Baker fans career-best 12 to drop Rox
Reliever Mijares gets critical outs in Twins' victory
MINNEAPOLIS -- In his previous two starts, Scott Baker had given up a combined nine runs off 14 hits and had struck out five total batters.
- 134 wins
- 118 wins
After putting up a 3-2 record in the month of May, the right-hander had yet to record a win in June.That all changed on Wednesday. Baker struck out a career-high 12 batters against the Rockies, leading the Twins to a 2-1 win, making it seem as though there was an entirely different pitcher on the mound than the Twins had become accustomed to. The right-hander, who pitched seven innings, broke his previous high of 10 strikeouts, which he set on June 4, 2009. Wednesday's performance marked only his second time he struck out 10 batters or more in his career. He gave up only two hits and one walk in the game. "It was a nice win for us tonight," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Our starting pitcher was fantastic. Baker had great stuff. It's a big swinging team over there tonight and you knew if he had his stuff tonight that he could do some damage, and he did. He threw the ball really, really well." Baker was able to strike out eight of the nine batters in the lineup, and four of those hitters he struck out twice. He also threw only 26 balls to the 24 batters he faced on the night. Baker credited his success to the fact that he was able to expand the strike zone by throwing fastballs that were up. To his benefit, the Rockies' hitters kept swinging at whatever he threw. "They were just super aggressive because all the strikes weren't technically strikes. But they just kept swinging and I just kept throwing it," Baker said. "You get ahead of guys and that's your first step and then make a good two-strike pitch. I think that's the name of the game. Good pitches get good hitters out." The right-hander's strong outing was backed by another solid inning by the Twins' bats. Danny Valencia drove in the first run of the game -- marking his first career RBI -- when he hit a single to left in the seventh inning. Nick Punto followed suit, hitting a single to center to score the second and final run of the inning, and ultimately the game. However, the Twins offensive efforts -- along with Baker's impeccable start -- almost went unnoticed when the Rockies attempted a comeback in the eighth inning. With two runners in scoring position and no outs in the inning, it looked like the game would be tied in a matter of minutes. It seemed inevitable a moment later when Seth Smith scored from third on a passed ball. But Jose Mijares was able to pull through for the Twins, letting out a scream and pumping his fist upon striking out Todd Helton -- the final batter he would face. Mijares said it was important for him to have a good outing considering Baker did such a good job on the mound, and that last out was the key for the reliever. "Yeah, that was awesome," Mijares said of his strikeout. "Everybody likes it, those are the best." Closer Jon Rauch sealed the victory for the Twins when he retired all three batters he faced in the ninth. The save marks his 17th of the season, which ties him for the lead in the American League with the Rangers' Neftali Feliz. The all-around strong pitching by the Twins left the Rockies frustrated. They recorded only three hits on the night. "I'm not taking anything away from Scott Baker at all, but let's face it, between him and their bullpen we struck out 13 times tonight, and that's not putting yourself in a position to apply any type of offensive pressure," Rockies' manager Jim Tracy said. Gardenhire said Baker's success came from throwing all of his pitches, which kept the Rockies off-balance and unable to get much production offensively. Although Baker was pleased with his 12 strikeouts, he said striking people out is a lot of work with the amount of pitches he had to throw -- he ended the night with 108 pitches -- and he is just happy he made it through seven innings doing so. However, the other Twins players were happy with more than just the number of innings he lasted and the amount of batters he struck out. "I've seen quite a few performances like that from him," Punto said. "He goes out there and gives us a chance every time he pitches, which is nice."
Jocelyn Syrstad is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.