Followers of the Twins haven't had this much reason to feel good about the ninth inning of games since midseason of July 2009, when Joe Nathan remained a dominant closer. Nathan still was successful over his final 31 appearances of that season, but there seemed to be more messing around and less sitting down ... as in, "Sit down, pal. You don't have a chance.''
Glen Perkins is growing into this role with the 2013 Twins. The past two nights vs. Chicago, the Mighty Whiteys basically haven't had a chance. Perkins now has 18 saves, a big number for a team with 32 wins in 68 games.
Perkins backed into Wednesday night's save. The Twins were cruising from the second inning, when Brian Dozier hit a three-run home run off Chris Sale. And then, the White Sox sneaked up with two runs in the eighth to cut the lead to 7-4.
There was the three-run lead that causes manager Ron Gardenhire to go to his closer. Perkins threw 11 pitches, nine for strikes. There was a deep fly by Dayan Viciedo to right fielder Ryan Doumit to open the ninth, then Perkins fired up swinging strikeouts from Gordon Beckham and Tyler Flowers.
I talked with Perkins before the game, asking if there's a change in the bullpen atmosphere this season. Rick Stelmaszek was retired after his three-decade run as the bullpen coach and replaced by Bobby Cuellar, previously the pitching coach at Class AAA Rochester.
"They are actually similar ... Stelly and Bobby,'' Perkins said. "Stelly talked a little more, but Bobby is sharp. When he talks, there's usually some insight in there.
"Stelly made us laugh more often. He had a name for everything. When I miss Stelly the most, it's with our card games in the clubhouse. He would deal 7-card stud and there was a name for every card ... for every combination of cards.''
Is there a difference in the message delivered when the bullpen phone rings?
Perkins smiled and said: "Bobby is more likely to get the name right. Stelly called [Jared] Burton 'Jason' three or four times last year. That was worth a few laughs.''
"Bobby's been good,'' Perkins said. "We haven't really missed a beat as a bullpen. We've been pretty strong.''
Brian Duensing has the locker next to Perkins' in the near left corner of the home clubhouse. He was asked if Cuellar, a pitching coach by trade, offers advice as a reliever is warming up.
"I think he intentionally stays away from that, except for little things,'' Duensing said. "He might say, 'Be sure to bend your knee.' Stelly would make general comments, trying to get you fired up a little. I'd say Bobby is more into the mechanical with his comments and Stelly was more philosophical.
"Great baseball guys, both of them.''
Perkins said: "One thing they have found out is how much Stelly did around here ... ordering stuff, making sure we had all the supplies. The first few weeks, you could see the other coaches wondering who was supposed to do something, and they'd say, 'Stelly always did that.' ''