Twins Sweep Brewers; Baker's Back
Two weeks ago, the Twins were 15-17, hanging on in the AL Central thanks to a division-wide inability to climb much above .500.
After tonight, the team is 22-23, and the 13 games formed a neat pattern: a three-win sweep of the Tigers, six straight losses, and now four wins in a row. Emphatic pendulum swings, and not much change in final outcome. We’re three-and-a-half behind Detroit, a half game back of KC.
The Twins swept the mighty Brewers, who now slip a notch to make room for the Cardinals in tie for first in the NL Central. They didn’t see the Twins coming. For weeks, the Brewers had been playing so well they had a 21-5 winning patch. In this series, their power seemed to desert them. It’s also fair to give the Twins pitchers a tip of the hat.
Tonight, Scott Baker had his best game of the season. He had had a collection of very fine innings so far, amounting to five losses, one squeaker of win plus one blowout victory.
Baker pitched into the ninth, but after getting one out and giving up a two-run homer he made way for Joe Nathan. Nathan, I’m happy to report, looked like rock solid Joe again—two strikeouts, no funny stuff.
Since missing the first two weeks of the season, Baker has never seemed in full possession of his game. Except for the easy-breezy 11-0 win against Seattle, Baker has given up at least four runs in each of his seven prior starts. And these runs were usually in big fat clusters, many times looking like meltdowns.
But Baker-watchers, take note. There is a trend here, and it’s not Scott Baker falling apart. Here’s his ERA after each start, in order: 13.50, 12.46, 9.82, 9.15, 6.83, 6.95, 6.98, 6.32.
Here’s the innings pitched: 4, 4.2, 6, 6, 7, 6, 5, 8.1.
Now, this doesn’t chart like a rocket going off, but we need to stop making every game fit the memorable pattern of one hideous inning ruining the other decent ones. Baker gave up a solo homer to Mike Cameron in the fourth, but that single run was all the Brewers managed until the ninth.
His final line was three earned runs, seven hits, six strikeouts, no walks. Those other two runs came after Casey McGehee scored on Prince Fielder’s one-out homer in the ninth. Baker has bottled up Prince Fielder, big power threat, all night, but somehow the big guy found a way to get his last homer in the Metrodome.
Baker may not have cured all his crochets, but I’d advise the fantasy players who are repulsed by his ghastly ERA to scoop him up off waivers and start him.
The Twins have still not come down from their scoring high in Chicago on Thursday. In this fun four-game win streak, they’ve scored 43 runs, including six tonight.
It didn’t look like another scoring barrage was in store until late in the game. Joe Mauer homered in the first for our typical early, skinny lead. In the fourth, the Brewers tied it on Cameron’s blast.
Joe Crede answered back right away in the bottom on the fourth with, yes, another solo homer. That tense 2-1 lead kept Milwaukee’s Dave Bush dueling Scott Baker.
In the seventh inning, the turning point for so many games, Bush got two quick outs. Nick Punto, who got to start today in hopes of nudging his average above the Mendoza line, did the only thing he really could do to get on base: he walked.
Carlos Gomez was batting leadoff to give Denard Span time to recover from “flu-like symptoms” (amazing that sports reporters don’t get to the bottom of this one—it’s a hangover, right?).
Gomez is still a lovable, enthusiastic young player, but he’s no longer bunting for dollars, which means he’s limited to the very occasional single. But happy day, he gets one: an infield dribbler that he can just beat out.
Joe Mauer is up. So far, he’s homered, singled, and flied out. Ken Macha sent in Mitch Stetter, something of a specialist in retiring pesky lefities, to relieve Bush. Mauer looks at a strike and lets two balls go by. The next pitch whips in high and tight, smashing Mauer’s hand wrapped around the bat.
The umpire calls it a foul tip while Mauer presents his wounded paw to trainers who watch the bruise bloom. Mauer starts walking to first but home plate umpire Adrian Johnson calls him back: you’re not done here, son.
Mauer, our franchise player and hero of heroes, may have had his hand crushed and you want to call it a foul tip? Ron Gardenhire is instantly out of the dugout.
Big shouting match with the home plate umpire, but this one has visual aids. Mauer presents his swollen right hand. Johnson and Gardenhire keep yelling, and now Gardy’s cap is off and there’s the classic picture of fury.
But this time, the heavens part: Mauer is sent on to first, and Johnson overturns his call. You couldn’t tell it from the demeanor of the umpire or the manager, but they actually reached agreement out there.
Maybe this is how all conversations with umpires go: (indignantly) Thanks for lending me your belt sander! (angrily) You’re welcome!
This little hit by pitch call will end up mattering. Justin Morneau is up next and he would need to see but one pitch from Mr. Stetter to find the one he likes: grand slam hit to that high right field spot Morneau likes to tag.
Twins win, 6-3, and all nine runs were scored on home runs.
The Twins’ power surge is getting positively scary now. I’m not entirely ready to exult in it, because home run power tends to ebb and flow.
The ability to beat out a steady tattoo of singles and doubles, to construct scoring opportunities, and to rely on all the moving parts of the team to get the job done are the attributes that made me love the Twins in the first place. If they’re going to pound their way to victory it simply won’t be as interesting.
But for now, I’ll make an exception and savor the win.
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