A tennis match broke out in the eighth inning of the Twins 4-3 win yesterday. Or at least I expect it did. It wasn’t one I could see, because it was in Ron Gardenhire’s head. Let’s see if we can get an instant replay….
The Twins were in a game that they wanted badly, leading by just one run in the eighth inning. It’s apparent how important this game was when the Twins brought in one of their closers in the seventh inning to protect the one-run lead.
The Twins half of the eighth inning started out well with a sawed-off infield single by Justin Morneau. Morneau, the designated hitter, was replaced with pinch runner Alexi Casilla. It was a logical move for a manager who wanted to get his big fella some rest and was working to coax a run around the bags, but it didn’t work out in two different ways.
The first way was that Michael Cuddyer immediately grounded into a double-play, so it didn’t matter who was on first base. The right-handed Cuddyer, by the way, was facing left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski, which was exactly the matchup the Twins wanted. But this is baseball, so Rzpeczynski gave up a hit (albeit incredibly weak) to the left-handed hitter he was supposed to get out (Morneau) and then got a double-play against the hitter who was supposed to have the advantage.
And just so the baseball gods got their trifecta, Rzepczynski then defied conventional logic for a third time by plunking left-handed Jason Kubel, putting him on base. (Kubel was then replaced for another pinch runner: Jason Repko.) The next two batters for the Twins were right-handed, so Rzepcynski was pulled for right-handed reliever Shawn Camp.
Once again, the matchup didn’t work the way it was supposed to. Danny Valenica lined a hit off of third baseman Edwin Encarnacion’s glove, and by the time it was chased down, Valencia was on second and Repko was on third.
Now the tennis match begins. Let’s watch the volleys.
Serve - If you were keeping score at home, Ron Gardenhire has an obvious move. On the mound is a right-handed pitcher. Coming up to bat is a right-handed hitter (Drew Butera) who is one of the weakest hitters in the American League. On the bench is a left-handed hitter (Joe Mauer) who is one of the best. Simple – make the move, right?
Volley - Ah, except that first base is open. So if Gardenhire brings in Mauer, Toronto will just walk him. And then the right-handed reliever will face the switch-hitting Matt Tolbert. So Gardenhire will have to play Mauer on his rest day and burn Mauer for a later pinch-hitting opportunity just to have a nearly equally anemic batter up. Obviously, you don’t make that move.
Return volley – But, hold it. Gardenhire has another card to play. Jim Thome, who happens to hit left-handed, is still on the bench, too. Why not have him hit for Tolbert? This is what he’s on the team for, right? And you can’t get a much more critical situation than a one-run lead with the bases loaded and two outs. It makes perfect sense to pinch-hit Mauer for Butera after all, while telling Jim Thome to get warmed up.
Volley – Ooh, except that now there is nobody on the bench to replace Thome after he pinch-hits. Remember I said that using Casilla for a pinch-runner didn’t work in two ways? This is the second. If Casilla was still on the bench, he could take the field at shortstop. Obviously, Thome can’t play shortstop. Never mind, maybe we don’t make that move.
Return volley – Hmmm, but Casilla IS available. It’s just that he’s now the designated hitter. The Twins could move him from DH to shortstop, and all it would mean is that the pitcher would need to then be in the lineup. The pitcher would replace Thome, which means he would be a full nine spots from hitting. Odds are, the game is going to be long over before we get to that spot. So Gardy actually can make the move, empty his bench, and get Mauer and Thome into exactly the spots he wants.
Volley Winner – Well, maybe not EXACTLY the spot. The Blue Jays still had a left-handed reliever, David Purcey, available. (I don’t know if he was warming up in the bullpen or not.) If he was available, then when Gardenhire played his last cards, Mauer would be walked and Thome would end up facing Purcey. Thome hit just .241 against lefties last year. In his career, Tolbert has hit .237 against right-handed pitchers. I doubt Gardy would quote you those numbers, but he knows the gyst of it – all those moves haven’t necessarily done his team much good.
How far into that logic did Gardy go? We don’t know. It might have stopped at Step 1, just because he really wanted to rest Mauer before the Yankees series. What we do know is that he didn’t make a move, Butera struck out, and the inning ended. It didn’t end up mattering. While the battle might have been lost, the war was won.
I just wish I knew how the tennis match ended.