Editor’s note: We were supposed to be sitting in the stands later today watching baseball. The Twins were to play six games over seven days at home. We won’t have that, but we still need baseball. We’ve asked Patrick Reusse to bring us baseball each morning. Six games over seven days. This is Patrick’s (Target) Field of Dreams.
The windup: The opening homestand continued with Tuesday’s matinee at Target Field. Twins ace lefthander Johan Santana faced Kevin Millwood, the imposing Rangers righthander.
The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by Gary Gaetti, in town to visit son Joe, daughter-in-law Ashley (Gladden), and the two grandkids. In a twist, Gaetti’s pregame throw was from third to first, where Kent Hrbek caught the ball to replicate the final out in the Twins’ first World Series championship.
The game: Ron Gardenhire managed the Twins to a 1-0 victory over Texas on this Tuesday. He was booed. All-Star closer Joe Nathan came to the mound for the ninth and also was booed, although with less feeling.
Nathan committed a one-out throwing error, Ian Kinsler stole second, and then Nathan struck out Brad Wilkerson looking and Michael Young swinging for the save.
There was still grumbling from selected fans in the announced crowd of 36,353 as the Twins went through the on-field congratulations. A few of the unhappy leaving the Legends Club saw a familiar face in the press box and shouted: “Sid! Why did Gardy take him out?”
This post-victory angst was dictated by Gardenhire’s decision to remove Johan Santana after eight innings. Santana had 17 strikeouts on 112 pitches.
“You want to sit in my seat and try to make that decision, with all the people hooting and hollering for him go back out there?” Gardenhire said.
Assuming this was a normal baseball crowd, without instant knowledge of the record book in the hippocampus of their brains, the Twins manager should have realized that those hoots could have been worse.
Imagine if a greater percentage of the audience had realized Santana was departing while looking at a chance to tie the major league record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game?
The record of 20 is shared by Roger Clemens (twice), Kerry Wood and Max Scherzer, all righthanders. Santana could have been the first lefty — even Sandy Koufax peaked at 18 — to get there with three strikeouts in the top of the ninth.
Johan had struck out three Rangers in the seventh: Wilkerson, Young and Marlon Byrd, around a Sammy Sosa double. Johan had a Snapper mow-’em-down inning in the eighth, striking out Gerald Laird, Nelson Cruz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Cruz, a burly outfielder, already 27 and getting his first real run with the Rangers, looked particularly fooled by Santana’s changeup. He doesn’t figure to be collecting many more big-league checks.
“I felt good, and at the same time we knew in that situation Nathan would be the right guy to go back out there and shut everything down,” Santana said. “I trust him. I trust all my teammates, especially the bullpen.”
Crowd response aside, any serious doubts Gardenhire had about pulling Santana ended when Johan waved his cap to the standing, cheering crowd as he approached the dugout after the eighth.
According to the Twins’ chart, Santana threw only four sliders. The remaining 108 pitches were a fastball between 90 and 94 miles per hour and the changeup between 80 and 83.
Oh, that changeup … the world’s best, tied for the Twins’ best ever with Frankie Viola. Sweet Music, meet Sweet Merengue.
Young, righthanded and one of the AL’s better hitters, struck out three times vs. Santana, and again vs. Nathan.
“Johan’s the best pitcher in the game for a reason,” Young said. “… Once he gets a full head of steam, it’s tough to break his rhythm.”
The game’s lone run came on a second-inning home run from Michael Cuddyer. Sosa had the only two hits off Santana. Johan had 89 strikes and only 23 called balls, with 32 swings-and-misses for the Rangers.
He’s only 28 — and with Gardy and pitching coach Rick Anderson doing their all to protect that magical left arm … plenty more mastery from the master could be in the future for Twins fans.
Footnote: This game was played Aug. 19, 2007, the same day Gaetti was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame at the Metrodome. It was Santana’s last truly spectacular game for the Twins. He was traded to the Mets on Feb. 2, 2008, for a mediocre return.
Johan had a great season for the Mets in 2008, ran into shoulder problems during 2009 and was unable to get fully healthy again.
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