Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Last night's game just goes to show why you can't turn your back on the Twins, even when the team is in 4th place in mid-June, and management has been kafumbly in the dark for the last couple years and still drives you crazy by talking up the imminent return of Ruben Sierra as if he weren't 40 years old and a broken shadow even of the spectre who rose from the baseball graveyard 5 years ago.

When you see two aces matched on the marquee, you always hope to see something like last night's game, but how many times does the match-up fail to deliver the goods? But, just often enough, the game gives you a cookie to keep you coming back to the store. Last night, we got the whole dessert cart.

Johan Santana had a total mastery of his pitches. The change-up dropped under the Boston bats as sharply as I've ever seen him throw it. Some Red Sox players, especially Kevin Youkilis, were visibly angry at their inability to hit, or possibly even see, the pitch. In 8 innings, Santana finished with 13 strikeouts to no walks, giving up 5 hits and a single run on Jason Varitek's home run to Left-Center in the 7th. He finished his part of the evening by deftly snagging a comebacker up the middle hit by Coco Crisp, and firing a strike over 2nd base to start a double play.

Curt Schilling did his part, as well. He matched his counterpart with 8 innings, striking out 5, giving up 6 hits and a walk, and allowing just a run on Michael Cuddyer's solo shot to answer Varitek in the bottom of the 7th. Rookie hype Jonathan Papelbon lowered his ERA to 0.28 with 2 scoreless innings, too.

The Red Sox took the lead in the top of the 12th by scoring a run off Jesse Crain, but, in the end, the Twins won with Cuddyer getting drilled by a Julian Taverez cut-fastball that got away from him, a Justin Morneau ground-rule double that
just escaped over the wall and held Cuddyer to 3rd base, an intentional walk to Torii Hunter, and then Justin Kubel's high fly to Rightfield that looked like a warning-track fly but kept carrying just beyond the Baggie. That's a game that not only paid immediate rewards to those dedicated Twins fans who came to the park or tuned in for the whole 12 innings, but it also gives a reason to feel hopeful about the club's future.

Johan Santana is still the best pitcher in the league, and still signed for at least two more seasons. Michael Cuddyer is finally enjoying his breakout season at age 27, batting .272/.363/.549, and should be an affordable asset to the Twins for at least the next few years. Justin Morneau has been showing better judgment at the plate lately, now hitting .263/.321/.507 and on pace to hit 38 HR with 127 RBI. Joe Mauer, of course, is the best Catcher in the league, behind the plate and at bat. At age 23, he's hitting .381/.443/.530. And last night's hero, the rookie Jason Kubel, has been settling into a groove lately. Since he's been part of the regular lineup, dating to May 29, Kubel has hit .353/.365/.569 with 3 HR and 11 RBI in 13 games (12 starts). The nucleus is here, beating the Red Sox in grand style last night, and of course I haven't even mentioned Francisco Liriano--but only because he didn't play a part in the victory of the moment.

To make matters even better, the only expensive commitments on the club books for next season are Santana's $13 million and closer Joe Nathan's $5.25 million. Terry Ryan can buy out Torii Hunter's option for $2 million, he can buy out Rondell White for $750K, he can buy out Carols Silva's option for $100K, and he can buy out Luis "The Gimp" Castillo for $500K as long as he doesn't reach an unspecified threshold of plate appearances. With luck, he may get to trade Castillo in July and be rid of the problem. If the GM plays his cards right, he will have an opportunity to build a fresh, stronger cast of players to compliment the young stars already under club control.

Considering how Terry Ryan has played his hands the last couple years, I'm not giddy with unbridled optimism about what lays in store for the club. But when I see the Twins nucleus play a game like the one last night, a game I stayed up two hours past my bedtime to watch on tape until the end because I was too excited to go to sleep, I can't help but feel like letting bygones be, even if only for a little while.


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