Brooks Conrad of the Braves hit a walk-off slam this afternoon, as the Braves rallied for seven (7) runs in the ninth and beat the Reds 10-9. Now, obviously, the Reds were crushing the Braves when the 9th started, but it was even worse than that, for the Reds had been crushing the Braves all game long:
David Brown at “Big League Stew” wonders what it’s like to suck all the air out of a packed Yankee Stadium crowd.
The Twins entered the eighth inning yesterday seemingly headed for a 13th straight loss against the Yankees. They’d come to New York looking to prove their legitimacy in the American League, but over the first two games of the series the Twins had seen their offense fail time and time again to come up with a big hit while the pitchers had folded in the face of a powerful Yankee offense.
So when Mariano Rivera, who hadn’t allowed a run all season, stepped in to protect a two-run lead with the bases loaded in the top of the eighth, one hardly could believe good results were in store for the Twins. Their ineptitude with the bases loaded this season had been a trend nearly as frustrating as their longtime problems with the Yankees. They’d amassed a .157 average, with five double plays and only one extra-base hit (a double), in 61 plate appearances with the bases full. The offense had generally been chugging along nicely, but the hitters had continually failed to come up with the big hit in the big situation. Alas, it was difficult to envision that it was going to come against perhaps the game’s greatest closer of all time, who’d been invulnerable all year.
Jim Thome pushed a run across for the Twins with a walk, narrowing the lead to one. Fans yawned. Sure, the Twins had scratched out an important run, but they still had not found that elusive game-changing knock. In stepped Jason Kubel, riding a terrible early-season slump — evidenced by a .224 average with just two home runs — and 0-for-3 with two strikeouts on the day.
When Kubel drove that Rivera pitch over the wall, it turned a depressing series sweep into a potential momentum builder. Rauch came out to pitch the ninth and let two runners get on base, but rather than folding he stepped up to strike out the top three hitters in the Yankee lineup consecutively, slamming the door shut on a lengthy losing streak in the Bronx.
Now that the Twins have remembered how to get a big hit with the bases juiced and remembered what it feels like to notch a big victory in an East Coast town, we’ll see how their demeanor is in Toronto and Boston this week. It’d be no surprise if they walk into Rogers Centre tonight with a bit more swagger, having freshly removed a pair of big monkeys from their backs.
Your blog should be a simple thank you letter to Kubel!!! Thank you jason for keeping your hands inside that nasty inside cutter that was going right at you back foot
Jesse at “Twinkie Town” calls it Deja Vu All Over Again. “First Pitch Strike” was more…deflated. I can’t really use the words to describe my feelings in this space since MLB wisely has profanity filters for blog postings. Let’s just say I’ve seen enough of A-Rod killing the Twins over the past two season to hurl wallpaper-curling profanities in several directions at once for about, oh, two months.
Speaking of A-Rod’s grand slam: I don’t blame the Twins for walking Mark Teixeira, because Teixeira has raked versus left-handed pitching so far this year. I don’t even blame them for bringing in a right-handed pitcher to face Alex Rodriguez, because he hasn’t hit them quite as well as he has southpaws. But Matt Guerrier? Are you kidding me? Guerrier is a reliable relief pitcher, but A-Rod was 4-for-7 against him in his career. All four of those hits were for extra bases, but three of them were home runs. When he fouled off an inside fastball, anyone with any sense of the desires of the baseball gods could tell what was coming. He destroyed the next pitch, another fastball that Guerrier decided needed to catch even more of the plate than pitch number one.
So the anger at Gardenhire is misguided. Not that you shouldn’t
be angry at Gardenhire; you’re just angry for the wrong reason. You’re one
plate appearance late. See, just before A-Rod came up, the Yankees had runners
on second and third with one out and Mark Teixeira at the plate. Gardenhire
chose to have Duensing walk Teixeira intentionally.
This is…well, idiotic. Obviously Teixeira is a very good
hitter, maybe as good as A-Rod is right now (and no, I don’t care at all that
he’s hitting .209 through his first 35 games). Nonetheless, bringing Guerrier
in to face Tex (who is a slightly better hitter right-handed than left) would
have been a hugely better move than walking him to face
A-Rod. Guerrier has good but not great control, and doesn’t have overpowering
stuff (average fastball is about 91 MPH, and about 90 this season). You might
not like your chances much facing an elite hitter with two on and one out…but
facing an elite hitter with the bases loaded and one out, in a one-run game? You’re
putting Guerrier in a situation in which he has to throw Rodriguez straight,
90-mile-an-hour fastballs, right down the middle of the plate. Which is what he
did, twice, and A-Rod didn’t miss the second one.
Look, it’s not a good situation. If you’ve got two runners in
scoring position with one out and Tex and A-Rod coming up, odds are very good you’re going to lose your one-run
lead. But there are ways to give yourself the best chance of hanging on to that lead, and
Gardenhire did pretty much the opposite of that.
Just don’t blame him for using Guerrier. Blame him for giving
Guerrier almost no chance to succeed.
Gardenhire removed Baker and brought in lefty Brian Duensing, who induced a harmless flyout from Brett Gardner.
Gardenhire ordered Duensing to intentionally walk Mark Teixeira, then summoned Guerrier to face Rodriguez.
There were two statistical warnings against doing so:
• Rodriguez, in his career, was 4-for-6 with three homers, a double and a walk against Guerrier. It’s hard to hit that well in batting practice or tee ball, much less against a quality big-league reliever.
• According to Stats Inc., Rodriguez was 3-for-3 with a walk, a sacrifice fly, a home run and 10 RBI in five plate appearances after Teixeira was intentionally walked ahead of him.
This is all quite the contrast to Twins broadcasters Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven, who today, in the bottom of the first, before A-Rod drove in the first run for the Yankees, offered the following defense of Gardenhire’s decision: Loading the bases was gave the Twins the best chance to get two outs–via the double play–and get out of the inning, and Guerrier is the Twins’ best right-handed reliever.
I’m still in a “Damn Yankees” funk not really wishing to determine what, if anything, to pin the actual blame on, though I think Major League managers tend to hand out the intentional passes a bit too much. However, the previous clause is in no way intended to give Gardenhire a free pass for handing A-Rod lunch on a platter. Perhaps it is time to suggest that you should probably use your “stopper” in the pen at the point in the game when the other team needs stopping most, instead of only in ninth, but “accepted patterns” of bullpen use frown on that sort of thinking. That, however, is subject matter for another post, one concerning reliever usage and rise of the one-inning save.