Lilly, Jays blank Twins at Dome
Starter throws six shutout innings; Molina hits two-run blast
MINNEAPOLIS -- Toronto starter Ted Lilly walked up the mound inside the Metrodome, stepped onto the pitching rubber and peered toward home plate. Taking his place inside the batter's box was Minnesota's Joe Mauer -- the American League's top hitter.
It was the type of situation where the fate of the game seemed to rest in the series of events that was about to take place. Lilly had allowed the first two batters in the sixth inning to reach on consecutive singles and Mauer represented the go-ahead run with no outs working against him.
"This game, in a lot of ways, can be affected by momentum. I believe in that," said Lilly, following Toronto's 5-0 win over Minnesota on Thursday night.
Lilly, who limited the Twins to one hit through the first five innings, was trying to find a way to keep the momentum in the Jays' favor.
Toronto (61-54) was clinging to a 2-0 lead and the left-hander's pitch count was rising steadily toward 100. After Mauer, who entered the game hitting .343 against southpaws, would be Michael Cuddyer, who happened to boast a .313 average against lefties. Making matters worse, the third batter due up was Justin Morneau, the Twins' offensive leader with 30 home runs and 101 RBIs.
First things first, though. Lilly (10-10) had to find a way to dispose of Mauer, who entered the game with a .369 average.
"I felt like [Toronto catcher Bengie Molina] and I had a good game plan going in against those guys," said Lilly, referring to the heart of Minnesota's lineup. "I felt like if I could get a ground ball in that situation, then I'm going to have a really good chance of getting out of it."
After working the left-handed-hitting Mauer into a 2-2 count, that's exactly what Lilly did. Minnesota's catcher chopped Lilly's 100th offering up the middle and to second baseman Aaron Hill, who gloved the ball cleanly. His only play was at first base because the runners were moving with the pitch. Hill threw Mauer out and the runners advanced into scoring position.
"One thing I haven't been doing as well as I should is getting those big outs," Lilly said. "That's going to happen -- you're going to get a couple guys on with no outs. But you watch a lot of the guys out there that win a lot of games and they find a way to minimize the damage."
So far, so good. Next came Cuddyer.
Lilly struggled to control his curveball against Minnesota (67-47) and had to find a way to work around his diminished arsenal. The left-hander turned to a mix of fastballs and sliders with an occasional changeup.
After working Cuddyer into a 1-0 count, though, Lilly found his breaking pitch -- if only for a moment. The pitch snapped and the Twins' right-handed hitter froze, watching as the curve broke into the zone for strike two.
"My curveball was hanging tonight," Lilly admitted. "I kept trying to go to it, but I had to find something else. That was the best curveball I threw all night."
Two pitches later, Cuddyer struck out swinging.
An inning that looked troublesome at the onset for Toronto appeared to be on the verge of slipping away from Minnesota, which leads the Jays by 6 1/2 games in the AL Wild Card race. The fate of the frame was then in the hands of Morneau, who became the first Twins hitter to reach 30 homers since 1987 when he belted a game-winning blast against Detroit on Wednesday.
"With a pretty good hitter like that," Lilly explained, "I don't think you can stay in one spot for too long. You've got to move the ball around."
So after working into a 1-1 count with Morneau, Lilly fired a fastball on the inner half of the plate. Morneau went for it, but sent the pitch high into the air for an easy flyout to Toronto third baseman Troy Glaus.
"[Lilly] rose to the occasion," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "The big thing was getting Morneau out there, when you're running out of gas against the middle of their lineup."
That stranded the runners, ended the threat and had Molina rambling on about how well Lilly pitched after the win.
After all, Mauer, Cuddyer, and Morneau -- the Nos. 3-5 hitters for Minnesota -- combined to go 0-for-8 against Lilly, who was 1-3 with a 5.87 ERA in his five previous outings.
"Ted is nasty, man," said Molina, who hit a two-run homer off Twins starter Carlos Silva in the fifth. "He showed that in that inning when he was against the ropes. He knew how to get out of it. He threw cutters inside and sliders away to lefties. He mixed it up well."
After Lilly closed the door on the Twins in the sixth, the Blue Jays answered with three more runs against Silva (8-10) in the seventh. The three-spot was capped off by a two-run single by Alex Rios that gave Toronto a 5-0 lead -- more than enough for the Jays' bullpen to work with for the final three innings.
"One of the things that I've been doing is giving up early runs and the other team gets some momentum," Lilly said. "That puts the pressure on our offense. It's important to go out there and throw up early zeroes and get the momentum in our dugout."
That's exactly what Lilly did.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.