In a pitchers duel, it doesn't take much to shift the balance of the game. For the Minnesota Twins Friday night against the Tampa Bay Rays, two key base hits provided a lead that they would refuse to relinquish.
Minnesota's Scott Baker managed to scatter several hits from the potent Ray's offense with minimal damage on the scoreboard. Working an effective slider and a fastball with plenty of bite, Baker managed to keep the Rays at bay, with the exception of a run scored on a ground-rule double in the first inning.
Hits were much tougher to come by against David Price. The former first-overall selection had his deadly fastball/curveball combination working like a gem, and the Twins only managed four hits the entire game. Half of those hits came in the bottom half of the seventh inning for Minnesota, which game them a 2-1 lead.
Delmon Young, the oft-maligned Twins outfielder who could be the most over-qualified 7th batter in the league, followed up a Jason Kubel single with a game-tying double to left-center field. He was knocked home with a base hit to center field off the bat of rookie Danny Valencia.
The Twins relied upon Brian Duensing and Jesse Crain to get them through the 8th inning before putting the ball in the hands of impromptu closer Jon Rauch.
Rauch, 6''11' and 290 lbs, was given the 9th-inning role when it was discovered that Joe Nathan needed season-ending surgery. Although Twins fans lack confidence in the towering 31-year old, his sub-3.00 ERA and 18 saves speak volumes to Rauch's ability. That being said, Rauch's success also shows how over-rated the closer position is; if Rauch can thrive in the high-leverage 9th inning, so can most relievers.
With the win, Minnesota evens the four-game series with Tampa at one apiece. Tomorrow, the Twins' top-performing starting pitcher will take the mound in Target Field. Francisco Liriano has solidified his place in Minnesota's rotation this season via several excellent starts and a 3.47 ERA.
Liriano's opponent will be Wade Davis, who has struggled this season despite a low BABIP, low line-drive percentage, and high strand rate. Although it appears that Davis is a prime candidate to give up a 10-spot to the Twins this afternoon, the 24-year old righty has an ERA of 2.65 in his last three starts and appears to be settling down.
If Minnesota can notch another victory, they will guarantee themselves a series split against one of the tougher teams in the league. The Twins are coming off a rough month of June and a series split would be a fine way to get back on track. Winning three of four from the Rays, though, would be an even better way for the Twins to shake off the rust and get back to their winning ways.