MINNESOTA 5, CLEVELAND 3 IN CLEVELAND
Date: Friday, July 12.
Batting stars: Nelson Cruz was 1-for-4 with a home run (his seventeenth) and a walk. Mitch Garver was 1-for-4 with a home run, his fourteenth.
Pitching stars: Trevor May retired all four men he faced, striking out two. Zack Littell pitched a scoreless inning, giving up a hit and a walk and striking out one. Ryne Harper pitched a perfect inning and struck out one. Taylor Rogers struck out three in two shutout innings, giving up one hit.
Opposition stars: Mike Clevenger struck out six in five innings, giving up one run on four hits and two walks. Jose Ramirez was 2-for-4. Carlos Santana was 1-for-4 with a home run, his twentieth.
The game: Cruz hit a two-out home run in the first inning to give the Twins a 1-0 lead. The Indians got a man to second base in each of the first two innings but did not break through until the fourth. Santana homered to lead off the inning and tie the score. Jason Kipnis walked and an error put men on first and third. They were still on second and third with two out, but Roberto Perez singled to drive in two and give Cleveland a 3-1 lead.
It looked for a while like that might hold up. The Twins put men on second and third with none out in the fifth, but a ground out and two strikeouts ended the inning. They had men on first and second with one out in the sixth, but a double play ended that inning.
Then came the seventh. An error and a walk put men on first and third with two out. Max Kepler came up and hit a ground ball to shortstop. He was called out at first and it looked like yet another Twins threat had come to nothing. But the Twins challenged and a replay review determined that Kepler was safe, making the score 3-2. Jorge Polanco then swatted a two-run double and the Twins had a 4-3 lead. A Garver home run in the eighth made it 5-3. The Indians did not get a man past first base after the fourth inning.
WP: Littell (2-0). LP: Oliver Perez (2-2). S: Rogers (13).
Notes: Marwin Gonzalez was in left, replacing Eddie Rosario. Luis Arraez was at second base in place of Jonathan Schoop. Ehire Adrianza was at first base, replacing C. J. Cron.
Arraez was 1-for-4 and is batting .386. Polanco was 1-for-4 and is batting .311. May has an ERA of 2.94. Harper has an ERA of 2.84. Rogers has an ERA of 1.73.
Just looking at the printed play-by-play, it seems like a very quick hook for Kyle Gibson. They don't appear to have been hitting a lot of balls hard off him, and he certainly wasn't getting much help from his defense. I'm not second-guessing the decision, because a) there are always things you can't tell from the printed play-by-play and b) it clearly worked. The Much Maligned Twins Bullpen pitched 5.1 scoreless innings and really never even allowed Cleveland to put together a threat.
The quick hook showed that Rocco was not looking at this as just another game. He thought it was an important game for the Twins to win, and he was going to give them every chance to win it. It was a risk, because if the Twins hadn't come back he'd have used four or five relievers in a loss, which of course hurts you for the next game. He had the advantage of a fully rested bullpen after the all-star break, but it was still a gamble that he won.
I think he was right to not look at it as just another game. We said going in that by Sunday night the Twins' lead would either be 2.5, 4.5, 6.5, or 8.5 games, and that's obviously a big spread. We can eliminate the "2.5" now, and that's a very good thing. We'd all love to have it be one of the bigger numbers, but even if it's 4.5 it's not going to feel like things are falling apart, the way it would have had the Indians gotten a sweep. With Odorizzi and Berrios pitching the next two games, the Twins should have a good chance to win at least one of them. Of course, with Bauer and Bieber going, the Indians probably feel the same way.
One thing I like about Rocco is that he doesn't feel a need to make big announcements about what he's doing. He just does it. Rogers is clearly the closer now, even if he's not being used in the "traditional" way, but Rocco has never said he's the closer. Littell is clearly a one-inning guy now (he's pitched one inning in each of his last six appearances), but Rocco has never said he's a one-inning guy. He just uses him that way. If you don't make an announcement about it, then you don't feel locked in to doing it that way. You also don't have to explain to anyone if you do something differently from what you've announced. Of course, you have to get players to buy in to the fact that they aren't going to know exactly what their role is every day, but Rocco seems to be able to do that, at least so far.
Record: The Twins are 57-33, in first place in the American League Central, 6.5 games ahead of Cleveland.
Projected record: We're still on track for 129-33!