Armando Gabino had his first major league start for the Twins tonight, facing Brian Matusz, who has a mere five games under his belt. The raw beauty of something done for the first time made me hope Gabino would have a fairytale debut.
Because a win would come in handy here. The Twins have reeled off four straight victories, the third time they’ve managed this high watermark this season.
But five? Five in a row? That might really mean that the little signs we’ve been seeing are true portents.
Signs like Alexi Casilla nudging his batting average steadily upward, even as he’s constructing a highlight reel of great catches at second base. And Delmon Young starting to hit consistently, even if not deep.
Signs like Joe Mauer regaining that exciting power stroke of late, using some homers in his serious quest of the AL batting crown.
Signs like the whole lineup stringing together hits, and cashing them in for wins. The bullpen hanging tough and shouldering the load of a lot of innings. The starting pitchers having some good games, intermittent though they be.
It’s too soon to call these patterns, but it’s never too soon to hope for the winning streak that signals a real run at the division crown. The Twins don’t have to be too gaudy about it. We don’t need an odds-defying winning streak; we just need to chip along and get the wins to outweigh the losses.
A win tonight will tie the Twins with the White Sox for second place in the division standings, after their loss to Boston. Should Detroit lose to the Angels, the Twins and White Sox would be three games back.
So a win would mean something to the team, but probably even more to young Mr. Gabino. He makes his way through the first inning with but a walk to blemish his brief record. But in the second, some nasty firsts accumulate.
His first hit allowed, to Matt Wieters, the switch-hitting catcher. And then, too quickly, three more hits to push three runs across the plate.
Gabino even has time for his first error. He let a runner advance on a throwing error, and later blundered a bit in the field by failing to get to first quickly enough to accept a throw. It was not going to be fairytale night.
Gabino had three separate mound visits from pitching coach Rick Anderson, catcher Mauer, and second baseman Casilla. All are hoping to settle him down and come up with the magic words that reconnects Gabino with the sharp sinking action his fastball, we hear tell, had in the minors.
Alas, no. The chats don’t help, and the sometimes punchless Orioles lineup doesn’t help. In the third, Gabino has the classic major league trial—he loads the bases with a double and two walks.
Ron Gardenhire pulls him, and chapter one in his big league education is complete. Phil Humber has his share of trouble with the baserunners he inherits. He walks the first batter to hand the Orioles another run, but ends the inning with a strikeout.
The Twins had a sloppy game offensively as well. They couldn’t scratch a single run after loading the bases in the first, and squandered opportunities throughout the night.
They were playing from behind all through the game, but kept showing sparks. Denard Span hit a happy-making triple in the second to score two runs, and Morneau proved he’s shaken the inner ear infection by launching a solo homer.
Baltimore led 6-3 when the Twins came up for their half of the sixth. This is their magic inning, remember, when the runs just tumble out.
Young led off with a single, his third hit of the night. Carlos Gomez followed with a base hit of his own.
Pause to savor this pattern: consecutive hits from the bottom third of the batting order. If the Twins can do this once or twice a game, they can hoist themselves above .500.
And tonight they keep the momentum going, with Casilla parking a double in the deep recesses of right field, scoring one. Brian Bass, the Orioles reliever, is perhaps the key ingredient in this pleasant stew. Matusz has finished his five innings and left with a three-run lead, but Bass will fail to collect a single out.
Bass walks in a run, and when the inning is over the Twins have tied the game.
Jesse Crain and Jose Mijares pitch with grit to keep the Orioles from messing with that tie. But the Twins can’t make use of a lead-off walk in the seventh, and then are silenced completely in the eighth by imposing reliever Kam Mickolio, who throws with the special fury of a man nearly as tall as Randy Johnson.
A tie is like a protective amulet for the home team, but eventually you have to step beyond the armor to try to win. In the bottom of the ninth, we have Mauer, Morneau, and Michael Cuddyer, the best part of the batting order. Let it be now.
But Mauer and Morneau both ground out, victims of Mickolio’s big pitches. Its’ down to Cuddyer to prolong this inning, and he is barely safe on a infield single.
Jason Kubel didn’t start tonight against the left-handed Matusz, but now he’s tapped for pinch hit duty. He has a long, arduous at bat, and extracts a walk from Mickolio, moving Cuddy to second. Young is up, on a 3-for-4 night.
Let’s be realistic: Kubel, Cuddyer, Morneau, and Mauer couldn’t get it done. There are two outs. This pitcher can throw strikes.
There’s always another inning coming with this tie in place. You really think Young can get four hits in a game?
Well, yes he can and this one is a walk-off. Cuddyer whips around from second to home on a single that trickles into right, and soon Young is mobbed at first base as the Twins gain their fifth consecutive win.
Cuddyer’s face is one broad grin, and the Twins seem to be up to something. At last.