The Twins fell again in New York on Friday night, 4-3, thanks to an incredible inability to take advantage of opportunities. The Twins as a team left 17 runners on base, and witnessed Joe Nathan completely implode by surrendering a game-tying home run to Alex Rodriguez and throwing wildly to second attempting to pick off Brent Gardner. Nathan was eventually bailed out by a lucky break and some poor base running, but he again failed to come through for the Twins in a big game. Over his career, and particularly in the last two seasons, Nathan has seemed to turn into a pumpkin precisely when the Twins need him most. Somewhat fittingly, the Yanks won on a Mark Texeira homer that bounced off the top of the wall and ricocheted into the stands, a ball that almost certainly wouldn’t be a home run in any other park in the majors.
There are numerous other blunders to address, but first, we have to acknowledge the impressive performance from Big Game Nick Blackburn. At the end of 2008 in a play-in game against the Chicago White Sox, Blackburn was the starter almost by default. He had not pitched well down the stretch but was the Twins’ only option going into that game. Blackburn responded with 8 innings of 1 run ball, entirely shutting the White Sox down save for Jim Thome‘s game-winning blast. This year, Blackburn has again been thrust into the spotlight in critical situations:
1. September 29 at Detroit: 7 IP, 6 hits, 1 BB, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 K
2. October 3 vs. Kansas City (the Greinke game): 7 IP, 4 hits, 0 BB, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 K
3. October 9 at New York: 5.2 IP, 3 hits, 2 BB, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 K
In all, Blackburn has pitched 19.2 innings of baseball, surrendering only 4 ER, 13 hits and 3 walks, good for a 1.83 ERA and .86 WHIP. No doubt, Blackburn’s struggles immediately after the All Star break made the September 29th and October 3rd games more important than they needed to be. Still, it’s comforting for fans to know that Blackburn is capable of remarkably professional pitching in big situations, and maybe as he and the team develop in the next couple years, he can handle a truly big stage like an LCS or World Series game.
Unfortunately, it’s looking less and less like the Twins are going to get a shot at that this year. There is really no need to get into much detail. The Twins continue to squander opportunities. Carlos Gomez made an inexcusable base running mistake that cost the Twins a run. Gomez and Delmon Young both offered at the first pitch in the 11th inning with no outs and the bases loaded and failed to bring in a run. To be fair, Young at least hit the ball hard and has shown an ability to hit the first pitch well. Gomez looked simply overwhelmed by the moment. It’s clear that Gomez is pressing in the limited opportunities he’s getting, overrunning bases, overswinging and taking bad at bats. I still feel Gomez has undeniable talent, but right now he’s going to hurt the team more than help unless someone settles him down.
The Twins’ inability to get big hits with men on base against the Yankees and subsequently losing on walk-off hits is getting to the point of absurdity. One has to think that with all the runners the Twins keep putting on the bases, they have to eventually score some runs. Here’s hoping it happens before it’s too late.