Friday, June 11, 2004

You Play With Fire, You Get...Rewarded?

Wow! What a game we had tonight. I hope you all stayed up to watch the Twins defeat the New York Mets 3-2 in 15 innings, but if you didn’t, you missed one helluva contest. It is pushing midnight here in MN, but since I’m still on a warped collegiate sleep cycle (“night” lasts from 2 a.m. until 11 a.m.), I’ve still got the energy to highlight a few interesting points from Thursday’s game.

First of all, what an effort by Kyle Lohse (to borrow an oft-used phrase by Bert Blyleven). THIS is the Kyle Lohse that we all know and love, not the imposter that has been terrible the entire season up to this point. He was a little shaky over the first three innings (Floyd’s homer and double scoring the Mets’ only two runs) but was lights out from the fourth until the seventh. Kyle finally did what everyone has been telling him to do for the past two months: he stopped trying to overthrow his pitches. Just because you CAN throw 94-95 mph doesn’t mean that you are most effective when you throw that hard. From what I saw, Kyle was spotting his fastball nicely at about 92 mph, but he was still able to pump it up to 95 when he needed a big strikeout. He also stopped trying to throw the “perfect” curveball every time—something that has hurt Lohse at times throughout the season. A curveball that only breaks 6 inches but is on the outside corner at the knees is far more effective than a curveball that breaks a foot but hangs right over the middle of the plate. But it all comes down to throwing strikes, which is what Lohse did tonight (one walk in seven innings). In 2003, Lohse averaged about 2 walks per 9 innings pitched (one of the better ratios in the league); before Thursday, he was averaging more than 4.5 BB/9 IP in 2004. Hopefully Kyle finally has himself straightened out and can start acting like the pitcher we all know he can be.

Next, can I get a show of hands from all those people who are still chuckling after seeing LeCroy chug around the bases and score the game-tying run in the 9th inning?! Wasn’t that something? I still can’t believe that he scored, as it was an amazing play all around. When I realized that Gardy could only make one of the two possible moves (either pinch hit for Blanco or pinch-run for LeCroy) I was certain he would let Blanco hit. In a normal universe, it would take at least two hits (read: two doubles) to score LeCroy from first base, and the odds of that happening with two outs are slim/none. And if Cameron hits either one of the cutoff men, LeCroy is out by 15 feet. But Lady Luck was smiling on Gardy and Al Newman tonight it seems (and on more than one occasion) as the game would go on.

Now I must (regrettably) focus on one negative aspect of the game: the overall play of one Luis Rivas. Now I know he had the infield single in the 15th and scored the winning run, but for the first 14 innings of tonight’s game, his play was terrible. Rivas had four consecutive weak-ass groundouts, and when he finally did bloop a single into center, he made a potentially HUGE baserunning mistake by getting thrown out at second. Louie Louie Louie—what were you thinking?!? The winning run is on third, there is only one out, and your run means absolutely NOTHING! Why would you even think about trying for second? It is simply beyond my ability to even comprehend such a boneheaded mistake. The reason some people will give—that Rivas wanted to take away the double play—is also moot, since Guzman was up next and is extremely difficult to double up. In the end, it didn’t matter, but at the time it looked like a potentially game-costing gaffe by Rivas. I don’t know if I could dislike Rivas any more than I do right now.

I would also be remiss if I did not mention the brilliant effort by the Twins relief corps. 8 scoreless innings is no small task, and although it was touch-and-go a few times there (the Mets had major threats in the 11th, 14th, and 15th innings). The Mets left 17 men on base for the entire game, and a large percentage of those game in extra innings. Juan Rincon was once again lights-out, and Joa Roa also did a commendable job. But my man Grant Balfour finally got a chance to prove his mettle in a big game, and he did not disappoint. He got two big outs in the 14th with the go-ahead run on third, and was even able to pitch a scoreless 15th (with a little help from Torii Hunter). I still think that he could be the X-Factor in this bullpen, as he and Rincon would comprise a perfect 1-2 punch out of the bullpen.

And lastly, there is Michael Ryan. I was extremely disappointed with his first two at-bats (two ugly strikeouts), but he came through with his only his second hit in his last 20 at-bats to score the winning run in the 15th. Had he choked once again I may have come out and called for his demotion, but when you come through in the clutch, such trivial things are forgotten. For on this day, Michael Ryan, you are not a slumping 5th outfielder. You are the hero.

Mike Ryan connects on with the game-winning single in the bottom of the 15th inning to propel the Twins over the Mets 3-2.