Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Champagne Supernova

Game 62 – Red Sox

Minnesota Twins 5, Red Sox 2
Record: 36-26

The 162-game blur of baseball’s regular season doesn’t lend itself to the celebration of individual games or performances. Every once in a while, though, those that pay attention are rewarded with a singular effort that demonstrates baseball’s unique capacity to amaze and delight, to deliver tension, passion, and drama. Despite the result, and the fact that I had to stay up waaaay past my bedtime, last night was one of those occasions.

The sublime Johan Santana went toe to toe with Curt Schilling for 8 innings last night, and though they were never on the field at the same moment, it seemed obvious that each pitcher was influenced by the presence of the other. Santana struck out 5 of the first 6 Red Sox he faced, and 11 of the first 17. He was so brilliant that I forgot to be pissed at the Sox’ feeble bats. Schilling didn’t put up mind-boggling numbers like his counterpart, but he pitched with a competitive fire and efficiency that forced Santana to try to stay perfect.

When Jason Varitek lined a 2-out fastball into the seats in the top of the 7th inning, I was fairly well convinced that the game was over, given the way Schilling was dominating the Twins. The Baseball Gods had other ideas, though, deciding that neither Santana nor Schilling deserved to lose this game, and delivering their verdict in a masterfully symmetric fashion. Michael Cuddyer returned the favor to Schilling, driving a 2-out pitch over the centerfield baggie to tie the score at 1.

The tally stayed at singles through the 11th inning, with first Jon Papelbon and then Mike Timlin shutting down the Twins (Papelbon pitched around a leadoff double in the 9th, thanks to yet another gem of a defensive play by Kevin Youkilis on a poorly executed bunt by Lew Ford). Joe Nathan and Juan Rincon kept the Sox in check with the help of a sick defensive play by Torii Hunter, who ran straight back and torqued his upper body at an impossible angle to snag a Manny Ramirez liner in the top of the 11th.

Finally, both pitching staffs cracked in the 12th. The Sox loaded the bases with 1 out, plating the go-ahead run on Alex Gonzalez’ fielder’s choice. Minny shortstop Nick Punto made a spectacular dive and flip on the grounder up the middle, nearly turning 2 on Gonzalez. Punto’s effort saved at least 1 run and perhaps more, and may have meant the difference in the final outcome. Coco Crisp and his magic noodlebat flailed inconsequentially to end the inning. (One bitter note – time for Tito to move Youks back to the top of the order, at least until Crisp gets his stroke back. The sublimely named Coco is, at the moment, killing the offense.)

Timlin had been great in the 11th, but this was his first game back after a stint on the DL, and I reluctantly agreed with Tito’s decision to limit his outing to 1 inning. Enter Sandman, in the person of Julian Tavarez, once again putting the Sox’ chances to sleep. After barely avoiding a game-tying double by Justin Morneau (and only because the ball bounced over the “fence” for a ground-rule 2-bagger) Tavarez loaded the bases on an intentional walk to face Jason “Who?” Kubel. Predictably in this season of mediocrity for aged Hispanic relievers, Tavarez ran the count full and served up a flyball that barely found the seats in right for a walk-off grand slam.

Here’s the thing, though. As pissed as I was, and as batshit irrational as a game-ending homer against the Sox would normally make me, sometimes the game has a way of reminding you how damned good it is. And that’s the thought that went through my head as Kubel rounded the bases, not white-hot nail-spitting anger at Tavarez, but appreciation for a classic regular season contest. Man, do I love baseball.

(Oh, and Julian, that better not fucking happen again.)

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