzak a standing ovation after he gives up the first Angels hit in the 8th inning
The Angels play a 5 man infield when the Twins loaded the bases in the 10th
Danny Valencia strokes a deep fly ball to right field...
... and the Twins celebrate a much-needed win!

GameChat – Angels @ Twins #2, 6:10pm, FOX & am1500

It’s been a phenomenally gorgious day so far.  However, it does appear that there are some storms headed our way so I have no idea what that will mean come game time. So cross your fingers everyone if you actually want to see this game.  Maybe we’ll get lucky and we’ll have a lead again in the 6th inning and then the storms will hit and the game will be called before the 8th inning meltdown?  Does that still count as optimism?

In other news, Francisco Liriano is out… sore shoulder… Swarzak is getting the start and somewhere, Kevin Slowey is kicking himself and cursing fate.  It just seems to be par for the course of this season doesn’t it?? *grumble*

Sadly, it also appears that Joe Nathan is going on the DL again as well. I’m sure the details of why this is necessary will be forthcoming.

Jim Thome is expected to get a cortisone shot in his shoulder tonight and hopes to play tomorrow, which sounds a bit odd to me since those shots don’t typically have that kind of immediate effect.

Jose Mijares threw a couple of extended spring training innings Saturday and could be rejoining the Twins Monday. Have to wonder if that constitutes good news or bad news, but given the performance of the bullpen lately, it probably has to be considered good.

Oh yeah… one more thing… HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BABS!

– JC

Izturis, M, 2B Span, CF
Aybar, SS Casilla, A, 2B
Abreu, DH Kubel, DH
Hunter, To, RF Morneau, 1B
Callaspo, 3B Cuddyer, RF
Branyan, 1B Young, D, LF
Bourjos, CF Valencia, 3B
Mathis, C Rivera, R, C
Willits, LF Plouffe, SS
Weaver, P Swarzak, P

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 R H E
LA Angels 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 6 0

Well that game was a lot better to watch than last night’s was!

That was a good old fashioned pitchers’ duel. Jared Weaver faced only two hitters beyond the minimum over nine innings, giving up just two hits to the Twins and Anthony Swarzak took a no-hitter in to the 8th inning, before giving up a one-out double to Peter Bourjos. It’s never easy losing your no-no, but at least it was a legit line drive double down the line. It would also turn out to be the only hit the Angels would get on the night.

Every fan in my section of Target Field was holding his/her breath when Matt Capps relieved Swarzak to start the 9th inning. Capps did a nice job, however and got a very nice ovation from the crowd as he walked off. Then it was Alex Burnett’s turn in the 10th and he, too, held the Angels at bay. Two hitless/scoreless innings from the bullpen! woo-hoooo!

It’s best not to push your luck though, and in the 10th inning, Danny Valencia lifted a fly ball over Torii Hunter’s head to score pinch runner Jason Repko from third base and the Twins had a much needed W!

Lots of baked goods to the guys who put together that little rally in the 10th (hits by Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young preceded Valencia’s game winner), but the BOD can only be awarded to Anthony Swarzak!

Anthony Swarzak had no idea what kind of night was ahead of him as he toed the rubber in the 1st inning

Seeing Is (Unfortunately) Believing

I wish I could say that Friday night’s collapse surprised me. You would think that seeing the Twins enter the 8th inning with a 5-0 lead would give a guy a fair amount of confidence that he was going to witness a rare Twins win.

But no.

As soon as Scott Baker was pulled from the game, somehow you just knew things were going to get… interesting.

And they did.

You can read all about the way the bullpen failed (again) to hold a lead pretty much anywhere else in the online world of Twinsville so I won’t go in to all that. The Twins scored some runs. The Twins’ starting pitcher pitched well. The bullpen coughed up the lead and lost the game. Again. ‘Nuff said about that.

But that’s not even the most disturbing thing I watched Friday night at the first Twins game I’ve attended in person this season. I mean… yeah… the bullpen was awful, but you could figure out the bullpen sucks pretty much just from looking at box scores the past few weeks. No real news there.

Would the Twins win more games if they had someone… anyone… who could get an out or two out of the pen? Absolutely. Would they become a team worth standing up and cheering for? In a word, no.

Here’s what I found disturbing just from watching this game with my own eyes (something I have rarely been able to do this year, thanks to that absurd, idiotic MLB blackout policy):

The Twins are really bad at playing baseball.

If you just look at the boxscore, you won’t see Danny Valencia diving back to first base on a soft line drive… with two outs.

You won’t see Alexi Casilla miss first base, have to retrace about 10 feet to find the base, before advancing to 2B for an RBI “double” in the first inning.

You wont see Jason Kubel getting doubled off the basepaths after apparently losing track of the number of outs (I think it was Kubel… but I’d been drinking pretty heavily by then so it may have been someone else and I really don’t care enough right now to check my facts).

You won’t see any of the atrocious swings that Justin Morneau, Delmon Young and others took with runners on base.

I’ve been a Twins fan ever since there has been a Minnesota Twins team. There have been some pretty bad teams during certain eras. But during many of those years, I could rationalize the poor records simply by acknowledging that the Twins simply did not have very good players during most of those years. They didn’t fail for lack of effort or preparedness or knowing HOW to play the game right. They simply didn’t have players as talented as most of their competition.

But this year is different.

Yes, I’m well aware of the unexpected obstacles the Twins have been faced with. Their newly imported middle infielder broke his leg. Their $23 million/year catcher has… um… weak legs (and by the way… is anyone at all even going to bother looking in to how an elite level professional athlete misses half a season with leg weakness or are we all supposed to simply accept that it’s a perfectly normal occurrence?).

But there simply is no excuse for the product the Twins are putting out on the field this season. Maybe they don’t really work on the “little things” the way they used to in this organization. Maybe the coaching is not up to par. Maybe the manager can’t find the right method for motivating the players to perform better. Maybe the General Manager made some critical mistakes in assembling this roster. Maybe the scouting staff has seriously misjudged both MLB and minor league talent levels in this organization. Maybe the players need to take responsibility for flat out playing bad baseball.

Most likely, it’s a combination of “all of the above”.

Like most Twins fans, I can accept that some years will go better than others. But we are entitled to expect better. This team, even with the injuries, is not without talent.

I don’t have an explanation for why so many players that have, in the past, played some pretty good baseball now seem incapable of doing anything right… I only know that this team almost seems to go out of its way to do the little things… and a few big things… poorly.

Then again, I’ve had a fair amount to drink today and tonight… so maybe once I’m thinking more clearly, perhaps I’ll have some more lucid thoughts about what could/should be done about this situation.

Then again, I may not.

Anyway… Friday wasn’t a totally worthless day. I slept in. I had a very nice lunch at one of my favorite Minneapolis restaurants (Hell’s Kitchen), I spent some time with friends at a bar for a couple of hours before the game (even though they were ALL “late”) and during the game as well. So if you look at Twins games as purely a social event or another excuse for drinking rather heavily, then it was an enjoyable evening.

I’ll even post a couple of pictures from the game… just to prove I did more than fill up on beer for 5+ hours.

Denard Span dives back to 1B on an errant pickoff.
Justin Morneau holds old friend Torii Hunter close to 1B