The problem in the Twin Cities is that Jon Rauch didn't do what he was supposed to and that's hold the lead with a minimum of drama. Entering a 7-2 game, Rauch gave up two hits and three walks. While it's a rare to lift a closer when the team still has the lead, Ron Gardenhire didn't have much choice. With four blown saves on his record--not including last night, which didn't end up as one--it's clear how much Rauch is struggling. And all Joe Nathan can do is watch and rehab.
Another lefthander stood even taller than Liriano last night and that was Barry Zito in San Francisco. For the second straight night the Giants beat the Mets in a one-run pitcher's duel, this one 1-0. Aubrey Huff had three hits and scored the games only run for Frisco. For the Mets, the sting of the loss was lessened by knowledge that the Phillies and Braves were also beaten. San Fran gained ground on Colorado and Los Angeles in the West, while San Diego continued its winning ways at the top.
Good pitchers' duels abounded in the West, and another took place in Anaheim, where Jered Weaver outlasted Felix Hernandez, as the Angels won their second straight in a 3-2 decision. For Seattle, they did start to see some return on the Cliff Lee deal--new 1B Justin Smoak hit a two-run homer for the teams' only runs.
The Angels can't gain ground though, because Texas is burying Boston. Last night it was the improbable sight of Bengie Molina hitting for the cycle. After an early single and double, he hit a grand slam to dead center in the fifth inning that broke open a tie game. The announcers for NESN, the Red Sox station, were joking about what it would take for the bulky catcher to hit a triple. Hit one in the deep centerfield triangle at Fenway, maybe bounce around a little. Lo and behold...Molina launched a deep fly to just that spot. It bounced off the glove of Eric Patterson, bounced around some more. And Molina was into third standing up.
While the cycle might have been the big display, it's also worth noting the Texas bullpen. Once Molina gave them the lead, Darren O'Day, Frank Francisco and Neftali Feliz turned in three innings of shutdown work to make the final frames uneventful, save for Molina's dramatics. For the Red Sox, the division slipped further away, as the Yankees beat the Rays, although the positive side is that they remain 3 ½ back of Tampa for the wild-card and count the days until regulars can get back in uniform.
Prince Fielder is the big bat that's on the market right now, a subject of no consternation to my Milwaukee-based mom, who's planned an August outing to the ballpark specifically to see Fielder. She didn't take it well when I told her Prince is almost certain to be out of town by then. The question is how much should the Brewers hold out for? If I were GM Doug Melvin, I wouldn't settle for Class A minor league prospects. Fielder is good enough that he merits bringing back talent that's major-league ready for next year. Because even if Milwaukee should lose him in free agency, they'd be compensated with two high draft picks. Melvin's track record suggests he could do as much with that as anyone. As for this season, while the Brewers are out of the playoff running, finishing in third place and beating out the rival Cubs are still goals that would keep this Packers-first area feeling reasonably good about baseball.