It took the whole team to win Friday night. The credit for RBI can be individually allocated, but the win took offense and defense, and every man on the team can feel like the player of the game.
This was the first of three games against the White Sox, the last series before the All-Star break. There seems to be something about being ripped to shreds by the Yankees that makes you want to beat up on the next guy. When the Twins last met the White Sox, after losing four games in Yankee Stadium, all by slim margins, they ended a 7-game losing streak by clobbering the Sox.
Tonight was no score-fest, but might have been demoralizing to Chicago in an entirely different way. The Twins had a lead and lost it, then used all their defensive prowess to stay in the game, and finally got past a tie late in the game to carve out a 6-4 win.
Nick Blackburn was good enough to pitch seven innings, but bad enough to have some trouble every inning. In this game, it wasn’t a pitcher as an individual hero or goat, but a pitcher as one of the nine men making each out.
Blackburn is a contact pitcher, so his wins always owe something to sure hands in the infield. In addition to solid routine plays, we had a few sparklers in this game. Brendan Harris ran hard to catch a line drive, tumbled to throw to first, where Morneau dug out the low toss for an out. Nick Punto sealed up the slot between first and second and made two superhero snares.
The highlight reel play belonged to Michael Cuddyer. The Sox mounted a threat in the sixth, starting the inning with two hits. Chris Getz hit a massive fly ball to right. While it was in flight, I considered the likely outcomes, either a three-run homer or double scoring two. Interpreting fly balls from a television picture means listening to the crowd gasp or cheer and watching the intensity of the outfielder’s scramble. This one looked, and sounded, bad.
Michael Cuddyer kept pedaling back and back, the prelude to letting a home run sail over the blue plastic. But he pedaled and planted, and then leapt to slam into the fence and grab the ball. Sac fly, the alternative I’d overlooked. And a rally-sapping sac fly. The White Sox get only that run in the inning.
The Twins started the game playing with house chips. John Danks had one of the ugliest first innings imaginable. He simply couldn’t find the strike zone, and while hunting and pecking for it, he walked the first four batters he faced. Four, you read that right. He walked in the first run of the game.
The Twins went on to score three more on a Jason Kubel double and a Michael Cuddyer single. I watched the hits mount up, but I kept feeling that Danks was going to get his control back just as suddenly as he’d lost it and that we needed to be careful not to coast.
It was a different type of control he got back. Cuddyer was lounging off the first base bag and Danks picked him off for the first out of the inning. It was just the lift the pitcher needed. He struck out Joe Crede and got Delmon Young to line out.
Blackburn let the Sox chip away at that 4-0 lead. They scored single runs in the second, third, fourth, and sixth. Meanwhile, the Twins seemed unable to get over the gifts they received in the first inning. Then too, Danks returned to form and had a string of 1-2-3, innings. The last good thing that happened to the Twins was Cuddyer’s hit. The first of a long list of bad things was Cuddy getting picked off.
In the bottom of the seventh, tied 4-4, Nick Punto makes a key contribution. It’s not a hit, because that’s just plain unlikely for him these days. It’s not a bunt, because that’s going to take a little too much luck with his good but not supergood speed. It’s a walk, because a walk is all he can get out of reliever Octavio Dotel.
Denard Span hopes for a hit, settles for a sacrifice and Punto’s at second. Brendan Harris notches an out, and Joe Mauer’s up. Joe Mauer is almost a good-luck charm you simply rub for a hit or a win, but lately, it must be said, the power surge of May is falling off, and the high average of June is trickling down just a bit. In other words, Mauer has human DNA. He’s been grounding out to second a lot lately, so nothing’s automatic with him at the plate.
It’s not automatic, but it’s beautiful enough. Punto steals third, and Mauer plants a single straight through to center. Tie broken.
It’s not a great Twins game if Mauer and/or Morneau don’t get in on the scoring, so we almost all the elements of a sweet Twins win. The last two pieces: A hit from one of the scrappier hitters, and a Joe Nathan sweated-out save.
In the eighth, Kubel leads off with a double and the desired insurance run seems within reach. But then it begins receding from view after two outs. All we have now is Carlos Gomez coming to bat, and Gomez is in about the same hitting pit that is currently swallowing up Punto.
Ron Gardenhire has already brought Matt Tolbert in to run for Kubel, but Gomez is going to need a true hit to collect an RBI and give the Twins a cushion. He hits what I will freely proclaim his best bunt of the season. It wanders straight toward the mound, and Bobby Jenks can’t begin to corral it before Gomez rockets to first and Tolbert scores. This play goes into workbook they’ll use at The Carlos Gomez Bunting Academy.
Nathan takes it hard on the mound, and his duel with Chris Getz takes eight pitches. Nathan is not a fast worker, and he seems to marshal his courage all over again for each pitch. But he gets Getz, by a ground out, nd the next two hitters as well.
It’s Blackburn’s win and Nathan’s save, but this game took every player to win.