Mackey: When Twins need a win, Javier Vazquez is happy to oblige
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Without Jason Kubel, who now has three home runs and nine RBI in the Twins' only two wins over the Yankees, it's possible the hometown boys would be 0-6 against the Bombers this season.
And while Kubel certainly deserves the spotlight after his epic performances, let's not overlook an important factor:
The Yankees may own the Twins, but when the Twins need a win historically, Javier Vazquez -- like Favre kneeling before Strahan -- is generally happy to oblige.
Vazquez, who by and large is one of the more underrated pitchers of the last 10 years, allowed five earned runs on eight hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings on Thursday night, as the Twins cruised to a 8-2 win, saving face in an otherwise frustrating series.
Albeit Justin Morneau was the only Twins hitter with eye-popping career numbers off Vazquez (14-for-40 with six home runs heading into Thursday), the mere sight of this crooked-number-prone right-hander in the bullpen pre-game should have been enough to signify a turning of the tide.
In fact, Vazquez, who has a 5.11 career ERA in 16 starts against Minnesota, is a mainstay on the Twins' Christmas card list every year, thanks to these uplifting performances:
Tuesday, September 23, 2008: The Twins trailed the White Sox by 2.5 games heading into the final week of the season. With the Sox coming to the Metrodome for a three-game showdown, the Twins needed at least two wins, and more than likely a sweep if they wanted to win the division.
Enter Vazquez, who allowed a two-run homer to Kubel in the second inning, before completely melting down in a fourth inning that included a triple by Kubel, a double by Delmon Young, a bunt single by Nick Punto, a bloop single by Carlos Gomez, two stolen bases, and three runs in total, giving the Twins a 5-1 lead.
Vazquez left the game after four innings, allowing five earned runs on seven hits and a walk. The Twins went on to win 9-3, then also went on to complete the sweep, taking a .5-game lead in the division. Of course, the White Sox eventually knocked off the Twins 1-0 in game 163, but Vazquez did his best to keep the Twins' hopes alive.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004: The Twins built a six-game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central during early August, but lost eight out of 10 games from August 5 through August 14 to see the lead shaved down to one.
With a three-game home series against the Yankees on the horizon -- and remember, the Yankees won 101 games in 2004 -- it looked like the Twins were in danger of falling out of first place for the first time in three weeks.
Enter Vazquez, who got shelled for six earned runs, nine hits, and two walks in 6 2/3 innings, as the Twins rolled to a 8-2 victory. They went on to take two out of three from the Yankees in the series, and eventually bloated their AL Central lead up to 13.5 games after winning 21 of their next 28 games.
Sunday, October 1, 2006: The Twins made a frantic comeback during the second half of the season, and they were tied with the Tigers for first place in the division heading into the final weekend of the season -- a three-game home series against the White Sox.
The Twins lost the first two games of the series, but luckily for them, Detroit dropped two to the Kansas City Royals, leaving the two teams tied for first place with one game remaining in the regular season.
Enter Vazquez, who graciously served up an RBI double to Morneau in the bottom of the fourth inning, followed by a two-run bomb to Torii Hunter, giving the Twins a 3-1 lead they would not relinquish. Vazquez left the game after 4 2/3 innings, allowing four earned runs on 93 pitches.
The Tigers, of course, would lose to the Royals, allowing the Twins to strap on the goggles and spray champagne.
It remains to be seen if the Twins spray any champagne in 2010. But they'll have to do it without the help of Vazquez going forward, as Thursday night's victory marked the final game against the Yankees.