A Tale of Two Baseball Games: Part One, MIN @ PHI, 06/19/10

On Saturday, there were two completely ridiculous games that, to me, highlighted why I love this sport so freaking much. I’ve been watching baseball for as long as I can remember, but seriously, you can see something every day you would have never guessed – or rather, predicted – would happen. I was going to write about these games in the Daily Roundup, but they were so epic that I had to give them their own posts. The post about the ~Sunshine Series showdown~ between the Rays and Marlins will come out some time tomorrow, but for now, I turn to Saturday’s game where the Twins took on the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

We’ve all heard about the three week or so period where the Phillies really struggled to score runs, but as of late, they seem to be regressing to the mean in a good way. After taking two out of three from the Yankees, they brutalized Minnesota’s starter Nick Blackburn to the tune of eight runs in 1.2 innings on Friday. Philly’s starter Cole Hamels didn’t pitch well in the first inning, allowing three runs. Another unpredictable thing – Nick Punto was intentionally walked. Yeah, it’s because he was the #8 batter and they wanted Hamels to face the opposing pitcher Kevin Slowey, but it’s Nick Punto and there were two outs!

So, anyway. After Hamels finally managed to get out of the top of the inning, the Phillies answered back with three runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. Hamels cruised the rest of the way; he pitched seven full innings and the only other run he allowed was a Justin Morneau home run. Slowey wasn’t so lucky. He gave up a home run to Wilson Valdez (another YCPB moment, since that was the second of his career and his first since 2004!) to start the bottom of the second. After a Hamels single, Polanco double, Utley sac fly, and Howard home run, the score was 7-3 and Slowey’s day was done after just 1.2 innings. Both Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth hit home runs to make the score 9-4 going into the top of the ninth. Who would have thought the Phillies, who’d looked so offensively stilted for such a long amount of time, would have routed the Twins two straight games in a row?

Only as it turns out, this wasn’t going to be a rout.

To start the top of the ninth, Philly had one of its best relievers, Jose Contreras, on the mound. My fellow Yankee fans might be surprised to hear Contreras ever referred to as a reliable pitcher but, well… baseball is unpredictable funny like that. Anyway, Contreras hadn’t just been good so far in 2010, he’d been great, with a 1.23 ERA up to that point and sparkling peripherals to match. He began the top of the ninth by allowing a single to Denard Span. After that, former Phillie Jim Thome homered to cut the score to 9-6. Not a huge deal. After a pretty long at-bat, Nick Punto walked. With nobody out and not wanting to mess around, Philly’s manager Charlie Manuel brought in his closer, Brad Lidge.

Lidge got Jason Kubel to pop out to first, but a stolen base and a wild pitch moved Punto to third with one out. Denard Span singled him home, but Orlando Hudson struck out. Two out, but as the tying run, up steps the rather tough out Joe Mauer. On Brad Lidge’s second pitch, which wasn’t even really a bad pitch, just a good piece of hitting by Mauer, the reigning MVP sent it into the Phillies’ bullpen. Unpredictable: That’s just his third home run this year. Way, way more unpredictable: The Twins had entered the top of the ninth down 9-4 – and they’d tied it up. Morneau flew out to end the inning, but the damage was done.

So in the bottom of the ninth, Victorino struck out to begin it, but Polanco and Utley singled. Still tied, all the Phillies needed was a single from one of the suddenly-hot Ryan Howard or Jayson Werth to win the game, but they both struck out. The Phillies had gotten a ridiculous amount of offense in the first two innings of both Twins games, but when they needed one run from the potent heart of their order, they couldn’t get it.

Top of the tenth. Chad Durbin comes in to pitch for the Phillies. Drew Butera – he of the .375 OPS up to this point in the season in 42 ABs – leads off with his first career home run. Seriously, Drew Butera? Anyway, 10-9 Twins. Consecutive singles with two outs made the Twins threaten to add insurance runs, but Nick Punto was tagged out at home trying to score from second on a Denard Span single. That guy should probably just not try to score from second unless he’s totally sure he can.

In the bottom of the tenth, the first two Philly hitters popped out and grounded out against Minnesota’s closer Jon Rauch, but pinch-hitter Ross Gload – with a .579 OPS through 49 PA in 2010 – hit a game-tying home run with two outs. Danys Baez was brought in for the top of the 11th and struck out Hudson, but walked Mauer on four pitches, and then intentionally walked Morneau. Delmon Young drove Mauer home to give the Twins an 11-10 lead, and Matt Tolbert doubled both Morneau and Young home to increase that lead to three runs.

With the way the game had gone already, I was pretty sure that the Phillies would somehow miraculously tie the game up. Unfortunately for those of us that like crazy baseball (and Phillies fans), a Ryan Howard two-out double was all they were able to do against Rauch as the Twins won, 13-10. The Phillies had a 99.3% chance of winning the game going into the ninth inning, by the way. Yikes.

Oh, and for those of you that are into this sort of thing, I believe this is what they refer to as “a WPA graph.” Day-yum.

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