Going into this series, it was the hope of most Blue Jays fans that Target Field would be the cure for what had ailed Jose Bautista in the early part of this season.
Bautista had a terrible April, and when the Jays left Oakland Wednesday evening he was hitting .182/.316/.345, showing only the occasional glimpse of coming out of it.
Target Field, though, Bautista loves hitting at Target Field. He went 0-for-3 in the Blue Jays’ series-opening win in Minny, though he did walk and get hit by a pitch, but he turned it on Friday night with a pair of home runs, and added to the total with another big fly – breaking a 1-1 tie in the 6th inning – in the Jays’ win Saturday night. He later hit a laser-beam single to right field in the 9th.
Maybe the cool Minnesota air was the cure, though obviously we’ll have to see if he sustains this bounce-back, but the man who has been the best hitter in baseball each of the last two years is hitting .364/.462/1.182 over the (incredibly tiny sample size) first three games of this four-game set against the Twins.
Bautista’s homer was the winner, but the Blue Jays tied the game an inning earlier on back-to-back two-out hits by a couple of struggling batsmen – Colby Rasmus, hitting .207 on the road trip to that point, started it with a double, and Adam Lind singled him in with a two-strike line drive to centre.
Drew Hutchison had his best outing in the big leagues – although it was just the Twins – throwing six innings of three-hitter. He did walk four, including Trevor Plouffe with the bases loaded in the 4th to allow Minny’s only run to score, but he struck out four as well and receipts for his second win.
The play of the game came in the 7th inning, when Francisco Cordero came on and got a first-pitch pop foul from Chris Parmelee. Brett Lawrie tracked it into shallow left (still foul), but the ball kept pushing him deeper and deeper to the point that he was in a straight backpedal when he reached out for it. The ball went in and out of his glove, but there was Eric Thames waiting to pluck it out of the air before it hit the ground. Teamwork at its absolute finest, and something I haven’t seen since Pete Rose helped out Bob Boone in the same sort of scenario for the Phillies in the 1980 World Series. Amazing.
It was interesting to see Cordero in the game in that situation, since John Farrell had said he wanted to back his ex-closer off and put him in lower-leverage spots. A one-run game in the 7th inning isn’t so low-leverage, but it was the bottom third of the Twins’ order. Cordero struck out Darin Mastroianni after the Lawrie-Thames circus act, but then gave up a single to Jamey Carroll and walked Denard Span to put the tying run into scoring position. He then let Brian Dozier take him to a full count before getting the rookie to ground to short. It wasn’t pretty, and it didn’t lack any drama, but at least it was the first time in five outings that Cordero hadn’t given up a run, so there’s that.
In the 8th inning, with the Twins’ best hitters coming up, Farrell went to Jason Frasor because that’s the way baseball works. It was about as clear an illustration as there can be of the problems with the “closer” role. Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit are really the only remotely threatening hitters in the Minnesota line-up right now, but because they were due up to start the 8th inning, and not the 9th, they didn’t have to face the pitcher deemed to be the Blue Jays’ best reliever. If ever there was a situation crying out for your number one guy, that was it, but because “closer” has come to mean 9th inning only, Casey Janssen watched Frasor give up a double and a walk around a couple of outs, and then Luis Perez came on to strike out pinch-hitter Alexi Casilla to preserve the lead for Janssen, who threw a perfect 9th against the Twins’ 8, 9 and leadoff hitters.
This isn’t a criticism of Farrell, he’s doing things the way things are done. But hopefully the time is coming soon when things will be able to be done differently.
Here’s tonight’s edition of The BlueJaysTalk, for your listening pleasure. It includes an interview I did with Alex Anthopoulos before the game about the Cole Hamels/Shane Victorino trade rumours of a couple of days ago:
The series wraps up, along with the 10-day road trip, with a Mothers’ Day finale featuring a battle of lefties. Ricky Romero has never lost to the Twins – he’s posted an ERA of 1.91 and a WHIP of 1.009 against them in five career starts – and he’ll square off with Guelph, Ontario’s own Scott Diamond, who has had one big-league start this year. Diamond threw seven shutout innings against the Angels. We’ll be on at 1:30PM Eastern for a 2:10 first pitch. It’ll be my last game getting to do play-by-play for a few weeks – Alan Ashby will be back with us when the Blue Jays open up a weeklong homestand against the Rays and the two New York teams. The Blue Jays prepared for my return to my normal role by getting outscored (1-0) in my innings for the first time this season.
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