Twins beat Rays 2-1 in 13 innings despite tempting fate more than once
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That was a big win.
After dropping the first two games of this four-game series, the Minnesota Twins managed to grind out a 2-1 victory in 13 innings over the Rays on Wednesday night, courtesy of an RBI single by none other than Delmon Young.
Scott Baker has struggled mightily this season, but he turned in a masterpiece -- eight innings, zero runs, three hits, a walk and seven strikeouts. Baker's counterpart, David Price, allowed only one run in seven innings.
Baker has now out-dueled Price twice this season. The other match-up took place on July 2 at Target Field. The Twins also won that game 2-1, and Baker allowed one run over seven innings, striking out eight and walking nobody. Price went eight innings and allowed two runs in that game.
There is a 'but' here, however.
Despite the big win, the Twins (60-48) are finding out why the Rays (67-40) sit nearly 30 games over .500. They have awesome pitching, they play better defense than any team in the American League, and they have a diverse lineup.
For the Twins to beat the Rays on a semi-regular basis -- or at least to have a chance at beating them in, let's say, a seven-game series -- they can't throw away chances and ignore nuances.
Take the ninth inning for example. J.J. Hardy rips a two-out double with the Twins protecting a 1-0 lead. Drew Butera -- now hitting .202/.236/.333 on the season -- grounded out to second to end the inning with Jim Thome, Jason Kubel and Jose Morales all still sitting on the bench. Sure, Butera is hitting .308/.357/.577 over his last eight games, but letting an opportunity pass with a runner in scoring position and either Thome or Kubel presumably healthy and available is tough to do (unless manager Ron Gardenhire simply doesn't trust Morales to catch for even an inning or two).
Then, in the bottom half of the ninth, Evan Longoria led off with a fly ball to left field off closer Matt Capps that bounced in front of a sliding Young, who inadvertently kicked the ball toward center field, allowing Longoria to stretch it into a double. Longoria would later score to tie the game. This was a catchable ball, and Gardenhire acknowledged that in his post-game press conference.
It's a ball Tampa's outfielders catch regularly and Twins outfielders catch only periodically.
Young would later redeem himself with his go-ahead RBI single in the 13th. And Morales did eventually pinch hit for Butera with Hardy on second base in the top of the 12th inning. But two batters after Morales grounded out, Denard Span popped up a bunt with two outs and a runner on third in what will be known as the underwhelming sequel to Joe Mauer's bunt a few weeks back.
Are we being nitpicky here following a big win? Absolutely.
Call it tough love.
But ultimately the Twins will be judged by how they perform against the Yankees and Rays in a playoff series. And missing out on even the slightest of edges can, and will, cost the Twins against elite teams.
It didn't on this night.