MINNESOTA 5, TAMPA BAY 3 IN TAMPA BAY
Date: Friday, May 31.
Batting stars: Jonathan Schoop was 2-for-2 with a walk, a hit-by-pitch, a stolen base, and two runs. Jorge Polanco was 2-for-4 with two doubles, a walk, and three runs. Willians Astudillo was 2-for-4 with a hit-by-pitch and two RBIs. Marwin Gonzalez was 2-for-4.
Pitching stars: Jose Berrios struck out eight in 6.2 innings, giving up three runs on three hits and three walks. Taylor Rogers pitched 2.1 scoreless innings, giving up one hit and striking out one.
Opposition stars: Willy Adames was 2-for-4. Kevin Kiermeier was 1-for-4 with a two-run homer, his sixth. Emilio Pagan struck out two in 1.2 scoreless innings, giving up one hit.
The game: The Twins took the lead in the first inning, when with one out Polanco doubled and Astudillo singled him home. Schoop got to third with two out in the second, but was stranded there. In the bottom of the second, the Rays went in front when Christian Arroyo drew a one-out walk and Kiermeier followed with a home run. They increased the lead to 3-1 in the third when Austin Meadows walked, Adames singled him to third, and the two pulled off a double steal of second and home.
The Twins got even in the fifth. Schoop led off the inning with a walk but was still on first base with two out. But Polanco delivered an RBI double and Astudillo followed with a run-scoring single to make the score 3-3. Tampa Bay put men on first and second with two out in the bottom of the fifth and the Twins put men on first and second with two out in the sixth, but the score remained 3-3 until the ninth.
Schoop led off the ninth inning by being hit by a pitch. Byron Buxton bunted him to second and a ground out moved him to third with two down. Polanco was intentionally walked and Astudillo was hit by a pitch, loading the bases. Eddie Rosario then delivered a two-run single that gave the Twins a 5-3 lead. The Rays got a two-out single in the ninth, bringing the tying run up to bat, but a ground out ended the game.
WP: Rogers (2-1). LP: Diego Castillo (1-4). S: None.
Notes: Polanco was feeling better, but was still not a hundred percent, so he was the DH with Gonzalez at shortstop. Polanco raised his average to .338. Rogers now has an ERA of 2.16.
I find it very hard to pick up any patterns in what Rocco does. That's not to say the patterns aren't there, and maybe if I had time to study it I'd figure them out, but they're not obvious. It's also not intended as a criticism--I don't think he's just making moves at random or anything. But look at his use of Rogers last night. For the last several games, when it was close late in the game, Rocco was mixing and matching his relievers, using four or five relievers for an inning or less. Yet last night he used Rogers for 2.1 innings, even leaving him in the game in the ninth when he'd given up a hit to bring the tying run to the plate. It's working, for the most part, and I'm sure he has reasons for what he does. In fact, it's really kind of fun to see a manager who doesn't reflexively make the same move every time, who appears to actually evaluate each situation and think about what he wants to do.
This felt like a bigger game than it probably was. No matter how many times we say this is a good baseball team, and no matter how much we truly believe it, there's still a part of some of us that has a hard time feeling it. We keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the collapse to come. We feel like the Twins' record is an illusion, that all they've done is beat up on bad teams. That's not really true--they've actually done okay against good teams--but it's still the feeling. Then they play a good team and get blown out, and we think, well, here we go. A late-inning loss last night would've fed into that even more. Again, in reality this was just one game, and I suspect the players looked at it exactly that way. But as a fan, it felt like it was an important one to win.
Really, the criticism that "all the Twins have done is beat up on bad teams" is phony. For one thing, beating up on bad teams is what a good team is supposed to do. What, it would be better if the Twins were losing to bad teams? Second, there just aren't a lot of good teams in the American League. There are only four teams that are more than a game over .500, and one of them is the Twins themselves. Every one of those four teams has their record because they beat up on bad teams--that's mostly who they play.
And third, it always seems like a good team has an easier schedule simply because of the way we perceive things. If you're the Twins, and you go to play the White Sox, you think, "They're not that good. Those are some games we should win." If you're the Kansas City Royals, and you go to play the White Sox, you think, "This is a good, young, up-and-coming team. These are going to be some tough games for us." When you're a good team, there are a lot of games that seem like easy games. When you're a bad team, every game seems like a tough game.
Record: The Twins are 38-18, first in the American League Central, 10.5 games ahead of Chicago and Cleveland.
Projected record: We're still on track for 144-18!