Twins have streaked since hurry-up mandate

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 30, 2008 - 9:16 AM
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Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, center, argues with home plate umpire Brian Runge (71) in front of Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jason Kendall during the eighth inning of a baseball game Sunday, June 15, 2008, in Milwaukee. Gardenhire was ejected from the game.

Photo: Morry Gash, Associated Press - Ap

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The interleague games in Houston and in the Metrodome started within three minutes of one another on Sunday afternoon.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was in his civilian clothes and getting ready to leave his office in the home clubhouse. He looked at the television as Manny Ramirez was hitting a home run that gave Boston a 2-2 tie with the Astros.

There was one out in the seventh inning when this occurred. "I'm going to be home sitting on the deck before that game's done, and we get memos on slow play," Gardenhire said.

Kevin Slowey became the first Twins starter to pitch a shutout -- a 5-0 victory over Milwaukee's big gun, Ben Sheets. Time of the game: 2 hours, 5 minutes. This was an excellent rebuttal to the latest communique from baseball's speed-up czars, who warned that four Twins should go about their business more rapidly.

Infielder Brendan Harris and pitchers Nick Blackburn, Dennys Reyes and Joe Nathan.

Harris had the batter's box issue in Milwaukee earlier this month. Blackburn allegedly takes a few extra seconds to get to the mound between innings. Reyes should get ready to pitch more quickly.

And Nathan? We will not report in this wholesome daily newspaper the manager's view on Nathan being asked to pick up the pace as he's trying to close one-run games.

There's an interesting coincidence here:

It was two weeks ago in Milwaukee that Gardenhire first found himself in a public row over the speed-up rules, and that was also the weekend when these Twins started playing a brand of baseball close to incomprehensible.

The Twins arrived in Milwaukee on Friday the 13th having lost six of seven on the road trip. They would win two of three against a surging Brewers club, including a 9-4, 12-inning victory on a stirring Saturday night.

Milwaukee won on Sunday, assisted when plate umpire Brian Runge called out Harris on strikes as he signaled for time against a quick-pitching Guillermo Mota.

Gardenhire was ejected and fined $1,500 -- mostly for ripping Runge after the game. This turned out to be mild criticism to what Runge faced a few days later, when he bumped Mets manager Jerry Manuel during an argument and earned a one-game suspension.

The Twins returned from Milwaukee for their second off day in six weeks. They were looking at 15 of 18 games in the Dome.

Clearly, this was decision time: Get back on the plus side of .500 or settle in for three months as noncontenders.

The Twins are 11-1 in that stretch and are at a season-best eight games over .500 (45-37). Sunday's victory also allowed them to finish with baseball's best interleague record -- 14-4.

It was 2002 when baseball declared the Twins and the Brewers to be natural rivals and started scheduling them for six games. This year's competition has seemed more worthy of that designation than in any previous summer.

There was the 12-inning game in Milwaukee. There was Mota throwing strike three past Harris' unsuspecting noggin. There was Joe Mauer's winning home run -- off Mota's 96-miles-per-hour blazer -- on Friday night when 30,000 fans sounded like twice as many.

And then came Sunday, when the Twins needed to beat Sheets to win the '08 series, and to regain the winning feeling as the Motown Sluggers arrive tonight on their much-anticipated warm streak (17-4).

"That's a knee-buckler," said Gardenhire, in reference to Sheets' curveball.

Sheets was 9-1 with a 2.59 ERA, and the only loss came in mid-May. The large righthander was on such a roll that the Brewers were a minus-$140 (7-5 favorites) against a Twins team that had lost once in two weeks.

There were run-delivering hits from Jason Kubel, Carlos Gomez, Delmon Young (two-run home run) and Alexi Casilla off Sheets curveballs and off-speed pitches. And there was Slowey painting the edges of the plate with 84 fastballs among his 109 pitches, and there it was:

Twins 5, the Brewers and Big Bad Ben 0.

One more note: Houston and Boston played an 8 1/2-inning game in which five runs were scored. Game time: 3 hours, 27 minutes, or 82 minutes longer than it took Gardenhire's much-warned Twins to play a five-run, 8 1/2-inning game.

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. preusse@startribune.com

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