Game: Twinks 6, Marinerds 5
The Quote: "We worked on that play in Spring Training and I fouled it up the only time I tried it in a game. This was better." - Mariners reliever Chris Jakubauskas
That must have been running through Twins' right fielder Michael Cuddyer's head as he tried in vein to reach back to second base ahead of the Mariners' pickoff attempt. With a nonchalant flick of his glove, Mariners' catcher Kenji Johjima set the pickoff play in motion. The 30-year-old rookie on the mound, Chris Jakubauskas, spun counterclockwise and fired a bullet to shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt who broke to the bag on Johjima's signal. Cuddyer did everything he could to do, short of snapping his ankles, to redirect his weight back to his right. Betancourt applied the tag and the Mariners vacated the field at the end of seven without any further damage done, down by just the one run.
Replaying that sitaution, it was one-part inspired and one-part crazy. With Cuddyer on second after a two-out double, the Mariners decided to put Justin Morneau on first. Intentionally walking Morneau was nothing new. In 2008, Morneau was issued 16 free passes intentionally, tied with the Angels' Vladamir Guerrero for league lead. With a two-run home run and a run-scoring double already on this game's resume (plus his one-hopper to Jose Lopez was sorched as well), the Mariners figured that Morneau was zeroed in on Wednesday night. What was curious about the decision was that the Mariners were opting to pitch instead to the left-handed Jason Kubel. Maybe not as dangerous as Morneau, Kubel was still 2-for-3 with a run-scoring double of his own.
The Mariners made the personnel decision in 2009 to begin the year with no left-handed options in the bullpen, so there was no possibility of a LOOGY to match-up against Kubel. Jakubauskas, an alumni of the independent Pioneer League, was throwing fairly well, already retiring five straight Twins before Cuddyer's extra base hit. While the Twins and the rest of the spectators were busy contemplating the thought-process behind the Mariners' actions, little did they know the Mariners were about to pull some tomfoolery out of their hats.
Yes, it was a low percentage-type play that had a strong likelihood of imploding in their face. An errent Jakubauskas throw could have wound up in center field, allowing Cuddyer and Morneau the opportunity to advance. At the very least, the play may not have worked at all, pressing the need to pitch to Kubel now with two men on base. Still, the entire sequence was ingenious. A rookie manager in Don Wakamatsu, who has no previous track record for other teams to note his tendencies, called for the play at the perfect moment. Like a magician, Wakamatsu provided misdirection when he walked Morneau, placing the focus on Kubel. Cuddyer meandered off second too far and too lackadaisically as he attempted to get his two-out lead from second. When Jakaubauskas pivoted, Cuddyer was dead in the water.
Fortunately for the Twins, Jesse Crain and Joe Nathan combined to shut down the Mariners in the eighth and ninth innings to keep the one-run lead intact and give the Twins their second victory of the year.