Here’s a quick refresher:
Basically, the premise of the series is that certain games have an effect that is far greater than their mere impact on the win-loss column. These games are mentally and physically definitive of a season, and before the new season begins, by looking back and remembering and feeling the emotions of last season one more time, we can understand what happened, what went wrong, and most importantly, what went right. So, climb aboard the side-burn express, and keep your hands, arms, feet, heads, and all other extremities inside the vehicles at all times as we embark on one final excursion through the highs and lows of last season.
There is an old adage that one game a season does not make. Pull out the Yoda-rific inverse sentence construction, and you have a truism to end all baseball truisms. I went to several Nationals games last year (because apparently I like to be punished). Two of them were against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Now, one of my best friends is from Arizona. We’ll call him RL. RL LOVES the Diamondbacks. During the season, he does lives and breathes the D-Backs. So when he found out that they would be in DC for a three-game weekend series, he wanted to go. I just like watching baseball, so of course I was in. We went to all three of the games.
As a matter of pure baseball, the games were abominations. If there is a just and loving God, He apparently fell asleep when he was shaping the course of these three games. Or else He is really, really mean to me. Two of the games had 24 hits or more. Two of them involved more than ten runs. All of them had extremely horrible pitching. All of them had horrible fielding, although it seemed like the umpires had simply given up on calling errors. All of them had horrible baserunning. And, let’s not forget the fact that these were games between arguably the worst two teams in the majors last year.
But at the same time, there was something sublimely beautiful about them. Watching Adam Dunn lumber after an overthrown ball while the nearly-empty stands sit in silence. Seeing Chris Young run in on a fly ball, only to have it fall ten yards behind him. Feeling the disbelief when Christian Guzman take off to steal second base on the most obvious pitch-out I’ve ever seen. Feeling even more disbelief when he did the same thing a few innings later only to beat out the throw because Montero, at least in my imagination, simply couldn’t believe he’d try to take second on another obvious pitch-out. The sheer ineptitude of the two teams, by the third game, had sunk in so deeply that, by the end of it, Washington didn’t seem like such a bad team. Based on those three games, it seemed like they would have a worthwhile season.
Of course, the Nationals lost 103 games last year, the D-backs lost 92. The games I saw certainly did not make the Nationals’ season.
The point of that long digression is, of course, that to someone watching Important Game #8, the season would have seemed sewn up. The bats clicked, the defense clicked, and by God, Scott Baker was DOMINANT. In his complete game shut-out, he only needed 94 pitches to destroy the somewhat-pathetic Indians, with five strike-outs and only two hits. He did not walk a single person. This was good enough for a Bill James Game Score of 88, the highest on the Twins last year, and the highest for the team since Kevin Slowey threw an 89-Game Score game in 2008. Baker looked like an ace. I know few people will call him that on a regular basis, but he certainly looked the part during this game.
And even better, the offense woke up to take it home! Since the All-Star Break, the team was 10-15, falling even further back of the Tigers. A great deal of this was due, as always to zero production from the 2-hole prior to the O-Cab trade and the continuing insistence of Gardenhire to put two of Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert, and Alexi Casilla in nearly every game. Poor Brendan Harris. But Joe Crede started this game, and Casilla started at 2B.
The offense in this game reacted to Baker’s excellence by putting on a show of their own. Jason Kubel proved that the Dude indeed abides, putting up 5 RBI on three hits (one that left the yard). Casilla had 2 hits and an RBI. Joe Mauer had three singles, walked twice, scored two runs and drove in two more. Mountie dominated, with two hits, two runs, and two RBI. The game was a blast to watch.
But lets be honest. The Twins pitching was in a huge rut. Glen Perkins was sort-of-kind-of-we-can’t-decide-hurt and Francisco Liriano was doing his best to work his way out of the rotation. Slowey was gone. Nick Blackburn was in the midst of his worst stretch of the season. The bull-pen was far from lock-down, even after ridding themselves of Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey, Luis Ayala, and whats-his-face that could throw 103.
But for one shining night, the Twins looked like they had what it took. Sure, it involved completely removing the bullpen from the picture and scoring 11 runs, but I think at that moment, everyone watching the game thought to themselves, “hey, we might actually have a shot at this!” And Scott Baker was indeed epic.