June 29, 2009

Twins can't stay over .500

The Twins came in the game at 39-38, and it seems as though nobody can remember the last time they were two games over .500. As La Velle E. Neal III said, this was a big game and furthermore a big series for the Twins who are wrapping up a - what will hopefully be - successful road trip.

Coming into the game, Twins starter Nick Blackburn had thrown at least seven innings in 10 of his 15 starts. And even more impressively, he was going for his third-straight complete game. But unfortunately, things didn't go necessarily as planned and Blackburn struggled through six innings while giving up ten hits and three runs although only two were earned. Despite throwing 65% of his 103 pitches over the plate for strikes, he struggled with his command and was all over the zone, leaving pitches up and making himself even more hittable than he already is. Thankfully, the Royals' putrid offense only took limited advantage against him because if Blackburn was facing an even league-average lineup (such as the division leading Detroit Tigers), they probably would have done a lot more damage.

Regardless if Blackburn threw great, the offense was of no help. Royals starter Luke Hochevar walked the lead-off man Denard Span in the first inning and struggled with walks throughout the start. Unfortunately, like in the first inning with Span - where Brendan Harris failed to bunt him over, instead bunting the ball back to Hochevar making it an easy play to throw out Span at second - the Twins never capitalized on Hochevar's mistakes and only got two hits off of the 2006 first overall draft pick. Hochevar blanked the Twins through seven innings, giving up only two hits and four walks while striking out two.

The Twins' offense finally got going a bit in the eighth inning. Span reached on a bunt single (which should please Aaron Gleeman) with Harris following him up with a single of his own. With good 'ole reliable Joe Mauer coming up to bat, Twins fans started getting on their feet, despite being down by four runs. Mauer then shocked everyone by beating the first ball he sees into the ground, grounding into his sixth double play of the season and his third in the last eight games. He finished the game 0-4.

With Span advancing to third base, my first thought was that the Royals would walk Justin Morneau and take their chances with Jason Kubel. Kubel was involved earlier in the game with a bad call by the home plate umpire which lead to manager Ron Gardenhire's third ejection of the season. The umpire called Kubel out after not running to first base when he believed a ball hit off of the plate (or in the dirt, whichever). Kubel, Gardenhire and all of us watching the replays saw the ball hit off of his foot, which should have lead to a foul ball. Gardenhire and Kubel's protest were to no avail and while Gardenhire was thrown out of the game, Kubel was out on a ground ball to first base. Fearing Kubel's revenge, Morneau made the Royals pay for not walking him by working the count and eventually pulling a 71 mph slider into the Royals bullpen for his 18th home run of the season.

But that was all the offense the Twins could get before Royals closer Joakim Soria closed the door on the Twins for good to pick up his 10th save of the season.

Tonight, the Twins will try to even-out the series with Scott Baker (5-6, 5.17) facing fellow right-hander Brian Bannister (5-5, 4.17). Hopefully the Twins can stay on the north side of .500 ball.

Game Ball #78

June 29, 2009 vs. Kansas City Royals
Justin Morneau - First Base
Line: 1-3, 2-run home run, walk