Game: Twinks 6, Blue Jays 8
The Quote: ""Some disappointing pitches. Luis coming in, a first-pitch slider down the middle [to Rolen] -- that's not a good pitch. We can't continue to do that, and this ballclub knows it." - Ron Gardenhire
The Inning: When Ron Gardenhire walked out to the mound with Toronto's Vernon Wells on second and third baseman Scott Rolen strolling to the plate with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, the Twins manager had little options left in his bullpen.
Starter Kevin Slowey burned through 88-pitches in 5 1/3 innings of work, being cuffed around for thirteen hits and two home runs. Attentive to the fact that it was going to be an early exit once again for the strike-thrower, Gardenhire briefly had left-handed reliever Brian Duensing warming up in the bullpen during the fifth inning. Slowey, for his part, was able to retire Wells and the hot-hitting Adam Lind (12-for-30 entering the game in 2009) to strand runners on first and second, maintaining the one-run lead. Adding two more runs on, the Twins would enter the top of the sixth with a three-run lead. The relentless Blue Jays would stab back with a two-run home run by Lyle Overbay and it was suddenly a close game once again. One out later and a walk to rookie Travis Snider followed by a steal of second.
Last year, the Twins starting rotation allowed just 20 stolen bases total in the 163 games. So far in 2009, the starters have been subjected to six swindles of second (eight total against the entire staff). In all of last year, Slowey witnessed four out of seven attempts successfully converted. In just two starts, Slowey has now had three attempts and three runners gaining second. Yes, the company line is that a stolen base is the responsibility of both the catcher and the pitcher but under these circumstances, teams are runner strictly on Jose Morales and his sub-par arm.
With a runner now in scoring position and Slowey throwing batting practice, Gardenhire decided the situation was ripe for a move. At the onset of the sixth, the camera displayed both Craig Breslow and Matt Guerrier warming up in the bullpen. Because the Jays had a sequence of righties following the left-handed batting Snider who was currently on second base, Gardenhire went with Guerrier. Early returns in 2009 have seen a much different Guerrier then the one from the second-half of last year (or the second-half of the season prior to that) In a small sample of 3 2/3 innings coming into Monday's game, Guerrier had struck out three and given up just one hit. Seventy-three percent of his pitches were strikes and eighty-percent of balls in play were on the ground. Guerrier would fall behind and walk Scutero but would get Aaron HIll to bounce into an inning-ending double play.
After the Twins failed to add to their 6-5 lead, Guerrier returned to the mound in the seventh to face Alex Rios, who he struck out. Wells would lace a line drive into center for his first hit of the ball game. With the white-hot Lind approaching the plate with the tying run on first, Gardenhire summoned Breslow. Breslow pitched last on Sunday in the chill of Chicago to unfavorable results. Dewayne Wise sacrificed Alexei Ramirez to second then Breslow hit Chris Getz and was removed from the game. Two batters, one out and four pitches. While battling Lind, Wells would snipe second base from the Twins' battery (this Morales throw would bounce half-way between the mound and second base). Breslow, with the tying run now ninety feet closer, would strikeout Lind.
This is where Gardenhire's tough decision would appear. Striding to the plate was right-handed Scott Rolen. The man assuming the stopper role in the bullpen, Jesse Crain, would be unavailable after throwing 15 pitches on Sunday and Saturday. For his career, Rolen should little platoon tendencies. According to his splits, lefties pitched him more gingerly, walking him more frequently than right-handed pitchers. In recent year, however, Rolen's ability to hit left-handed pitching with power had diminished. In 2007, he slugged .311 against 191 southpaws. In 2008, he slugged .390 from a pool of 119 left-handers. Last season, the left-handed Breslow would face 101 right-handed batters and hold them to a .221 average with one extra base hit in 19. Still, Breslow had never faced the veteran Rolen. In fact, the Twins had only a select few that had faced off against Rolen. Rolen was 2-for-3 against Crain with two doubles, 0-for-3 against Joe Nathan and 0-for-2 against Guerrier. Crain and Guerrier would be unavailable and Nathan is rarely woken up until the ninth inning. Therefore the only option left to use would be Luis Ayala.
Ayala is having a fairly expected 2009. He throws to contact and, as a result, contact is usually made. Up until Monday night, most of it has been without its damages. In his four innings so far, Ayala has allowed six hits while giving up two earned runs. Most recently working in Chicago on Saturday and retired Carlos Quentin then struck out Wise and Paul Konerko. It seems that it is performances like the one in Chicago that Gardenhire relishes and recalls when determining which reliever to use. Yes, Rolen is 1-for-3 lifetime against Alaya with a game-winning home run in his career but Ayala shut down the Sox under meaningless conditions. Ayala it would be.
Ayala would unleash an 85-mph slider left up in the zone and out over the plate that Rolen would immediately lash back up the middle to score Wells from second. With most of his bullpen used up or in remission, Gardenhire would allow Ayala to continue into the eighth inning, now working with a tie game. Catcher Rod Barajas would hit a 2-2 fastball for a double and Snider would get an 2-0 changeup that was thigh-high middle-in and uncork on it for his second shot over the baggy on the night and vault the Blue Jays to a 8-6 victory.