Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 7/28/12
MINNEAPOLIS The quiet applause began in the top of the fifth inning. These weren't the raucous cheers that follow a home run those had come twice already for the Twins but rather the stuff of a tennis match or a golf tournament.At Target Field on Friday night, the applause was congratulatory, polite even, after Travis Hafner singled to center field. It was because of Hafner, but not for him. It was all Scott Diamond, all for the Twins' ace who'd just lost his perfect game. The cheers celebrated the end of something, but somehow the game just kept getting better. It was Diamond's first career complete game, a three-hit shutout to boot. It was the one of the Twins' best offensive performances of the year, an 11-0 win overshadowed by nearly perfect pitching and airtight defense.There was little to complain about in the game, which has been rare for the 41-58 Twins. It was a team win, but in the end, it all went back to Diamond. At 9-4, hes the only Twins starter with a winning record, and he boasts the lowest ERA, 2.88, of any starter as well. But now, as July comes to an end and Diamond settles into his role, theres something more encouraging than the statistics: the numbers are there, and Diamond has settled into the routine of baseball at the major league level. "We look forward to him taking the mound," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He gives us a great opportunity pretty much every night out, and hes been going at it really good. He throws the ball, pounds the strike zone."Diamond looks great on paper. Hes able to throw multiple pitches over the plate for effective strikes. Hes aggressive. He keeps opponents swinging and moves the pace of a game. He forces his defense to react quickly. He handled the end of his perfect game with ease, getting out of the inning without even a run and hitting his stride again quickly. Its what every manager wants from a starting pitcher, but the key to what Diamond has done this year goes beyond just a rudimentary analysis of the game.When Diamond was called up to the major leagues from Triple-A Rochester on May 7, he was a mystery to opponents. Hed pitched sporadically for the Twins in 2011, but he had no reputation. For the first few games at the major league level, thats a young pitchers ammunition. Look at P.J. Walters, for instance, whose pitching took a downturn as soon as advance scouts got a look at him.Breakout performances by young pitchers are exciting. But sustaining them is impressive, and thats what Diamond has done. Where some young players fall apart as opponents learn the nuances of their game, Diamond has adjusted. Where time has been others worst enemy, its allowed him to truly find his game."Its a process. Its always a process in this league," Gardenhire said. "Its just like hitters. Hitters have to get 1500-2000 at-bats to kind of figure things out in this league, most of them. Not all them, most of them. Pitchers have to get innings and games underneath their belts.""His mechanics are solid. Hes not screwing around with that anymore. Once you get that now its about finding your pitches and getting them where you want them."Diamond also credited his relationship with his catcher, Joe Mauer, for Fridays win and his overall success. He and Mauer were on the same page all night, he said, and when he struggled to select a pitch, Mauer was there to suggest the right one. That kind of relationship comes with time and familiarity, and nearly three months after his call-up, Diamond is capitalizing.In addition, Diamond has taken the time to build relationships with the teams veteran players. Where he once might have seen himself as competing with those players for a spot in the rotation, Diamond is now one of them. Carl Pavano, whos struggled this season but been successful in the past, has become a mentor."I owe it all to him," Diamond said. "Hes really helped me get the mental state thats really helped me through the games, especially when Im in trouble, just focusing on what can get me out of the inning."Those relationships are the elements of a pitchers game that are hidden on the mound. No one notices the infinitesimal signs exchanged between Mauer and Diamond as the game races along. No one sees the conversations with Pavano in the clubhouse, but theyre reflected clearly in both Diamonds confidence in himself and the teams confidence in the 25-year-old. As the game progressed into its final innings and the Twins held a commanding lead, Diamond began to wonder if hed be able to return to the mound for a complete game. He decided to ask pitching coach Rick Anderson if he could stay in the game, and Anderson told him what he wanted to hear. Of course he was going to stay in the game. He didnt even need to ask. Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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