Two of the leading contenders for the AL Cy Young Award - C.C. Sabathia and Johan Santana - will be on the mound Friday night as the Twins look to make up ground in the playoff race in the series opener.
A fatal freeway bridge collapse about a half-mile from the Metrodome during rush hour Wednesday night forced the Twins to postpone Thursday afternoon’s scheduled series finale against Kansas City. The accident sent dozens of cars into the Mississippi River as fans were filing into the stadium.
Cleveland third baseman Casey Blake, who spent three seasons in the Twins’ organization, often drove over the bridge.
“It’s a big blow to that city,” Blake said. “That’s some serious stuff there. I would imagine the city is very somber. I don’t know what effect it will have on the players or the crowd. It’s sad.”
Twins officials contemplated canceling Wednesday’s game, but were concerned that increased traffic from the Metrodome that would occur if the game wasn’t played could impede rescue vehicles.
“It is a difficult situation, but it was the right thing to do to play,” Twins president Dave St. Peter said. “Not playing (Thursday) is also a matter of traffic control. We are respectful of the situation and for the lives lost.”
Alex Gordon’s two-run homer in the 10th inning sent the Twins to a 5-3 loss Wednesday, but manager Ron Gardenhire, who drove over the bridge hours before the collapse, understood that his players may have had their minds elsewhere.
“Obviously, a baseball game is kind of secondary around here,” he said. “All of our thoughts and prayers are with the folks over there around the bridge and the people working to try and save everybody’s lives. There was a ball game that had to be played. I don’t think a lot of us wanted to be out there but it was the right thing to do.”
The loss snapped a four-game win streak for Minnesota (55-52), which is six games behind AL Central-leading Detroit and 5 1/2 games in back of the Indians (61-47) for the wild card.
This will be the first start for Santana (11-8, 2.92 ERA) since he made critical comments toward the Twins organization after they failed to improve the team at the trade deadline, instead dealing second baseman Luis Castillo to the New York Mets for two prospects.
“I’m not surprised,” Santana said in an interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that was posted on the Twins’ official Web site. “That’s exactly how they are. That’s why we’ve never going to go beyond where we’ve gone.”
The two-time Cy Young winner will be facing the Indians for the second straight start and fourth time this season. He is 0-2 with a 3.43 ERA in his three outings against Cleveland in 2007, allowing only four runs and eight hits in 14 innings with two walks and 23 strikeouts in the past two.
Santana, who has lost his last two decisions overall after winning his five previous starts, is 4-5 with a 3.44 ERA in 10 home starts. He is 6-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 17 starts against Cleveland.
Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner is 6-for-32 (.188) against Santana, but four of those hits are home runs.
Sabathia (13-6, 3.58) is tied for the AL lead in wins, one behind major league leader Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs. The right-hander pitched very well against the Twins on Sunday, but three errors behind him resulted in a 4-1 loss. He allowed three runs - one earned - and six hits in 7 2-3 innings while matching a career high with 11 strikeouts.
Sabathia, who lost four of five decisions in July, is 1-1 with a 1.15 ERA in two starts this season against the Twins. He’s 8-8 with a 3.47 ERA in 23 career starts against Minnesota.
Cleveland ended a season-high four-game skid Thursday with a 5-0 victory over Texas, completing a 3-7 homestand. Grady Sizemore drove in two runs on his 25th birthday and Victor Martinez homered as the Indians pulled within one-half game of Detroit.
“It’s better that it happened at this time and not late in September,” Cleveland’s Kenny Lofton said of the losing streak.
The Indians have won six of eight games against the Twins this season.