Today's game was, as I assume anyone reading this knows, the last game of the year for the Minnesota Twins. As the game started, I thought that the Twins could possibly have put out their worst line-up of the year (which is saying something). It included: Alexi Casilla, Matthew LeCroy, Garrett Jones, Rondell White, and Nick Punto leading off. After the first inning, I immediately stood corrected, when the Twins accumulated three hits, two walks, and a sacrifice fly to produce three runs. But, just like that, the offense turned off. Twenty-three straight Twins went down before Jason Kubel's pinch hit ground rule double in the ninth inning. Just to clarify, that means the Twins did not have a runner reach base between the first and ninth inning. In some ways, though, that is the opposite of what the Twins had done most of the year. They would spread hits out, not get timely hitting, and fail to score runs in a very frustrating manner. Obviously, this game was frustrating in the fact that they managed just one lonely base runner in the last eight innings, but they had the big inning that was able to carry them to a victory.
Lew Ford replaced Torii Hunter in centerfield in the bottom of the sixth inning (which didn't help the offense) in what was probably Hunter's last appearance as a Twin. He had an RBI double and scored a run in the first to finish the year with a .287 batting average. He set a career high in games played, at bats, hits, runs, runs batted in, and doubles, and almost every other statistical category was second only to his other career year in 2002. It was, in summary, a great year for Hunter, as he was basically the only consistently good hitter for the Twins during the course of the season.
On the pitching side of the game, Matt Garza was effective over five innings, but ran up his pitch count to 109 and had to make an early exit. The one run he allowed was almost single-handedly given up by Matthew LeCroy, as he allowed a passed ball and then a steal of third with no throw by Julio Lugo. Although, on the pitch before the passed ball, he did get conked on the head with a foul ball, and it really seemed like he was still dazed when he went to catch the next pitch. Scott Baker relieved Garza, serving up a solo homer to Jason Varitek but allowing no other runs. Joe Nathan followed him to pick up his 37th save, surpassing last year's total.
But I shouldn't gloss over his save with just one sentence. It was another gut-wrenching save (or as gut-wrenching as a game that means nothing for either team can be), as Nathan loaded the bases with one out by walking three (one intentionally) and giving up a single to Jacoby Ellsbury. Fortunately, Ellsbury took too big a turn around first and was tagged out. With ice in his veins, though, Nathan got two strikeouts to end the game and the season. The intensity, however, was largely taken out by the fact that the Red Sox had exactly one starter still in the game (Julio Lugo), and the two batters Nathan struck out were Bobby Kielty and Doug Mirabelli, rather than Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, who they had replaced.
One pitcher who didn't get into the game was Juan Rincon. I was waiting for him to pitch again to do a little paragraph about his recent success, but as he didn't, I'll do it now. Over his last 15 appearances (15 2/3 innings)--which includes all of September--Rincon gave up a run in just three, for an earned run average of 1.72 over that span. He also improved his control, walking just four batters, as opposed to the eleven he walked in his previous 15 1/3 innings (17 appearances). Hopefully, this is a sign that Rincon has gotten some of his old stuff back, as he was an important part of the Twins bullpen, and would be next year if he returns to form.
Overall, it was a good ending on a bittersweet day. The Twins won 3-2 to improve their final record to 79-83, but it also marks the end of the season, meaning there will be no more games to look forward to until April. And it was likely the last game for Torii Hunter as a Twin, and possibly others, including Johan Santana, Carlos Silva, Matthew LeCroy, and Rondell White. Okay, so some of those I'm not torn up about it, but it is still always sad to see players leave a team, especially when they have been there for a few seasons.
Check back tomorrow for more extensive thoughts on the season as a whole and for a general idea of what to expect regarding posting in the offseason.