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Twins down Tigers, then bested by Yankees

By Josh Newman
Why is it the Twins play well during the games they are supposed to win, but can’t buy a victory against the more competitive teams of the baseball world? Why have so many of their projected strong starters struggled so mightily this season? And the bullpen? What a mess.

It’s a dilemma I hope the Twins can solve as the season ages. So far, however, I have been let down by this talented but young bunch.

Things got off on the right foot for the Twins last week when they closed a six-game homestand with a trio against division rival Detroit. The Tigers entered the series on top of the Central Division following a three-game sweep on the road against Cleveland.

But the Twins, who had split a brief two-game set with the Tigers May 4-5, proved themselves the better team. They made short work of virtually any pitcher the Tigers used. Joe Mauer and Joe Crede both homered for the Twins in the opener, and pitcher Kevin Slowey won his fifth game of the season as Minnesota won handily, 6-2.

The Twins gained an early 4-0 lead off Detroit starter Armando Galarraga, who took the loss and is now 0-5 lifetime against Minnesota. Crede’s 2-run shot in the second inning opened the floodgates, and Mauer followed with another round-tripper with one on and one out to put his team comfortably in front.

It proved to be more than enough for Slowey, who won his team-leading fifth game of the season with six solid innings. Despite struggles by the bullpen, Nathan came on in the ninth and retired the side in order to preserve the win.

While Game 2 provided no pitching whatsoever, there was plenty of excitement and a satisfying finish for the fans. Crede stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 13th against Detroit reliever Brandon Lyon with the bases loaded and two out. He calmly smacked a deep fly ball into the stands for his seventh career grand slam, giving the Twins a 14-10 victory in a game that clocked in at four hours and 48 minutes.

If you like antics, this was the game for you. It occurred in the seventh inning when home plate umpire Paul Schrieber called Magglio Ordonez out on strikes. After that, Schrieber reportedly put his hand on Ordonez to guide him away. Ordonez detested that gesture, as did Detroit manager Jim Leyland. The move brought Leyland out of the dugout in a rage. The Tigers manager then proceeded to yell and scream in the umpire’s face, resulting in his dismissal. The traditional kicking of the dirt followed.

The teams combined for 31 hits in the marathon, and the two teams sent a total of 13 pitchers to the mound.

In the series finale, strong pitching was featured through the first five innings of a scoreless game. Then in the sixth inning, Detroit sent 10 batters to the plate against Twins starter Scott Baker. Five runners crossed the plate in the process before Baker finally struck out Brandon Inge to end the nightmare.

Facing a 5-0 deficit, the Twins woke up in the bottom of the seventh. Despite manager Ron Gardenhire being ejected in the inning, the Twins kept their cool. After Crede struck out to open the inning, nine consecutive batters reached base. Garnering five hits in the inning, Minnesota took the lead for good when Crede hit a two-out single to center, scoring Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel with the eventual game-winning runs.

The Twins put it on cruise control from there. Breslow got through the eighth inning allowing just one hit, and Nathan pitched a perfect ninth inning for the save.

Against the Yankees, the Twins proved that, at the very least, they can be competitive against the big boys. However, being competitive is one thing: being a championship team is another because it means winning the close games. In the first three games of the series, they suffered three disappointing losses in one of the most heartbreaking ways: in walk-off fashion.

In the first game, a bases-loaded, two-run single by Yankees center fielder Melky Cabrera off of Twins All-Star closer Joe Nathan sent Minnesota to a disappointing 5-4 loss. In the second game, a two-run homer in the 11th inning off of Twins reliever Craig Breslow doomed Minnesota in a 6-4 finale. In the third game, it was a solo shot by Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon – his third career game-winning hit - off of reliever Jesse Crain.

This is the first time since 1973 that the Twins have suffered three straight losses by a walk-off hit.
This week, the Twins finish their four-game series with the Yankees, then travel to Chicago for three games before closing the week with a three-game interleague series at the Metrodome against Milwaukee.

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