Wetmore: 5 thoughts, a dramatic walk-off tapper with unsung heroes
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MINNEAPOLIS - The Twins won with an unusual ninth-inning rally they probably couldn't have scripted. But that's what makes baseball exciting. Phil Hughes was strong through seven innings and once again did not walk a batter, as the Twins beat the Rangers, 4-3.
Tuesday's was a game for which 5 thoughts simply is not enough. Several important or interesting angles will be left out but I tried to give a unique twist to recap a game that deserved it.
This column presents 5 thoughts from Tuesday's game.
As always, feel free to ask any questions or make any observations in the comments. If you have a unique baseball observation during a game, feel free to share it with me on Twitter (@DerekWetmore).
1. Trevor Plouffe recovered nicely to make a fine fielding play on a bunt attempt in the second inning. With runners on first and second, Plouffe initially charged in to field Leonys Martin's sacrifice bunt. For a moment, it appeared Phil Hughes would have a chance to field the bunt, and so Plouffe took a step and a half toward third base, anticipating a potential play there to nab the lead runner.
But Plouffe realized Hughes wasn't going to make the play, so Plouffe quickly changed directions, charged in, fielded the ball and threw on the run to get Martin at first base. The runners moved up and both eventually scored. Still, Plouffe's play caught my attention because it seemed to require good anticipation and athleticism to record the out.
2. One batter later, Aaron Hicks made a fantastic catch to rob a three-run home run from Donnie Murphy. Hicks has robbed home runs in the big leagues before (Adam Dunn, Carlos Gomez). This one was interesting because of the position he was in as he reached the wall. Hicks ran a strange route to get to the ball, and when he leapt he needed to extend his arm and reach back over his head. Bad route or not, his concentration in that moment was wonderful.
I'm curious what readers think. Is that the best catch of his career to date? Go back and watch the Dunn robbery or the catch to take a home run away from Gomez. Let me know what you think.
3. Joe Mauer hit an RBI double to right field in the third inning on the first pitch from his former battery mate Scott Baker. Teams routinely have shifted the right fielder toward center this season with Mauer at the plate, sometimes to an exaggerated degree. When he gets inside fastballs in these situations, in theory he should be able to open his hips, get his hands through the hitting zone quickly and pull the ball to right. That's easier to type than it is to execute, I know. Plus, that doesn't seem to be Mauer's approach. This is an amateur observation but it appears to me that Mauer is rigid and disciplined in his approach to stay inside the ball and hit line drives to the left side. (To be clear, I'm not praising or criticizing, merely observing.)
He got his hands through on the first pitch from Baker, who saw Mauer's tendency to take the first pitch for years.
4. Miscommunication on a ball that should have been caught led to a Rangers run in the sixth. Mitch Moreland led off the inning with a popup between shortstop and left field. Eduardo Escobar, retreating, seemed to have a beat on it. Left fielder Chris Parmelee also seemed to be tracking the flight of the ball.
The two players converged and each pulled away at the last moment, as the ball dropped and they bumped into each other. It's unclear who was to blame, but it would be surprising if Escobar pulled away without hearing an outfielder call him off.
Traditionally, an outfielder has the right of way and is taught to take command of the play and catch it if at all possible because running backward makes it a difficult play for an infielder.
Adrian Beltre singled and was erased with a double play, but Chris Gimenez drove in the run that never should have been on the bases. That was the final run Texas pushed across, and the Twins took Hughes off the hook for the loss with a two-run, game-winning rally in the ninth inning. Closer Glen Perkins earned the win.
5. Some good timely hitting and good fortune went into the Twins' ninth-inning rally. That half inning perhaps warrants a 5 thoughts column of its own, but I'll highlight some key takeaways.
a) Oswaldo Arcia doubled high off the wall in right-center, narrowly missing his second home run of the game. (He drilled a solo shot in the second inning off Baker.)
b) Josh Willingham struck out when he tried to check his swing.
c) Eduardo Nunez came through with the critical hit, when he laced a single to right field. Arcia rounded third base and headed for home as the tying run. Nunez, knowing Arcia is not the fastest runner, rounded first to attempt to draw the throw. Right fielder Alex Rios didn't bite; his objective was to prevent the tying run from scoring, and retiring Nunez on the base paths wouldn't accomplish that. (By the time Texas could tag out Nunez, Arcia surely would have scored. He's not that slow.) The throw to the plate was not in time to get Arcia, and a return throw to second base couldn't catch Nunez, either.
d) Kurt Suzuki then hit a soft ground ball to third baseman Adrian Beltre. Nunez headed for third, expecting a throw across the diamond to try to get Suzuki at first and end the inning. Nunez said he anticipated the throw and knew if Beltre threw to first, it would be worth rounding third base, just in case of an overthrow or some other misplay at first. Only Beltre never threw the ball. He focused on Nunez instead, and Nunez appeared to go well out of the baseline to avoid a tag. Third-base umpire Mike DiMuro ruled that Nunez was safe, since Beltre did not attempt to tag Nunez.
"If he would have stuck his glove out to try to make an attempt, we have a different play," crew chief Jerry Layne said after the game.
Perhaps Nunez's wide angle allowed him to evade Beltre. If Beltre made the throw to first to force out Suzuki, the game would have remained tied and gone into extras. As it was....
e) ...Kurt Suzuki took second base on a defensive indifference with Eduardo Escobar at the plate. Then Escobar was intentionally walked for the first time in his Major League career.
f) That set up rookie Danny Santana's heroics, a term I hesitate to use, given the circumstances. Santana hit a bases-loaded tapper back to pitcher Joakim Soria, who had to come off the mound to his right (third base side) to field the ball. Santana raced down the line as Nunez streaked for the plate. If an out was recorded at any base, the game would go into extra innings. Whether it was Santana's speed or something else that forced Soria's hand, he bobbled the ball and the runners all were safe. The Twins won. An extra-dramatic finish to a game that is sure to have a few unsung heroes.