Help! Are you out there, Billy Smith? Help!
It took until the late hours Tuesday night, but the Twins' need for another strong arm in the bullpen became dramatically clear again when Matt Guerrier was hammered for two home runs in the 12th inning.
The first was hit by Alex Rodriguez and put the Yankees up 7-6. The second came from Xavier Nady two batters later and gave New York the final runs in a 9-6 victory.
Guerrier is a fine gentleman who has made a career as a big-league reliever more with grit than exceptional pitches. He has established himself as an adequate third or fourth option in the Twins bullpen.
Unfortunately, the Twins lost Pat Neshek -- the top option for the eighth inning -- way back in early May. It's been three months since he went on the disabled list, and Smith, the new general manager, and his brain trust have sat back and done nothing to replace him.
The Twins now have five starting pitchers ages 24 through 26. They are going to get six innings from these gentlemen more often than eight.
Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Dennys Reyes -- they can get you through the seventh. If he doesn't throw a wild pitch or hit a batter in the knee or some such thing, Reyes can get a lefty out for his manager in the eighth.
But a very big reason the Twins have had exceptional bullpens during Ron Gardenhire's seven years as manager, and Rick Anderson's seven years as pitching coach, has been the presence of a sturdy bridge to get to the closer.
Gardenhire had both J.C. Romero and LaTroy Hawkins for the eighth in 2002. The Twins won a division title.
He had Hawkins blowing away hitters in the eighth in 2003. Another division title. He had Juan Rincon in 2004. A third consecutive division title.
Rincon was very good again in 2005, and so was closer Joe Nathan, but the hitting was too feeble for the Twins to keep the division streak going.
The bullpen was so deep in 2006 that the Twins were basically a lock if they had a lead after six innings. Another division title.
It didn't happen last season, but Neshek -- with his funky delivery and variety of pitches -- showed terrific promise to be the man in front of Nathan.
He would hang a slider on occasion, and hang his head in dismay when it went out of the park, but he had the hitters flailing more often than not.
Nathan for the ninth whenever it was close. Neshek for the eighth four times a week. And with Guerrier, Crain and a healthy Reyes in front of them, the state of the bullpen seemed the least of Gardenhire's problems as the Twins went through spring training.
And then Neshek blew out his right elbow.
Crain was coming off shoulder surgery. Once he started showing full strength in that right arm, he was the manager's preferred guy for the eighth, post-Neshek.
Crain was too erratic for those duties. For the past several weeks, Guerrier has been the eighth-inning guy. There have been games lost, to the point Gardenhire and Anderson both lobbied for the Twins to get Hawkins when he was on his way out of New York.
Not surprisingly, the Yankees looked at the schedule -- saw this three-game series coming up in the Metrodome -- and decided it would be better to have Hawkins in the National League, just in case he found his lost magic with a new team.
He was sent to Houston for a low-level prospect.
On Monday, the Twins needed only one bullpen inning, and it was three strikeouts from Nathan in a 4-0 victory.
On Tuesday, Delmon Young hit the first Twins home run ever off Mariano Rivera -- a three-run fly ball, just inside the foul pole and over the Hefty bag in right -- to create a 6-6 tie in the eighth.
The game went from there, with the Twins going through Reyes for two outs and Nathan for four outs in the ninth.
Guerrier came on to get out Wilson Betemit, Jose Molina and Richie Sexson (around a Johnny Damon single) in the 11th. And then Gardenhire tried him against the real hitters in the 12th.
A-Rod hit a bomb to center -- 7-6. Pudge Rodriguez doubled, and Nady hit a big fly to right -- 9-6.
Even though it was the 12th, this was more evidence Guerrier isn't an eighth-inning pitcher. And right now, he's obviously a cooked pitcher, with an ERA of 18.00 and a .485 batting average against in his past eight appearances.
Please pick up the phone, Mr. Smith. Your manager needs help.
Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m.and 4:40 p.m. • email@example.com