“Better late than never” was the mantra used by the Minnesota Twins in their 3-2 come-from-behind victory Wednesday at Target Field. The late inning heroics by Eduardo Escobar preserved an extremely efficient outing by the oft-criticized Kevin Correia who went seven innings, surrendering seven hits, allowing two runs and striking out two.
For the Twins, this was a game that the team needed to win. After squandering a chance to steal a victory from the Detroit Tigers on Monday, the team was put into another situation that tested their ability to win close games on Wednesday afternoon. However, this time the outcome went in the Twins favor.
The problem over the past few seasons, which is well documented, has been the Twins pitching or lack thereof. When the team signed Correia, they were signing him for his durability and his ability to be an innings-eater in a rotation filled with many unknowns. Do I think the team vastly overpaid for Correia? Yes I do, but you cannot argue that what Correia did on Wednesday was short of spectacular in his first regular season start for the Twins.
Correia struggled mightily this spring with a 0-2 record with a 6.30 ERA while surrendering 27 hits in 20 innings of work. I was outspoken in stating that he should be moved to the bullpen or removed from the rotation and based off what I saw on Wednesday, I may have to pump the brakes a little on my criticism. Correia displayed mettle and toughness against a potent Tigers lineup and on a couple of occasions, worked himself out of trouble when runners were in scoring position.
If you look at the box score from the game, you may walk away unimpressed by Correia’s start, but look closer at the context and the box score and the impressiveness will begin to grow on you. Of the 28 batters that Correia faced in the Tigers lineup, Correia started 16 of the at-bats with a strike. In baseball, pitching ahead is very important and the importance is magnified when you are facing a tough lineup like the Tigers. Working ahead allowed Correia to pitch to his strengths and force ground balls which he did. If Correia has to work from behind in counts, his stuff is not good enough to get hitters out and it will allow for hitters to see a good pitch and take advantage of it.
Let’s also not forget how good the Tigers are and how important each victory over them truly is. This team is constructed to win games in October and their lineup, once they click, will be among the best in all of baseball. With Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera anchoring the middle of the lineup and Justin Verlander dominating the starting rotation, the Tigers have the pieces to win a World Series. It may be one victory in April, but this victory goes a long way towards building the confidence of a pitcher like Correia and an inexperienced club like the Twins.
These starts by Correia may be few and far between so it is important to recognize his accomplishments when they occur. We cannot, however, forget that if Escobar does not hit a walk-off double to win the game, Correia’s start would have been wasted. Three runs may not be a lot, but sometimes it is the timing — not the total — of the runs that matters most. The Twins got enough quality at-bats and timely hitting that led them to an important victory and they got a quality start out of a pitcher who has been heavily scrutinized. All things considered, the quality outweighed the quantity during the Twins first victory of the year.