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Rough start, solid finish

Oakland series provides remedy for confidence

By Josh Newman
With two months in the books, we continue to oversee the Twins’ struggles at the plate. They hit better on the road than in the friendly confines of Target Field. I think we can now safely say that their new stadium is a pitcher’s park.

Try using that to excuse their inability to make contact last week, though, and you will be the laughingstock among Twins insiders. Why? Because they were on the road all week!

It was brutal! Simply brutal. Even the pitching staff struggled mightily at times. You are exempt from this very exclusive list if your name was Francisco Liriano or Kevin Slowey. But if your name was Nick Blackburn, then you failed to retire more than 11 batters in each of your starts.

Woes were apparent all over the place in the unfriendly confines of Safeco Field (or as the Twins may now prefer to call it, Not-So-Safe-Co Field). Not only because they lost three of the four games, but also because their impatience at the plate strongly resembled the type of impatience that dominates modern-day society. If I’m Ron Gardenhire, then I am furious at my team’s inability to take only five walks in the four games, as well as all of my hitters swinging at every single pitch they saw. That is a good way to boost your opponent’s confidence.

The lone exception to the series was the opener. If there is one positive thing about swinging the bats often, it is that it is the only way you can get a hit. The Twins rode homers by Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel and fended off a late rally from Seattle to pull out a 5-4 victory.

After the series opener, though, the Mariners made quick work of the Twins over the next three games. Blackburn made his first start in Game 2 and simply got burned. The score speaks for itself: Mariners 7, Twins 1. Game 3 was a difficult loss that ended with Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki hitting the game-winning single in the bottom of the 10th to win it for Seattle, 2-1. And Game 4 saw starter Carl Pavano surrender four runs in the third inning of an otherwise strong start as the Twins fell, 4-1.

But this team has a lot of character, and they proved it in their next series against Oakland. The A’s were one of the better home clubs in the Majors as they entered the series having won seven of their previous nine at Oakland Coliseum and their home ERA of 2.79 was the best in the American League.

But our boys are rebels and defied the odds by scoring at least four runs every time out and taking two out of three to get back on the winning track.

However, that doesn’t mean that the team swung the bats well. Despite the series victory, the Twins still had a collective batting average of just .222, but actually managed to hit respectably with runners in scoring position with six clutch hits in the three games, as opposed to the three they collected against Seattle.

Game 1 definitely had a playoff feel to it. Oakland managed to erase a 4-1 deficit with a two-run homer in the seventh and a solo homer in the eighth to tie the game at four. The game went into extra innings until Delmon Young hit an RBI single to score Justin Morneau to give the Twins a 5-4 lead. Jon Rauch closed out the bottom half of the inning to help the Twins snap their three-game skid.

Game 2 was another intense game that once again saw the winning team clinch it in their last at-bat. This time, it was utility infielder Tom Tolbert who provided the heroics as he hit a two-out, RBI single in the top of the ninth to give the Twins a 4-3 lead. Rauch made sure that Liriano’s seven-inning, 10-strikeout gem wasn’t wasted by pitching a scoreless ninth for his second consecutive save and clinching the series win for the Twins.

A sweep would have been nice, but the Twins fell behind early in the finale and never fully recovered. The A’s provided clutch hits all throughout the first three innings to put the Twins in a 5-2 hole after three innings. Young smacked a two-run homer to left field in the eighth inning to close the gap, but A’s reliever Michael Wuertz retired the Twins in order in the ninth inning to end any hopes of a come-from-behind victory.
Okay, so a 3-4 record is not bad if you’re on the road, but now I’ll bet the Twins can’t wait to get back home, where they play their next nine games.

1 comment:

  1. The Twins got lucky, a .222 average shouldn't win you games. They just happened to hit with runners in scoring position, that is a fluke when you hit .222.