Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Johan Alexander's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad First Inning

Twins 8, Mariners 4

It started out like one of those days when you stub your toe on the bedpost, there is no hot water in the shower, somebody put an empty milk carton back in the fridge and ate the last muffin, your newspaper is missing, the car won't start, and you wonder why you even got out of bed. Games aren't supposed to begin like that when Johan is pitching. He is blessed. His favorite greeting is "Happy Birthday," because every day is like a birthday when you are Johan Santana, and he is the gift to our world. He doesn't have a bad day, not these days, does he?

Maybe it was Ichiro's doing. Ichiro has a special magic of his own, being the only player in baseball who can change a game with a 20-foot squib-groundball up the 3rd base line. That's all he did to kick off the game, yet even Johan was powerless to stop him from teleporting to 1st base. The next thing he knew, he had walked the rookie Jeremy Reed on a close 3-2 pitch at the knees, and up came Adrian Beltre. Beltre drove a hard liner to Centerfield which probably should have been a single, but perhaps could have been an out if Torii Hunter had been playing in straight CF or shading into the LF gap. With a righty pull-hitter at the plate, facing a lefty who is known for his change-ups, shouldn't he be in straight CF or probably the LF gap? Yet, inexplicably, Torii was shading way over into the RF gap like he expected Beltre to go the opposite way. Does Ichiro also have the power to cloud men's minds? Baffling. Because Torii was out of position, he could only collect the carom off the wall as Beltre coasted into 2nd base with a double. Presto: 2 runs in, a man on 2nd, no outs, and even Johan may have wondered to himself whether it was too late to draw the curtains and climb back under the covers.

Up came Richie Sexson, the bogeyman in Brad Radke's dreams Monday night, and the nightmare inning only got worse for Johan when Sexson banged a pitch off the LF wall to drive in Beltre. 3-0, and still no outs. They're killing Superman, and what can you do? Who do you turn to, if not him? He retired Bret Boone on a groundball to 1st base, but Raul Ibanez knocked a single to RF that scored Sexson for the fourth run of the inning. Johan then had Ibanez picked off, but the sneak made a dash for 2nd base, Morneau's throw was in the dirt, and Ibanez was standing safely in scoring position. That just ain't right. A bad day was turning into an embarrassing fiasco; and, like I said the other night, I hate to see either team embarrassed in these matchups.

Leave it to Cuddy Bear, though, to dispel the bad dream and bring comfort to Johan. It is what cuddy bears do best, isn't it? Randy Winn threatened to knock Johan out of the game with a hard smash down the 3rd base line, but Micheal Cuddyer dove to his right and popped up like Brooksie with a skip-throw across the diamond that just nipped Winn at the bag. A brilliant Web Gem. Johan followed by striking out Miguel Olivo, the nightmare was over, and order was restored to Johan's World.

The Twins offense needed awhile longer to respond to Johan's call for aid, because Gil Meche was dealing for the first 4 innings. For those who may not be familiar with Meche, he is sort of the M's own Kyle Lohse. A talented enigma, all the stuff in the world but he can't put it together for a full season. One can count on Gil Meche to be brilliant for about half the season each year, but the other half he's hurt, out of gas, can't find the plate, and/or just serving more meatballs than Trattoria Mitchelli. For four innings last night, he was brilliant. Then he started the 5th inning by giving up singles to Ford, Cuddyer, and even Luis Rivas (who had a good game, I must say). Bases loaded, up comes Shannon Stewart, the man many Twins fans believe to be the team MVP or most indispensable bat in the lineup. Stewie chopped a beautiful double-play ball to the Shortstop. Groan... except the man busted ass to get up the line, and he beat Boone's relay throw to 1st. One run in, and then Jason Bartlett continued his good start on the season by driving in another run with a single up the middle. 4-2, Seattle. One out, runners on 1st and 2nd. Up comes the Chairman, Joe Mauer.

This is where M's manager Mike Hargrove thought he'd get clever. Although the M's had the lead and his starting pitcher had yet to finish the 5 innings needed to qualify for his 'W,' he thought he'd go to a lefthander to wipe out Mauer and Morneau, and possibly Jones if needed, and nip the Twins comeback rally in the bud. A sound idea; until the M&M Boys prove they can handle lefty pitching, every manager in the league will be throwing waves of lefties at them. It's solid textbook thinking. Perhaps Grover's mistake, however, was sticking too close to textbook orthodoxy, which told him that the 5th inning was too early for his best lefty setup man. Instead, the situation called for his lefty "middle reliever." As of last night, that role was filled by Matt Thornton.

As Thornton warmed up, Capt. Bess asked me, "Who's he? Should I know him?"

I replied, "He belongs in AAA. And, no."

To be fair to Thornton, though: he has some zip on his ball, and he didn't really screw up with the M&M Boys. Joe Mauer just won their battle with classic Twins Baseball. On a 3-1 count, Stewart and Bartlett took off running, the M's Shortstop Wilson Valdez (no, I never heard of him before, either) moved over to cover 2nd base, and Joe Mauer knocked the pitch perfectly through the hole on the left side, right where the SS would have been. Stewart scored, Bartlett rounded to 3rd. The baseball gods must have smiled at such beautifully executed fundamentals, for then the runs came raining down like gifts from heaven.

Next came Morneau, and Thornton took him to a 2-2 count and got Morneau to start after the next pitch, high and outside. Morneau checked his swing but got enough of the ball to send a high flare out to LF. Ibanez was shading deep and into the gap, however, and the ball fell just beyond his diving reach. Yes--gifts from heaven, I said. Bartlett scored, Mauer moved to 2nd base. Then Hunter rapped a 1-1 pitch back up the middle, Al Newman risked The Franchise by waving Mauer home, and the Twins had a 5-4 lead even though Morneau was thrown out sliding awkwardly into 3rd.

I guess Hargrove thought he could extend Thornton's outing to one more batter; no doubt he knows like most of us that Jones generally morphs into Luis Rivas when faced with a lefthanded pitcher. Throw up & in, mixed with some sliders low & away, and he'll be hacking at air. Thornton started him with a called strike, then tried to throw a slider low & away. But he got all of the plate, and I mean all of it. Jones was sitting on the pitch, and he crushed it deep into the RF seats. Ballgame.

That's all Johan and the bullpen would need to take a win back to the hotel. Santana pitched a 1-2-3 5th inning, and the bullpen allowed only 2 hits in 4 scoreless frames. J.C. Romero looked very sharp in his 1.2 IP, I felt encouraged to see. The Twins capped the scoring in the 7th when Morneau singled off Shigetoshi Hasegawa, advanced to 2nd on a groundout, and came home on a Jones single up the middle.

It didn't turn out to be such a bad day for Johan and the Twins after all, did it? Cy Young held the line after that crazy 1st inning, the offense ignited and took the lead thanks to perfect execution of good ol' fundamentals, and the bullpen brilliantly delivered the happy ending to the evening. The series is tied at 1-1, the Twins are out of the Central Cellar (Hellooooo, Cleveland!), and we have more baseball on TV early this evening. Happy Birthday to everybody in Twins Territory!

And Happy Birthday to you too, Bert.


At 4/08/2005 1:50 AM, Blogger Leslie Monteiro said...

This was a big win. I sure as heck didn't want the Twins go 0-2. Sooner the team wins a first game, the better because you don't want the first win to become a monkey in the back. Twins got a tough schedule this month so you don't want to let the losses fester. It was good to get that win today.

I had to admit that I expected the Twins to lose after a 4-run first. It did not look good especially with the way Gil Meche was throwing strikes the way Bugs Bunny was striking out everyone with that pitch of his. Fortunately, the Twins started to hit Gil Meche hard in the fifth as he just suddenly lost it. He was out of the strike zone and then M's manager Mike Hargrove wanted to keep that lead so he took Meche out. Unfortunately for Hargrove, the reliever Mike Thornton was horrible to say the least. He was out of the strike zone and he was getting hit hard.

It was nice to see the Twins get that seven hits with all singles. It was great to see every batter hit singles as everyone scored. Jacques's two-run HR was the exclaimation mark of that inning.

It was nice to see Jason Bartlett play well tonight. He had two hits tonight.

How about Luis Rivas? What has gotten to him! He has had a good series. Got two hits tonight and Luis's hit set the tone in that fifth inning.

It was good to see every Twin get a hit out there tonight.

Johan stunk in the first inning. He was not throwing strikes and he was nowhere near close to the strike zone. To Johan's credit, he buckled down and he was fantastic the rest of the way. What a special pitcher he is. I really liked how he was dominating out there. He was dealing right after that and it was nice to see him rewarded with that fifth inning explosion on offense.

The relievers did well. I was very happy to see J.C. do good out there. This might be as good as it gets with him. Jesse gets an incomplete. I had no clue why Gardenhire took Jesse out after he hit Boone by a pitch. What the hell was that? That was inexcusable. I wanted to see Jesse work that inning and get some experience. That really bugged me. Jesse needs to learn in this situation.

Good to see Juan did okay.

Joe was his awesome self. It's a good thing he struck out the last batter to end the game since I wanted no part of him facing Ichiro.

This was a very good win. To be 1-1 is better than 0-2.


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