April 8, 2009

Man, I missed this

That's what baseball is all about, everyone. When a team can come from anywhere to surprise you at any given moment. Last night, the game looked as if it were out of reach for the Twins. They weren't hitting particularly well and the bullpen gave up yet another run. But all of the Mariner's momentum turned south and so did Brandon Morrow's command.

The Twins rallied off of Morrow and Miguel Batista with two outs in the 9th inning to win their first game of the season. Despite looking better offensively then they did on Monday, the Mariners outplayed the Twins through 8 1/2 innings last night. But the team came alive when it mattered most to pick up the win.

On The Mound

Nick Blackburn got the start and didn't look anything like the Blackburn we were accustomed to seeing in 2008. He usually shows great command of the strike zone, but yesterday he was shaky from the beginning and ultimately issued three walks through his five innings pitched. He did throw 66% of his pitches for strikes, but he looked very loose at times.

One thing that looked the same from last year is Blackburn's susceptibility of giving up hits. Last year, opponents hit .292 against him which shouldn't surprise people when Blackburn gave up eight hits last night. Last year, Blackburn also walked left-handed hitters at a much higher rate than he did right-handed hitters. Last night, two of Blackburn's walks were issued to a left-handed hitters, coincidentally both were issued to Ken Griffey Jr. who (in defense) has always had exceptional plate discipline.

Blackburn failed to reach the sixth inning, which he did 9 out of 33 starts last year. Hopefully his lack of command had more to do with jitters than any ill-effects from a lingering sore left knee (following knee surgery in the off-season) that Blackburn dealt with in Spring Training.

After Blackburn left, Philip Humber took the mound and showed a lot of movement on his pitches (fastball in particular which touched 94 MPH). The Blackburn-Jose Morales battery team gave up a stolen base to Yunieski Betancourt which shows that the Mariners did their scouting reports on the two from Spring Training. Humber escaped the inning while surrendering just the one hit while striking out another.

Matt Guerrier threw two perfect innings of relief while needing only 17 pitches to work through six batters.

Luis Ayala came on in the ninth, and after an impressive Twins debut the night before, he ran into problems last night giving up two hits and a run to give the Mariners a 5-3 lead as we headed into the bottom of the 9th. The good thing that Ayala showed was he continued to hammer the strike zone throwing 12 of his 15 pitches over the plate. He was also the winning pitcher, the first winner on the Twins pitching staff.

At The Plate

The Twins (like the night before) looked over matched at the plate for the most part. Mariners starter Erik Bedard despite only pitching five innings was making short work of the Twins until he ran into problems in both the fourth and fifth innings. In the fourth, Michael Cuddyer and Joe Crede were both in scoring position after a single and a double. Then in the fifth, Bedard gave up three runs on a single by Denard Span and another base hit by Cuddyer.

After Bedard left, the Mariners bullpen made the Twins offense look like Minor Leaguers at the plate, throwing three perfect inning to set up a (should be) Mariners victory. But after Morrow came in and retired Crede and Delmon Young, he issued three straight walks before the Mariners pulled the plug on him and brought in Batista to control the damage to a minimum. Fortunately for the Twins, it didn't matter who was on the mound, the hitters were locked in. Denard Span hit a high bouncer to third base which left Adrian Beltre with no play, scoring Carlos Gomez. With the bases still loaded, Alexi Casilla took a first pitch fastball to center field which scored both Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher.

The three hitters that drew walks deserve all the credit in the world. Who would have thought that Gomez was capable of fighting for a walk? Kubel didn't have to take the bat off of his shoulders as Morrow missed pretty badly, but it's great to see Kubel take pitches. Buscher also had a great at bat. Morrow really looked scared to go inside to either of the left-handed hitters he faced. Maybe the Twins will continue to use this to their advantage if they have to face him later in the series?

Four hitters were hitless including Justin Morneau and Young who also combined to leave five men on base. Both of the runners left on base for Young were in scoring position.

It was a thrill and being that it was only the second game of the season, it made it all the better.