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Mike McFeely column: Radke shines after being in the dark for first half of year

Minneapolis Ask three different people why Brad Radke is back to being the real Brad Radke, as opposed to the bizarro Brad Radke we saw before the All-Star break, and you'll get three different answers. Not that it much mattered to the Minnesota ...

Minneapolis

Ask three different people why Brad Radke is back to being the real Brad Radke, as opposed to the bizarro Brad Radke we saw before the All-Star break, and you'll get three different answers.

Not that it much mattered to the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night at the Metrodome. For the second time in a week, Radke out-pitched Chicago White Sox ace Esteban Loaiza the way a Brooklyn Little Leaguer would out-pitch a normal Little Leaguer. You know, one who does not need to shave and isn't old enough to drive a car.

The Twins won 5-2 and now have a precious 1½-game cushion in the American League Central over the White Sox. Outside of Loaiza, who couldn't find home plate with a global-positioning system, the person most responsible for this was Radke.

"Ice in his veins," Twins right fielder Michael Ryan said.

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"We're going to ride him and see how far he can take us."

Two months ago, that was an unthinkable thought. The Twins could not have ridden Radke to Maple Grove. He was 5-9 with an earned run average just below Mars. Radke had this nagging first-inning habit of allowing the baseball to leave the park in the opposite direction that it left his hand.

Since the All-Star Game, however, Radke is 8-1. Despite those who would have you believe Johann Santana is the ace of the Twins staff, that title once again belongs to Radke.

The difference? Here is where the story diverges.

Former Twins manager Tom Kelly, speaking on the radio prior to Tuesday's game: "He's pitching inside more. That's setting up his change-up on the outside half of the plate."

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire: "Location. I think if you asked him he'd say the same thing. His location is good. He's not throwing the ball down the middle anymore."

Following Gardenhire's advice, we asked Radke: "My change-up. Since the break I have pretty good movement on the changeup, I'm slowing it down a little bit and keeping it down. That's the big pitch for me. When it's working I usually have a pretty good game."

Now, that's just plain confusing. Although, admittedly, we'd have to lean toward taking Radke's word for it, since he is the one actually throwing the pitches. Just to make sure, Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynski was asked his thoughts.

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"It's probably a combination of all three," Pierzynski said. "He's pitching inside, his change-up is incredible and his location has been good.

"His location has been down and that's what Brad has to do. He always says that it doesn't matter what he throws, as long as it's down it is going to be tough to hit."

Case in point No. 1 came in the critical first inning Tuesday. Radke allowed consecutive singles to Roberto Alomar and Carlos Lee before many in the crowd of 32,921 had a chance to arrive late to the game.

The next White Sox batter was Frank Thomas, who has put together a mildly impressive season that includes 40 home runs and 96 runs batted in.

"First and second and no outs," Radke said. "I was thinking, 'Here we go again, give up a run or two in the first inning.'"

Or not. Instead, Radke threw a fastball down and away to the right-handed batting Thomas, who grounded into a double play. The next batter, Magglio Ordonez, flew out to center to end the inning.

"That was a tense situation," Gardenhire said. "But he got us out of it and that got everybody excited again and we went from there."

It was the key moment of the game for Radke. The Twins scored a run in the bottom of the inning and two more in the second. It was more than enough for Radke, who allowed eight hits but only one run over seven innings.

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It was vintage Radke, who had only three strikeouts but didn't walk a batter and continually got ahead of hitters. It was the polar opposite of Loaiza, who walked a season-high five batters in 2Zc innings and then talked of having flu-like symptoms after the game.

"Brad didn't lose his composure in that first inning," Ryan said. "He is always so relaxed out there. He doesn't crack. He could have lost his composure and made some mistakes but he didn't. He got the job done. As always."

Or at least since the All-Star break, which is all that matters to the Twins at this moment.

Readers can reach Mike McFeely at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com

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