Thursday, August 19, 2004

You Can't Win 'Em All

It seemed almost too good to be true, and in the end, it was.

In one of the more impressive comebacks in team history, the Twins, down by six runs at two points in the game, managed to score a total of nine runs in a span of three innings. Five of those came against two of the better relief pitchers in the game, Paul Quantril and Tom Gordon.

When Shannon Stewart’s two-out line drive flew past Gary Sheffield out in right field, it looked as though the Twins could do no wrong. Up 10-9 and with “Mr. Automatic” Joe Nathan entering the game, it seemed the impossible (or at least improbable) was inevitable.

We should have known better.

I’m not too mad or disappointed with Joe Nathan despite his ugly performance in the ninth last night (2/3 of an inning, 4 hits, 3 earned runs). Let’s face it: as tremendous as Nathan has been this year, Eric Gagne he is not. Joe hadn’t been particularly sharp his last couple of outings, and even though he had gotten by pretty well, you could plainly see the writing on the wall. Nathan was due, probably even overdue, for a bad inning and it just so happened to come at a rather inopportune time. Let’s not forget the first three batters for the Yankees in the ninth, either: Jeter, Sheffield, and Rodriguez. That’s almost like facing the #2 through #4 hitters on the AL All-Star team. Even Joe Nathan is human. He wasn’t his sharpest last night and the veteran hitters of the Yankees made him pay.

But the disappointing end does not mask the fact that this was a great game. If the Twins had lost the first two games of the series we might not be saying that, but they did so we are. Thursday’s comeback shows just how much confidence this team gained by handling the Yanks on Tuesday and Wednesday. Usually when you’re down by six runs against the Yankees late in the game, you pretty much resign yourself to defeat. Not consciously, of course; these guys are professionals and they will still give a good effort even in defeat. But subconsciously, you’re thinking “I don’t know how we can possibly score six runs against Quantril, Gordon, and Rivera.”

The thing is, those two victories have got the Twins thinking that they should be able to score six or seven runs off the Yankees’ bullpen. Everyone was getting big hits: Offerman, Rivas, Jones, Ford, and of course, Stewart. For a team that has struggled mightily to get the clutch two-out hit (the Twins were last in the AL with a .213 average with RISP and two outs before Thursday) it was great to see so many guys step up when needed. I have no doubt that the success the Twins experienced in this series will carry over into this weekend’s series with Cleveland. All in all, I’m extremely satisfied with taking two of three from the Yankees, and the Twins should be too.

Big Powwow with the Indians
That takes us to our next topic: those previously hard-charging Indians. I say “previously” because, as most of you already know, the Indians were swept by Texas this week in rather convincing fashion. Now the Rangers are a much better hitting team than the Twins, but it doesn’t say a whole lot about the Indians’ seemingly invincible offense when they manage to score just 8 runs against the likes of Mickey Callaway, Scott Erickson, and “The Gambler” Kenny Rogers (he of the 4.61 ERA). We shall see what takes place this weekend, but I strongly suspect the Twins will play much better. Tomorrow’s pitching match-up isn’t the greatest (Lohse vs. Westbrook) but Saturday and Sunday look much better, as it’s Mulholland vs. Durbin and Sabathia vs. Radke.

Despite the loss, the Twins have finally gained a little momentum heading down the stretch. We’ll just have to see how far it takes them.