Year's best pitcher's duel

Freddie Garcia hung a breaking ball to Jacques Jones leading off the Twins' half of the 8th inning and that was the ballgame. And what a ballgame.

Minnesota managed one total hit, Jones's homer to dead center. Garcia kept them off balance all night, often getting ahead by throwing his slow curve over, then pounding fastballs and cutters on the corners, causing the Twins to pound the ball into the ground. It was a superb performance only slightly marred by the paucity of quality hitters in the Twins lineup.

Johan Santana was nearly as dominant, surrendering a pair of ordinary singles and a cheap double when Pablo Ozuna chopped one over third baseman Michael Cuddyer's head. Old fogey purists (including yours truly) starting swearing at the screen when Ron Gardenhire got Joe Nathan up in the ballpen moments after Jones's jack. Santana had logged less than 100 pitches and would certainly have have had Gardenhire's full confidence taking the mound in the 9th if the Twins hadn't scored. But suddenly it is a "save situation" and so we have to go to this rote bullshit of bringing on the closer to get the "save." If the pale hose had managed a run off Nathan, it would have sucked the wind out of the ballclub and put the Twins in a tie or worse with their closer spent and the White Sox still with a reinvigorated-by-reprieve Garcia and their full complement of relievers.

More to the point, this was a old fashioned pitcher's duel, a pair of Venezuelans hurling with smarts and discipline, and it cheapened the game to bring another pitcher into it. If the baseball gods want us to be baseball fans, play--and manage--the game the right way. Let the man finish the masterpiece that he started. Yeah, Nathan got the save, but that's an inning's work he didn't have to log, an inning Gardy may want back later in this series.

Kvetching aside, this was a baseball classic. Three times, outfielders flung themselves into walls making running catches. Shannon Stewart was forced to leave the game when he strained his shoulder robbing Paul Konerko of extra bases with Carl Everett (who had walked) on first. Jermaine Dye saved a run with a great catch off the bat of Michael Ryan (Stewart's sub) with Cuddyer on third (the result of 3B Ozuna's two-base error leading off the inning) and got up gingerly. And Lew Ford made the catch of the night with a full-tilt, over the shoulder grab of a scorching liner seconds before denting the baggy in center.

The Twins are not going to catch the White Sox, folks, and on the very rare chance that they do, Cleveland still may escape with the pennant. The wild card's possible, hardly probable. Bottom line, this is the weakest lineup the Twins have unfurled since the days of Chad Allen and Scott Stahoviak.

But a 1-0 ballgame with just four combined hits and nonstop drama between two contenders is a game to savor regardless of how this season ends. And baseball, which has the highest boredom ratio of any major team sport, is, when it is right, a game to be savored.

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