One Swing Of The Bat

ThomeClincher.jpgWhen your favorite baseball team is done playing for the year, there are many conflicting emotions/memories that accompany that harsh finality.  I will get to that tomorrow, when my head is a little clearer and I’m not so disappointed.  Tonight, I would just like to talk about game #163:

In the early innings, it became clear that barring a bullpen collapse, this would be a pitcher’s duel right down to the end.  While Blackburn dominated the Sox, the Twins could only eek out a few walks against John Danks, and those walks never amounted to any sort of threat.  Perhaps an early turning point in the game occurred when, after Denard Span drew a leadoff walk in the top of the first, Alexi Casilla could not get down a sacrifice bunt and ended up hitting into a line-drive double play because of that failure (the hit-and-run was on).

The next seminal moment came in the top of the fifth, when Michael Cuddyer doubled and moved over to third on a sacrifice fly.  Brendan Harris then lifted a pop to short centerfield, and Cuddyer tagged up, only to be gunned down at the plate by Ken Griffey Jr’s throw and A.J. Pierzynski holding on to the ball after a collision.  To be honest, I don’t think I would have sent Cuddy in that situation.  I attended all three Chicago-Twins contests at the Dome last week, and about the ONLY thing that impressed me about the Sox during that time was the arm strength of Griffey.  He may have lost a step or two range-wise, but he still has a gun.  Add to that the fact that Cuddyer isn’t the fleetest of foot, and only a single would have been needed (Punto was on deck) to score him, and I would have given him the stop sign.  However, I do not fault the Twins a whole lot for taking the risk, as they play an aggressive game of baseball tailored to press the defense.  It took a good throw and good catch to make the play, and the Sox turned in both.

From that point, the Twins’ bats were completely shut down by John Danks.  I would like to tip my hat to Danks, as he pitched remarkably on three-days rest and after the Twins had hammered him all season long to that point.  Nick Blackburn also pitched the game of his life, and I want to make sure to give him his due.  With Blackburn during the season, it was either feast (ground balls off sinker) or famine (flat pitches = home runs/gappers).  Tonight, Blackburn was “on” to nearly every batter.  What ended up getting him, though, was exactly what the White Sox use to win games…the long ball.  Only so many times (I don’t care if you’re Nick Blackburn or Johan Santana) can a pitcher go through the Dye-Thome-Konerko-Griffey gauntlet successfully.  So, in the seventh inning tonight, Blackburn got tagged by Thome, which proved to be the margin of victory.

The tail-end of the contest saw good pitching by the Twins (from Jose Mijares and Joe Nathan out of the pen), but still silent bats.  It amazes me how one week earlier Bobby Jenks (CHW closer) couldn’t get any outs against us, but tonight he can completely shut us down.

Overall, tonight’s contest was a taut, well-fought game that the Twins can come out of with their heads held high.  We held the most powerful lineup in baseball to one run (and hardly any threats), but were just shut down by masterful pitching.  So many times during the season I have commented that you can sometimes tell that the Twins are going to go down meekly, but I honestly didn’t feel that way tonight…Danks was just on his game.

Notes:

-I am going to comment on this further in later posts, but the Twins really missed the bat of Justin Morneau the last few weeks.  Yes, he’s been in the lineup every day, but he has been completely ineffective (as much as it pains me to say that).  In the local papers over the past month, I have read again and again how Morneau was getting worn down by playing every game of the season, and perhaps that just caught up to him.  It’s a touchy situation (resting Justin), as he is the anchor of the lineup.  But, this could just be a learning experience for Gardy, that next year at this time Morneau may NEED a little rest in order to remain effective.  Over the past season, Morneau had hammered (7-9 I believe) John Danks, but tonight he looked absolutely overmatched.

-Finally, I would like to congratulate Jim Thome on his exciting moment.  Over the last few years, I have generally not liked the many complainers/whiners/jerks/ that the White Sox have featured.  However, I have all the respect in the world for Jim Thome.  Just by watching his post-game interviews I can tell that he is a good man, good teammate, and just a good figure to root for.  When I look back on the 1990s and 2000s, I considered Thome to be one of the best (factoring in steroids) power hitters of the era, right next to Manny Ramirez.

After a night of sleep, I will be back tomorrow with a more over-arching view of the 2008 Minnesota Twins season, as well as a preview of the two ALDS contests.

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