2007: Johan Santana’s 17 K’s

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I still have the scorecard from this game, the best live pitching performance I have ever seen. Here is what I wrote the day after:

Yesterday was my dad’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Dad), and we were all happy that our season ticket package included Sunday afternoon ballgame at which we could celebrate. We started with breakfast where my seven-month old son nearly downed half a pancake, and I enjoyed a veggie omelet with plenty of jalepeno peppers before we headed for the dome.

The rain was a small annoyance, but it’s worth noting that three years from now we probably wouldn’t have had a Sunday afternoon game to watch due to the weather. My family arrived early at the game, as it turned out before the doors opened. It was a bobble head give away day, so there were plenty of people who had been waiting for quite a while in the rain. We went early thinking that we may get our Gary Gaetti bobble heads, but we weren’t counting on it. As it turned out, the doors opened shortly after we arrived, and every member of my family got a Gary Gaetti doll (except for my son, who got a book).

The Gaetti doll was in conjunction with Gary’s induction into the Twins Hall of Fame which was in conjunction with the 20th Anniversary of the 1987 World Series. There was a nice ceremony before the game that included a reenactment of the final out of the 1987 Series, Gaetti to Hrbek, 5-3. It was great to see the ‘87 team on the field, and even better to see Herbie and the G-Man together.

As a child, I watched Gaetti closely to try and learn how to play third base. There were a few Twins’ games at the dome where I followed #8 rather than the ball, watching where he would stand in different situations. I suppose it was a good example to follow, though I personally didn’t really catch on at third base (not for lack of knowledge about how to play third, however).

I commented to my wife during the ceremony about the gloves popping in the background. Usually the Twins have music playing during the warm ups, but when Gaetti was making his induction speech the only background noise was the snap of horse hide hitting leather; the loudest of which was coming from the Twins’ bullpen, where Johan Santana was taking his warm up tosses.

Santana, of course, went on to strikeout nearly as many Rangers as my Dad is years old, a great birthday present that I would like to take credit for.

I am still holding out hope that one day I will see a major league no-hitter in person, but those hopes were dashed when Sammy Sosa blooped a single to lead off the fifth inning- yet another reason not to like Sosa, who performed his traditional heel kick on a long foul ball later in the game. I was pleased that he had to turn around and return to the batter’s box, and was hoping he would then strikeout (kick your heels for that), but he ended up getting another hit off of Santana, representing the only two hits allowed in an otherwise perfect performance by the best pitcher in baseball.

Santana struck out each Ranger at least once; got Wilkerson and Saltalamacchia twice each; and made Young, Byrd, and Laird look foolish three times each. It was the kind of performance you expect from a Little League pitcher who turns out to be older than all of the other kids.

It would have been nice to see Santana finish the game, but with today’s environment I suppose seeing him  in the eighth was a gift (and I actually would have second-guessed management had Santana showed his face for the ninth with 112 pitches thrown). Nathan had a little bit of trouble closing out the win, but did manage to do so by striking out Michael Young to give the Ranger shortstop the dreaded 0-for-4 with 4 k line.

It was a good enough day to make one forget that this team just scored three runs in three games against one of the worst pitching staffs in the league, and that the post season is a faint hope. None of that really mattered on my father’s birthday, the day that Gary Gaetti was recognized and Johan Santana struck out 17.

A couple of months later I wrote this as part of my series at TwinsCards.com on the greatest pitching performances in Twins history:

Sunday August 19, 2007
HHH Metrodome
Minneapolis, MN

The 2007 season was a bit of a downer for the Twins and their fans, but it did produce two pitching performances that are worthy of this list that I started a few months before either of them happened.

The first came on a Sunday afternoon at the Metrodome. It happened to be the weekend of the 1987 reunion, and the game actually fell on a day in which Gary Gaetti was to be inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame. Fans waited in line on a rainy day to get the Gaetti bobblehead, and filed in to see what was at the time a .500 baseball team try to make its way back into the AL Central race before it was too late.

The other draw, of course, was Johan Santana, whose starts had become events worth seeing a few years ago when he won his first Cy Young award. Once the ceremony honoring Gaetti was complete, and the final out of the 1987 World Series reenacted, Johan took the mound to the familiar sound of Rob Thomas and Santana’s “Smooth” – the song that still brings the best pitcher in baseball to the mound at the Metrodome.

It was a favorable matchup for Santana from the start. The Rangers had an above average offense, but were a collection of free swingers who were prone to striking out. By season’s end, Texas hitters had compiled 1,224 K’s, second most in the league. Santana, of course a strikeout pitcher, took advantage of the free swinging nature of the lineup early and often.

The Rangers didn’t do themselves any favors, of course, but in the end there really wasn’t much they could have done. Santana’s command was clear as he hit the corners with his fastball, change up, and seemingly whatever pitch he decided to throw. Two K’s recorded in the first inning, three in the second, and two more in the third. The rhythm was clear and it wasn’t looking good for Texas. Santana was perfect until the top of the fifth inning, when a Sammy Sosa soft liner found its way to a safe landing in left field. No matter, Santana retired the next three, including two more strikeouts to run the game total to 11 after five innings.

The Twins got the only run they would need in the second inning, when Michael Cuddyer hit a lead off home run to left center.

After trying something new and retiring the Rangers in order without a strikeout in the sixth, Santana struck out three more in the seventh, leaving Sosa’s two out double stranded at second.

With 14 strikeouts under his belt, Santana came out for the eighth inning even though his pitch count was at the point where he might normally be removed. Prior to Santana’s performance, the most strikeouts recorded in a game by a Twins pitcher was 15, done four times, the last by Bert Blyleven in 1986. Santana equaled that mark when he got Gerald Laird swinging for the third time in the game. He surpassed the mark when he got Nelson Cruz to swing and miss. It took him just four pitches to get number 17, when he got Jarrod Saltalamacchia swinging.

Santana pumped his fist and tipped his cap to the cheering crowd on his way to the dugout, a sign that he was not likely to return to make a run at the major league record of 20 K’s. From the Pioneer Press:

“I really didn’t make a decision. He did a curtain call before I even got down there,” manager Ron Gardenhire said after Santana pitched eight record-breaking innings, then walked into history and allowed Joe Nathan to cement the Twins’ 1-0 victory over Texas. “I said ‘Andy, what does that mean?’ (Pitching coach Rick Anderson) said, ‘I guess he’s done.’ ”


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