The Twins have a four game cushion on the Chicago White Sox. But as the White Sox have already proved once this season, you make a mistake if you think they are dead. That's why every game counts and the Twins blew one today. It's very easy for a blogger to second guess a manager. In fact it is too easy. But hey, the guys are millionaires and that's part of the job. The Fan tries to do this as little as possible, but this one screams out so loud that it can't go without at least one more look.
The Twins are having trouble scoring runs and they were holding on to a slim one-run lead (it was 1-0 in fact). Carl "Freakin'" Pavano continued his great season (despite the recent losses) and held the Mariners scoreless through six. The Twins pushed their one run through in the top of the seventh on a Cuddyer homer. Pavano started the bottom of the seventh and this is where the problems began.
Branyon grounded out and then Lopez singled. Kotchman singled to right center but Lopez stopped at second. Pavano then threw a wile pitch (catchers who can block those kinds of things should get more credit). This is where the Fan thinks Gardenhire messed up. It's second and third with one out. Franklin Gutierrez was at the plate. Gutierrez isn't having that good a year. His average is under .250 and his OBP is under .310. But for the Mariners, that's one of their better hitters. Plus, he was good last year. He's already ahead in the count thanks to the wild pitch. Why not walk him to load the bases?
That makes even more sense when you consider who was coming up after him, the one, the only, Adam Moore. Catching has been the pit of hell for the Mariners for a couple of seasons now. Moore is probably a nice receiver, but his OPS is sitting at .523. Five-Twenty-Three! His OPS+ is 44 and his career (short though it is) OPS+ is 48. Sure, he hit some in the minors and is actually #83 on Baseball Prospectus's list of top prospects. That's pretty good. But the Fan goes by the theory that a prospect isn't a player until he proves he can do it in the majors and so far, Moore hasn't done that.
A golden rule in baseball is that you don't pinch hit for your catcher. You only carry two of them and if the second catcher comes in the game and gets hurt, you are out of catchers. So Moore was going to bat one way or another. So why not take your chances with him instead of Gutierrez? But Gardenhire had Pavano pitch to Gutierrez who rapped a single to tie the score. Moore then hits a broken-bat grounder that is too slow for a double play and the second run scored. With the infield in and the bases loaded, that grounder could have gone home and no runs would have scored. Yeah, you still needed the third out, but that had to come from the number eight hitter in the batting order (Tuiasosopo), who did end the inning with an out.
The obvious play here would have been to walk Gutierrez to load the bases and then pitch to Moore. Why Gardenhire didn't go that route is hard to fathom. In this Fan's mind, the lack of a move there cost the Twins this game and kept the White Sox (who lost to the Yankees) that much closer in striking distance.