GameChat – Athletics @ Twins, 7:10

The triumphant warriors return!!  They are a little battle-weary and beat up but they have returned home victorious.  Sadly, they just won a battle, not the war.  Such violent trending in my thoughts today – wonder if that is a result of the give & take yesterday.  Regardless, the California boys get to experience a little Minnesota back-to-school weather.  No time to rest up yet.  However, you’ll see by tonight’s lineup that some of the starters are getting a little break which is very good.  Mauer is sitting tonight allowing Butera to catch Blackburn since he didn’t catch yesterday.  Span has a sore shoulder after that hard dive in CF last night.  He was feeling it in batting practice so they scratched him late and Revere gets a start.  Kubel is still a bit sore so Repko gets his spot.

The only one who really needs a rest that still hasn’t gotten it?  Michael Cuddyer.  Really, Gardy, someone needs to spend at LEAST one day getting some innings at 1B so as to have adequate backup later JUST IN CASE Cuddy is not able to play a complete game at 1B for whatever reason.  Just saying. *knock on wood*

All together, I am glad that they are getting a break now so as to be back soon.  We’ll see what that does to the mood and effort tonight. *crosses fingers*

Oakland @ Minnesota
Crisp, CF   Revere, CF
Barton, D, 1B   Hudson, O, 2B
Ellis, M, 2B   Young, D, LF
Cust, DH   Cuddyer, 1B
Suzuki, K, C   Thome, DH
Davis, R, RF   Valencia, 3B
Iwamura, 3B   Hardy, SS
Carter, LF   Repko, RF
Pennington, SS   Butera, C
Anderson, B, P   Blackburn, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Oakland 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 3 11 0
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 5 0

 

I suppose I’m being greedy, especially given my post earlier in the day where I proposed giving guys a little rest, but I really wanted to see the guys come back and win this game. I admit that, since I was watching this in a bar during my son’s wedding rehearsal dinner, that my judgment may not be absolutely crystal clear. However, it sure looked to me like Blackie threw a nice ballgame. I saw a LOT of ground balls and with Nick that’s a really good sign.

I understand that this was virtually 2/3 of a “normal” lineup, but dangit it sure seemed like whenever I looked up at the screen during the last half of the game, the Twins had some guys on base anyway. Seeing the Chairman pinch hit and then stay in the game behind the plate for the last couple of innings sure sent the message that Gardy wasn’t inclined to be throwing games away, so that’s encouraging anyway.

I’m also not sure I’ve ever been so happy for a guy to get a walk as I was when Ben Revere worked the count full got the free pass in his final plate appearance. I saw him in Spring Training and while he may not be a power hitter, I can assure you all that he is perfectly capable of hitting the ball past the pitcher, despite his three consecutive “1-3″ ABs tonight. Keep plugging, Ben!

Finally… am I the only person who found it just a little humorous that Manny Ramirez finally hit his first home run as a Sox tonight… the night AFTER the Twins left town with their sweep? Maybe they should have worn those god-awful green uniforms earlier (still not sure what that was about… did I miss the announcement about a second St Patricks Day this year?).

OK that’s enough about tonight. It was just a minor speed bump and I’m sure our guys will come out swinging tomorrow afternoon. Go Twins! – JC

What’s Next?

Every team that shows up for Spring Training has essentially the same set of three goals:

  1. Win our division (or at least get that wild card spot to get to the playoffs);
  2. Advance to the World Series
  3. WIN the World Series.

At the risk of offending the baseball gods, after this week’s sweep of the Sox, it’s getting pretty safe to say the Twins have accomplished that first goal. They’ve overcome the adversity of losing key players for all or most of the season. They’ve tinkered with their starting rotation and bullpen roles. They’ve had players who were not envisioned having any role this season step up and contribute when called upon to do so.  They’ve made a couple of key late-season roster additions.

They say the regular season is a marathon, not a sprint, and while the Twins have not held the lead throughout the entire race, they have built a lead at the end that is insurmountable as long as they don’t come down with whatever the baseball equivalent of rigor mortis is (Tiger mortis?) over the next two weeks.

So it’s time to cross number one on that set of goals off the list and ask, “What’s next?”

The last couple of times the Twins have accomplished goal number 1, they’ve had to sprint so hard at the end of the race that, even upon being successful, they could do little but collapse at the finish line and let their rested ALDS opponents walk over their backs and on to the ALCS. There’s no reason that should happen again in 2010.

Tackling the second goal, advancing to the World Series, is akin to lining up for a 400 meter race after finishing a marathon. Your chances of success depend a great deal on how much rest you’ve been able to get between races and how well you recognize that winning two series, a best-of-5 and a best-of-7, calls for a different strategy than coming out on top of a “best-of-162” season.

So here’s Jim Crikket’s “How the Twins Get to the World Series in 4 Easy Steps”.

Step 1: Conserve energy at the end of that marathon.

Yes, it would be wonderful to finish with the best record in the American League… but not if it means your key players enter the post-season tired and nursing nagging injuries. The Twins not only have a 9 game lead in the standings over Chicago, but a pretty nice 5 1/2 game lead over the Rangers. As long as that lead stays safe, the Twins are going to have home field advantage and host the Wild Card team in the ALDS.

Use Baker as a 6th starting pitcher down the stretch

It sounds like Scott Baker is healthy and that means the Twins have six starting pitchers available. Use them. Give everyone an extra day’s rest using a six man rotation the last couple of weeks.

Don’t overwork the bullpen. There is little reason for any of the short relievers that the Twins will be relying on in the post-season (Capps, Rauch, Fuentes, Guerrier, Crain, Mijares) to pitch two days in a row or more than one inning in any game. Keep them sharp. Use them intelligently. But make sure they are strong for the ALDS.

Get and keep everyone healthy. Is Jason Kubel’s wrist sore? Let him rest. Is Jim Thome’s back stiff? Sit him down. Hudson, Hardy and Valencia have all nursed some injuries the past few weeks. Make sure those are as healed as possible.

Oh, and for Gods sake, find SOMEONE who can give Michael Cuddyer a couple of days off at first base, will ya?

Step 2: Set your rotation.

This really isn’t rocket science, so don’t over-think things. The ALDS is set up as two games, day off, two games, day off, one game. ‘Stache and Frankie are going to pitch the first two games and Brian Duensing is going in game 3. If you’re down 1 game to 2 after that, Pavano’s going on 3 days rest in game 4. If you’re up 2-1, you go with whoever your best #4 starter has been during the final couple of weeks. Who knows, you may even sweep the other guys in 3 games and not have to worry about game 4.

Carl Pavano has to be the Game 1 starter

There’s been some discussion about whether Pavano or Liriano should be your Game 1 starter. After Pavano’s less-than-impressive outing Thursday night, the debate could pick up steam. But please… there’s no question it’s Pavano. As much as the Twins have been in the playoffs this decade, it’s easy to forget that Liriano has never started a postseason game. He was quoted this week saying that he’s already nervous about making his first playoff start. In case you haven’t noticed, Frankie + nervous = not good. You do not want him starting Game 1, never mind a possible Game 4 on short rest (and on the road) to stay alive. Win Game 1 behind Pavano and maybe Liriano will relax a little bit before taking the mound for Game 2 (OK, probably not).

Step 3. Make sure everyone knows what their role is… and that it’s not necessarily the role they’ve played during the first 162 games.

Perhaps I should preface this with, “make sure GARDY knows what everyone’s role is and that HE knows those roles aren’t necessarily the same as they’ve been the first 162 games.”

This is where you tell Matt Tolbert, Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Jason Repko and yes, Drew Butera, “Thank you… you have all done a terrific job when called upon this season and we would not be in the position we are in without you. You will all get a ring and a playoff check when this is over. But outside of a little pinch running, late game defensive assistance, or (God forbid) stepping up for an injured team mate, your primary role the rest of the way is ‘cheerleader’.”

On the one hand, when the most widely discussed topic among a playoff-bound team’s fan base revolves around its backup catcher, that team must be looking pretty good. On the other hand, there’s a reason that the role of Drew Butera in the playoffs is being widely discussed.

Catcher controversy? Um... no.

There has been widespread concern that Ron Gardenhire would continue using Butera as Pavano’s personal catcher in the playoffs. Thursday’s pairing of Pavano and Mauer hopefully put this question to bed. If Pavano does have to pitch 2 of those ALDS games, it would be insane to have Drew Butera in the lineup instead of Jim Thome for 40-50% of your playoff games.

The problem is, sometimes even the best Major League managers forget they are no longer running the marathon and they lose a little bit of their sanity. Even Tom Kelly did it with Junior Ortiz in the 1991 World Series, when Ortiz was Scott Erickson’s “personal catcher”. That just proves TK wasn’t always sane, either. But I’d like to think that even Kelly would have made a different choice if, instead of Ortiz taking Brian Harper’s spot in the batting order, it would have meant Kent Hrbek had to sit.

Step 4: Relax.

All season long, this team has been loose on the field and, from all reports, loose in the clubhouse. They seem to have really enjoyed the season and have never worried too much about the individual games. There has been a confidence that every day somebody is going to step up and provide the critical hit, the shutdown pitching performance or the defensive gem that leads to a win. Don’t let anything change that approach.

When you’ve accomplished the second goal, we’ll take a look at what it takes to tackle that 3rd and final one. But for now, you never know when your next trip to the playoffs will be, so relax, have fun and enjoy this one.

And that goes for the fans, too. – JC

GameChat – Twins @ White Sox, FINALE, 7:10

This is it – the final game against the White Sox this year.  Given the facial expressions on Ozzie’s face last night, he’s really not expecting much.  I hope our boys don’t take that for granted though.  I want to see full effort from them but we still have most of our starters out there so I don’t think Gardy is going easy. Repko is still out there in Kubel’s place but Kubel is still dealing with some soreness. It’s better for him to get healthy and healed up right now than wait and lose him later.

You’ll also notice that Mauer is catching Pavano tonight instead of Butera.  I think that is a way to make sure the guys are comfortable and familiar with each other again going into a possible post-season run.  If you are in a division championship series or even further, you don’t sit one of the best players in the game because your starting pitcher has a preference.  It makes me feel pretty good about the relationship between Gardy and Pavano – which one is the manager still seems to be clear.  And I don’t think it was ever a tense issue either – I just think it’s good to know that he’s keeping ALL his options open.  If it’s the appropriate move to have Mauer DH instead of catch, they have the option to put Butera out there but I don’t know if I want that to be the default position.  Pavano is a professional, a veteran, AND an excellent pitcher so he has the ability to do a fantastic job no matter who is catching him.  Go guys!

Minnesota @ Chi White Sox
Span, CF   Pierre, LF
Hudson, O, 2B   Vizquel, 2B
Mauer, C   Rios, CF
Cuddyer, 1B   Konerko, 1B
Young, D, LF   Ramirez, M, DH
Thome, DH   Quentin, RF
Valencia, 3B   Pierzynski, C
Repko, RF   Ramirez, A, SS
Hardy, SS   Morel, 3B
  Pavano, P     Buehrle, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 3 0 0 3 0 0 0 2 8 12 1
Chi White Sox 0 0 1 1 0 3 0 0 0 5 9 1

 

Kinda says it all, doesn't it!?

 

It was most DEFINITELY not pretty but they got it done.  We swept the White Sox and the magic number is down to 8.  Fantastic!  Homeplate ump, Jerry Crawford, made a bunch more enemies tonight and REALLY contributed to more walks in this game than I have seen in a long time.  I also think this was the longest game where Beuhrle pitched this whole season.  Sheesh.  It took forever.

There were some moments of … drama.  Pavano clipped Paul Konerko across the face early in the game.  I was glad to see that Konerko was for the most part unhurt and stayed in the game.  That’s one tough boy right there.  Of course, even though it was obviously unintentional, you knew there was going to be some retaliation.  It was a bit amusing because Twitter and the Gamechat immediately lit up with speculation that Delmon was in for it now.  I’m sure he also wondered – but breathed a sigh of relief when Cuddy, who had the first AB in front of him, took a hit to the shoulder in front of him.  He just took it quietly, and took his base… and then managed to score in the course of the inning so that was cool.  And Konerko got a little of his own back with a nice solo shot HR in his next AB.  My fears that things would start to really escalate after that were allayed.  There was another HBP later in the game that got Ozzie all riled up again because Crawford wouldn’t call a 2 strike pitch with RISP intentional… goodness.

Anyway, the whole bullpen deserves recognition for getting the job done tonight even though it made us all a little nervous.  Every pitcher on our side except Capps gave up at least one walk tonight – which reflected more on Crawford’s strike zone consistency than their pitching I think.  But for dropping the hammer when it mattered, I would like to present a whole buffet of pastries with which to treat themselves.

And the offense really had it going tonight too.  Joe Mauer hit his 200th career double.  He just keeps racking up mark after mark for himself.  It’s amazing what he has done with his career so far and I still think of him as a kid – I’m going to have to get over that one of these days.  But just as a nice reward, he gets a special order Peanut Butter and Jelly donut.  If you’ve never had one, seriously, you should try it.  It seems like something that would appeal to him.  The BOD tonight goes to Delmon Young though.  Again.  He was 3/5 with 2 Runs, 2 RBI, a towering HR and a beautiful, surprise catch in the OF.  It was a good night for Delmon.

Fathers and Sons and Baseball

My son is getting married Saturday.

Times like these make a person become reflective (they do me, anyway) and one of the advantages of having a blog is that they give you an outlet to express your feelings on whatever topic is on your mind. This week, this is what’s on my mind. (OK, I admit I’ve had the Twins/Sox series on my mind a little bit, too.)

I know I’m going to get emotional about the wedding. I do that. Heck, I still tear up at the end of Field of Dreams (“Hey dad… you wanna have a catch?” sob). Fathers and sons and baseball… it gets me every time.

Before I go on, let me get this out of the way… the young woman he’s marrying is great and they are great together. Our family loves her, her family loves him. Everyone is thrilled (in fact, some among the two families think the wedding is long overdue). I’m not reflecting on all of this because I’m afraid I’m about to “lose my son.” I lost him a long time ago… and yet I’ll never lose him. Such is the relationship between a father and son. At least that’s the nature of the relationship in my case. But the upcoming wedding has had me also thinking about my own dad… and I can’t think about him without thinking about baseball, too.

My dad  turned down a low-minor league contract offer from the White Sox to finish school and get a “real job” long before I was born. He was a high school baseball coach in Albert Lea as I was growing up. He coached some basketball and even some golf, too, for a while, but most of my best memories revolve around the mid-to-late 1960s when he was primarily a baseball coach.  I not only didn’t miss many games (unless I was playing in one, myself), I rarely missed practices. I lived and breathed baseball. Nothing was better than being around baseball players… and my dad. I lived for the day when I’d get to do more than just be a batboy or keep the scorebook for one of those teams… when I’d get to play for the Tigers… for my dad.

And then things changed.

My dad gave up teaching and coaching to start his own business after his 1969 Albert Lea team finished second in the Minnesota State Tournament and I suppose that made a difference in our relationship. But I think the fact that I became a teenage boy that summer probably had more to do with any change in things between us.

If you have been reading my posts for a while, you may already have come to the conclusion that I’m an idiot. I can’t really argue that point. But the fact that, as a 14 year old “youth league” ballplayer, I decided I wanted to play on a team coached by a local auto parts store owner instead of for a man who had not only taught me everything I knew about the game but had virtually been teaching baseball to kids far more talented than I was since before I was born, should tell you all you need to know about just HOW LONG I’ve been an idiot. To my credit, however, I corrected my mistake the following year and had the most enjoyable summer of baseball in my life in the one season I played for a team my dad coached. A couple of years later, he and I even coached a youth league team together. That was great, too. Any time I spent with him around baseball was a great time.

My dad often told me that it didn’t matter to him what I chose to do with my life, as long as I strove to be “the best” at whatever career or profession I chose. I didn’t become a professional ballplayer or a successful doctor or lawyer and it was clear even by the time I was in my 30s that I would never be “the best” at my chosen profession. My dad loved me and I loved him and we had some great times together on and off the baseball field, but I could never escape the feeling that I was not living up to his expectations. I never felt he was really proud of me… not as a teenager, not as an adult making my way in the world… not to this day.

My own son was only 8 years old when, after a decade-long fight, cancer took my dad… and my son’s grandpa… away from us.  I won’t bore you with a recitation of the experimental treatments and surgeries my dad endured to last as long as he did, but suffice to say he didn’t go down without a fight. In return for all of that, among other things he got to hold his granddaughter (my daughter*, born less than a year before he passed) in his arms. He also got to play a little ball in the yard with his grandson and watch him play some T-ball games.

Dad passed away during the 1991 World Series (which is why I really don’t remember much about watching that Series). I was still playing baseball at the time, myself, in a “senior” baseball league, and the team I was playing for had a tournament game the day after my dad died. I showed up and pitched that game. I’d like to say I played because that’s what my dad would have wanted me to do, but the fact is he thought I was nuts for continuing to try to play baseball at the age of 35. Nor did I play that game to take my mind off my dad. Quite the opposite. I played because I never felt closer to my dad than I did when I was on a baseball field. I still feel that way today.

I continued playing ball for a few more years, but I also started getting more involved with coaching my son’s baseball teams. I was never one of those fathers who drove his son to become a professional ballplayer (having my genes pretty much doomed his chances of that), but I was determined to make sure he and the other boys learned how fun it could be to spend their spring and summer on baseball fields… just the way I had learned from my dad.

I also took my own son to Twins games… just the way my dad had taken me. Yes, these were indoors at the Metrodome, while my dad and I had shared sunny days (and some rainy ones) at Metropolitan Stadium, but that doesn’t matter. Even winning and losing didn’t matter. Of all the Twins games I saw with my dad, I remember the result of exactly one… a pitchers’ duel between Sam McDowell and Jim Perry that the Twins lost 1-0. What mattered then (and what matters now) is that I shared those experiences… this grand game… with my dad and with my son.

Over the past few years, my son and I have continued going to ballgames, sometimes with other friends and family members and sometimes just the two of us. We’ve been to Target Field a couple of times this summer. We also share season tickets for Iowa Hawkeye football games. Lately, I’ve become fully aware that I’ve passed the age at which my own dad was diagnosed with cancer, so I’m feeling my mortality a bit. But his fiancé has become a Twins fan, too (her favorite player is Michael Cuddyer and she seemed to really like the “Cuddy is My Buddy” t-shirt I bought her), so I’m confident that the next generation of my family will be enjoying Twins games well in to the future.

So anyway… this Saturday, I won’t be joining the Knuckleballs GameChat when the Twins face the A’s at noon (the schedule my soon-to-be daughter-in-law has distributed tells me I’m supposed to be picking up cake at noon and delivering it to the reception hall). By late afternoon, my “little boy” will be married and we’ll all begin an evening-long celebration of the event. But no matter how dressed up and grown up he looks on Saturday, I’ll still be seeing the two-year old I held on my lap at the 1985 All-Star game at the Dome, the 5 year old playing whiffleball with his grandpa in the yard and the boy hitting his first “over the fence” home run at a tournament in Apple Valley.

He’s never going to play first base for the Twins, become a celebrated doctor/lawyer or even become the most financially successful person in his chosen career. But he’ll be a good father some day. I know that because he’s been a terrific son… and I can’t imagine being any prouder of him than I am now.  – JC

***********************************************************************************

*Please don’t think that, just because my daughter got only one mention in this post, that she’s played any less of an important role in my life or that I’m any less proud of her. She may have developed a much greater interest in the fine arts, rather than sports, but I’ve treasured every play or concert I’ve been blessed to attend with her, whether she was performing or we all were just enjoying together from the audience.  It will be very emotional for me to watch my son get married, but I can’t begin to imagine what it will be like some day to watch my little girl do the same. (That’s why, even now as she begins her second year of college, she is not allowed to date.) My kids have both turned out terrific. Thank God they have a wonderful mother to make up for their screwed up dad.

GameChat – Twins @ White Sox #2, 7:10

I can’t help it. Even though I am usually the first to remind baseball fans not to count their chickens before they hatch, I’m also one who likes to be prepared.  So, my thoughts about tonight’s game can’t help but wander towards how this is the kind of matchup Duensing wants to be ready for in the post season (if we get there *knock on wood*).  Brian has been really a star in the second half of this season and I am sure he will be in any possible post-season rotation.  But games like tonight?  They show us how we’re set for that kind of situation.  I’m looking forward to it.

Minnesota @ Chi White Sox
Span, CF   Pierre, LF
Hudson, O, 2B   Ramirez, A, SS
Mauer, C   Rios, CF
Kubel, RF   Konerko, 1B
Cuddyer, 1B   Ramirez, M, DH
Thome, DH   Quentin, RF
Young, D, LF   Pierzynski, C
Valencia, 3B   Vizquel, 3B
Hardy, SS   Beckham, 2B
  Duensing, P     Floyd, G, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 3 3 3 0 0 9 13 2
Chi White Sox 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 0 0 3 12 0

 

We Twins fans are definitely getting spoiled.  We’re now 41-16 since the All-Star break which means we don’t have to face that losing situation post-game very often lately.  And I ALMOST feel bad for Ozzie Guillen.  I know what I feel everytime we roadtrip to Yankee Stadium – that undeniable sense of dread that you know isn’t reasonable but always seems to be a self-fulfilling prophesy.  They just can’t seem to beat us this year – mostly because I think the Twins are a better team – but tonight had some CRAZY bounces that were practically unplayable.  How do you factor what looks like sheer bad luck into a playoff chase?

Duensing is just rocking the world right now.  And tonight was NOT one of his better performances.  I really wanted to see how he responded to the pressure, what his general mood would be and all those ‘intagibles’ that are so hard to quantify.  You know what?  He rocked.  He threw WAAAAAAAY too many pitches in the first couple innings and had some rough spots during the game.  But if you watched his face, he didn’t stress out, he didn’t get frustrated, he didn’t over-react.  He took the call, adjusted and threw again.  THAT is the kind of reaction you want to see in ANY pitcher you are considering for a post-season rotation and it’s EXCELLENT to see in a rookie.  I’m VERY excited about the possibilities for his future career.  So tonight, he has full access to the pastry buffet. Congrats Brian.

The offense decided to show off a bit tonight too – although, as mentioned earlier, some of it was on ridiculous bounces.  Span seems to be coming back to the guy we remember after a bit of a slump; Hardy is hitting GREAT now that he’s finally healthy again, Valencia had a good night to reverse the slide of late and in general, we were making plays we needed to make.  Kubel left the game with a sore wrist and Repko was ready to just slide right in.

But NO ONE showed off the offense tonight like Joe Mauer.  He finally got another homerun – in addition to hitting 3/4, 2 Runs, an IBB, and 3 RBI.   Yeah, he had a good night.  *laugh* For that, the chat voted him BOD.

GameChat – Twin @ White Sox, 7:10

Here it is – the final series with the White Sox. From a math perspective, the White Sox are quickly losing any balance in the odds. However improbable the numbers are now, they aren’t impossible so every game counts. PLUS, the rest of baseball is finally starting to join me in looking up the line instead of back – whoever takes the AL East doesn’t really matter to me, but the home field advantages do! So let’s keep winning.

Minnesota @ Chi White Sox
Span, CF   Pierre, LF
Hudson, O, 2B   Ramirez, A, SS
Mauer, C   Rios, CF
Cuddyer, 1B   Konerko, 1B
Kubel, RF   Ramirez, M, DH
Young, D, LF   Quentin, RF
Thome, DH   Pierzynski, C
Valencia, 3B   Vizquel, 3B
Hardy, SS   Beckham, 2B
Liriano, P   Danks, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 2 0 2 5 0 9 12 1
Chi White Sox 0 0 0 0 2 1 0 0 0 3 8 2

 

Not many nails remaining!

Well THAT was fun!

It may just be me, but that game epitomized the Twins and the White Sox seasons. Both teams got solid starting pitching for a few innings. The Twins scored first, the Sox answered and even pulled ahead. The Twins answer, with the bottom part of the order coming through.

The Sox turned right around and threaten to pass right by again. The Twins bullpen has a hiccup but then slams the door in the Sox collective faces and then the hitters start taking advantage of Sox mistakes to pull away to a 9-3 win.

Joe Mauer was, as usual, right in the thick of things with three hits, including the 1000th of his young career, earning him a nice, moderately priced bottle of wine to celebrate the occasion (after all, we’re expecting a couple thousand more of those things out of him). JJ Hardy had a couple of doubles, earning himself a big ole hunk of double-chocolate cake. JJ wasn’t the only one with an extra base hit tonight, though. Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Denard Span all added doubles, as well, and Delmon Young launched a home run, as well.

But for the first time this season (I think), the GameChat crew voted a relief pitcher Boyfriend of the Day honors. Jesse Crain entered the game in the 7th inning with nobody out and two men on base with the Twins nursing a 4-3 lead. Not only did he prevent the Sox from scoring, but he struck out Paul Konerko and Manny Ramirez back-to-back to end the inning and preserve the lead before the Twins went on to put up a 5-spot in the top of the 8th to put things away. Crain has just been outstanding for most of the season and tonight’s performance showed just how important he has become to the team… and why he is our BOD! – JC

So how big is Twins Territory anyway?

It’s always true that the bandwagon gets a bit more crowded when a team is being as successful – especially late in the season – as the Twins are right now. But here at Knuckleballs, we’ve understood from the outset that many of our regulars would not be lucky enough to be in Minnesota. ;)  That’s part of the appeal of joining with other fans online when you are away from regular access to fellow fans. 

So, we added one of those fancy little tracker thingies to see how many people were stopping by to visit AND it tells us the various locations in the world people are logging in from.  WOW.  We were REALLY surprised to find out how many people out there from all over logged in.  But yeah, we know that most of those visits from overseas are probably not actually Twins fans and we just discounted them as bots… 

But then we started getting messages from minor league family members in Australia.  And we noticed that some of the locations are very regular and repeated.  Who knew that there are Canadian Twins fans!  How fabulous!  And while we know a few of the people come regularly and comment or join the chats, most of our readers don’t ever speak up.

So if you’re a frequent reader but haven’t ever felt the need to vent/vex/chat, here’s your chance to make a mark.  We really want to know where people are and how they found us or the Twins.  Select the option that best applies to you in the poll, and please, feel free to add more – especially if we haven’t heard from you before!  If you are further afield, we’d love to hear if you became a Twins fan here in MN and moved away or if you managed to discover them despite being outside their home broadcast area!

Twins History Lesson: September 13-19

I know, I know… I skipped a couple of weeks of History Lessons*. My bad. What’s that? You hadn’t noticed? Gee, thanks a lot! I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that. You know what they say… “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” And the Twins have a lot of history that they really don’t want to repeat, trust me.

I’m not going to go through the last two weeks and bring everything up to date, but I will mention a few events that I missed the opportunity to recount.

After all, we really do need to pause for a moment and acknowledge the longest home run hit by a Twin at the Metrodome. That would be a 480 ft shot off the bat of Kent Hrbek, launched on September 9, 1984 off of Rangers’ knuckleballer Charlie Hough.

Did you know that Harmon Killebrew’s last home run as a Twin, on September 11, 1974, was a walk-off 2-run shot to beat the A’s 5-3? If you claim you were there to see it, I’m going to need to see ticket stubs to prove it. Paid attendance that day was 3,982.

Eric Milton

Twenty-five years later, on September 11, 1999, Eric Milton tossed the fourth no-hitter in Twins history, beating the Angels 7-0. Only 11,222 were there for the game, which was one of those infamous 11:00 am starts to accommodate a Gophers football game scheduled for that evening (no, I didn’t check to see if they happened to lose to South Dakota U that Saturday, too). The Twins alllowed anyone showing up in their pajamas to get in to the game free. (I wonder if the wait-staff at the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant took advantage of the offer.)

We also can’t let this  event of September 3, 2006, pass without noting it (although I’m sure Bert Blyleven would prefer we would all forget). They say that, during his suspension, Twins fans attending games often broke out in to chants of “Free Bert!” and the organization eventually relented and reinstated him. I wonder though… were they absolutely certain it wasn’t just a bunch of confused, drunken clubbers hollaring for the Twins to play “Free Bird!” on the PA?

Anyway… on to this week’s History Lesson:

Terry Ryan

On September 13, 1994, the Twins named Terry Ryan as the team’s General Manager. Exactly thirteen years later, on the same date in 2007, Ryan announced his resignation from that position, effective at the end of the season. Ryan has remained a Senior Advisor to the team.

Looking at September 14:

1989: With his save of a 2-0 Twins win over the the Blue Jays, closer Jeff Reardon became the first pitcher to rack up at least 30 saves in five consecutive seasons.

1994: Already a month in to a players strike, MLB owners officially vote to cancel the rest of the season and the postseason.

2003: Ever wonder what F-9-8 means on a scorecard? On this date, it meant Twins RF Mike Ryan lost a fly ball off the bat of the Tribe’s Jhonny Peralta, had the ball hit him on the top of the head, and fall cleanly in to the glove of CF Dustan Mohr.

And on September 15:

1961: Those of you too young to ever see Sam McDowell pitch may have trouble believing this one, but on this date, “Sudden Sam” made his MLB debut against the Twins and left in the 7th inning after throwing so hard that he broke two of his own ribs. McDowell K’d 7 and left with a 2-0 lead, which the Twins were able to overcome eventually for a 3-2 win. Lee Stange, pitching in relief for the Twins, notched his first career victory. (In his recent SI.com post about the “32 fastest pitchers” in baseball history, Joe Posnanski listed McDowell at #10.)

2002 Twins Celebrate ALDS

2002: Some things are worth waiting for. On this date, the Twins clinched the AL Central Division Title with a rain-delayed 5-0 win over the Indians, combined with a White Sox loss to the Yankees. Kyle Lohse limited the Tribe to no runs on just 2 hits in his 6 innings of work, but the Twins were having trouble solving the young lefty that Cleveland had sent out to make his MLB debut against the Twins… Cliff Lee. A Denny Hocking 7th inning single drove in 2 runs to give the Twins a 3-0 lead before the rains came. Once play resumed, relief pitchers Johan Santana and Eddie Guardado completed the shut out. The Twins had to wait out a couple of rain delays in New York, where the Yankees led the Sox but were in their third delay of the evening, before they could celebrate. Eventually that game was declared over and the Twins were free to start popping champagne.

It was the first championship of any kind for the Twins since their 1991 World Series Championship and came just months after they were threatened with contraction in the prior preseason. This is the earliest date the Twins have ever clinched a title.

September 16 has seen a few notable events:

1983: Twins rookie Tim Teufel not only went 5 for 5 with a triple and his first two career home runs in an 11-4 win over the Blue Jays, but in the process became the first Twin to get 5 hits in a game at the Metrodome AND the only Twins player to ever get 5 hits and score 5 runs in a single game.

Paul Molitor

1993: With a single off of the A’s Dennis Eckersley during a Twins’ 5-3 13-inning win over Oakland, Dave Winfield became the 19th member of Major League Baseball’s 3,000-hit club.

1996: Three years after Winfield’s accomplishment, Paul Molitor joined the same exclusive club with a triple off of the Royals’ Jose Rosado during a 6-5 Twins loss in KC. Molitor was the first to record a triple as his 3,000th hit and the first to rack up 200 hits in the same season that he notched his 3,000th hit.

On September 17, 1988, Jeff Reardon became the first pitcher to record 40-save seasons for teams in both leagues as he closed out the White Sox in a 3-1 Twins win. He had previously recorded 42 saves for the Montreal Expos in 1985.

Looking at September 18:

1975: In an ironic, and yet somewhat fitting, manner, Harmon Killebrew launched his 14th and final home run of the year… and the final of his career… in a 4-3 win for his Kansas City Royals against the Twins at Metropolitan Stadium. Another embarrassing crowd of just 3,201 fans witnessed Killer’s final home run.

2002: “Everyday Eddie” Guardado set a Twins record with his 43rd save of the season (he would end the year with 45 saves), his first season as a closer.

Cesar Tovar

On September 19, 1972,the Twins’ Cesar Tovar became the first Twin to hit for the cycle at Met Stadium. Not only that, but in doing so, he also became just the second player in MLB history to not only hit for the cycle, but end the game with a walk-off home run, beating the Rangers, 5-3. Ken Boyer had accomplished the same combination in 1961 and subsequent to Tovar doing so, three more players have done the same (George Brett in 1979, Dwight Evans in 1984, and Carlos Gonzalez just this season in 2010).

I think that’s enough “history” for this week.

Things are getting exciting right now, folks. The 6 game lead the Twins take in to Chicago this week is enough that fans can smell that Championship. Sure, it would have been nice to be close enough to clinching to do so on the field at The (Prison) Cell in Chicago in front of the Bitch Sox and their fans, but that lead just isn’t big enough to allow that to happen. The Twins can put a pretty big dent in any remaining hope the Sox and their bitchy fans might still have, so let’s hope for that.

The celebration can wait until the Twins get back to Target Field anyway, right? (Not that I would dare to presume anything, of course…. you know, just in case the baseball gods are reading this.) – JC

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*We pull this information from a few different sources, including (but not necessarily limited to) Dave Wright’s excellent book, “162-0, The Greatest Wins!”, as well as some  internet sites like “Twins Trivia” and “National Pastime”.

GameChat – Twins @ Indians #3, 12:05 pm, WFTC29 & am1500

WOW do I wish I had been able to catch some of last night’s game!!!  I LOVE a good pitchers’ duel!!!  Blackburn is giving me the shivers again and I love it.  Looking now at the end of the regular season, we have 6 starting pitchers to rotate through – given our history with injury, that sounds just about perfect.  I am looking for the next step in Slowey’s progress today.  For all that it wasn’t the outting anyone wanted last time, it wasn’t actually a BAD outting.  I am looking for continued improvement today.  I’m sure he is too.  Good luck, Kevin!

Minnesota @ Cleveland
Span, CF   Brantley, CF
Hudson, O, 2B   Cabrera, A, SS
Mauer, C   Choo, RF
Kubel, RF   Hafner, DH
Cuddyer, 1B   Nix, J, 3B
Thome, DH   Brown, J, LF
Young, D, LF   LaPorta, 1B
Valencia, 3B   Valbuena, 2B
Casilla, A, SS   Gimenez, C
  Slowey, P     Talbot, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 5 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 6 7 1
Cleveland 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 9 1

 

Well that was a lot less drama than the 12 inning marathon last night.  LOL Not that that is a bad thing but it was good to start definitively and just keep it that way.  Mitch Talbot really had a problem in the first inning – I’ll give him credit for trying to keep at it anyway.  There was a meeting on the mound after the first batter and he said, no, let me see if I can get loosened up – but no, the Twins quite obviously took advantage of the fact that his pitches were NOT where they were supposed to be.  And Masterson just didn’t quite seem ready when he came in to replace Talbot.  He got it figured out for the innings that followed but his defense also couldn’t figure out how to play clean baseball.  I’ll never forget seeing Thome waved home from second on a Valencia single – his face said, “really!??!” but he made it.

But the Twins didn’t slouch or play down to the Indians today.  There was some REALLY nice fielding and Kevin DID continue his progression.  He’s obviously still working to get back to free & easy on his delivery and not there yet.  He was on a pitch count so he only pitched through the 5th inning.  However, the outting was solid and he got himself out a jam in the 2nd inning with only 2 runs and managed to keep it pretty good from there.  Perkins had two great innings relieving him and in general the bullpen kept a lid on everything.  So the whole pitching staff get’s all-you-can-eat peanuts on the plane ride home.

I’m choosing to award special treats to Delmon Young and Alexi Casilla for some BEAUTIFUL throws for outs that just made me happy so they both get ice cream bars – just to encourage them to keep up good fielding.  We’ll call that positive reinforcement.  ;)

And the BOD for today is awarded to Michael Cuddyer!  For the record, he was not only a leader in hitting and RBI today but he’s been a real workhorse for this team since Morneau went down.  All the announcers seem to remind everyone of how many days straight he’s played since then with no time off but I think it goes beyond the physical effort of playing every day.  The mental effort of being prepared for anything and still telling your manager and your entire team, “I’m here guys, let’s play” is just not something that should go unnoticed.  So congratulations, Cuddy, you are today’s BOD!

GameChat – Twins @ Indians #2, 6:05

Ok, let’s pretend that yesterday didn’t happen and try this again.

Player updates:  Punto and Mijares are now activated – Punto’s hammy is still a bit off so running is not likely but if we need him, I’m sure he’ll be jumping up & down waving his arm saying “Put me in Coach!”  Fuentes said he’s feeling good, bullpen went great and he should be available by tomorrow.  Thome is back in the lineup and that is sure a boost to team morale I’m sure.  Baker is still working through soreness, has had one bullpen session and will likely have another in Chicago.  And Jason Repko is finally a DADDY!  He and his wife now have a little girl.  Congrats Ripcord!

For tonight, I just want Blackburn to pitch well and the offense to hit well.

Minnesota @ Cleveland
Span, CF   Brantley, CF
Hudson, O, 2B   Cabrera, A, SS
Mauer, C   Choo, RF
Kubel, RF   Hafner, DH
Cuddyer, 1B   LaPorta, 1B
Thome, DH   Crowe, LF
Young, D, LF   Donald, 2B
Valencia, 3B   Valbuena, 3B
Hardy, SS   Marson, C
Blackburn, P   Carrasco, C, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 8 0
Cleveland 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 8 2

 

Where do we begin to tell the story of this game?

I suppose we should begin with the fact that the game didn’t get started until almost two hours late, due to rain in Cleveland.

But once we got things going, the Twins got 8 innings of darn fine shutout pitching by Nick Blackburn. He took a no hitter through 5 innings and ended up giving up only 5 hits and a couple of walks. Jesse Crain followed with a couple of innings just as fine. Matty Guerrier came in with runners on 1st and 2nd and nobody out, made one heck of a play on a bunt to get the lead runner at 3B, then closed out the inning without giving up the winning run. Matt Capps gave us a 1-2-3 for the save. How about a nice big New York cheesecake with the toppings of their choice for those pitchers?

Now about the offense. Each team had 8 hits in 12 innings. The Tribe had 8 singles. Until the top of the 12th inning, the Twins had 7 hits, all singles. Ahhh… but that last hit… I know we all got excited, but should it really have surprised us that Jim Thome would eventually launch a ball several hundred feet and over the CF wall in his old stomping grounds? It was almost like it was scripted (though I’d be fine with the script being shortened 3 innings next time).

And you know what’s REALLY cool about that home run? With one swing of the bat, Mr. Incredible got to shove a knife in to the gut of TWO former teams… enabling the Twins to beat the Indians 1-0 AND the Bitch Sox (who lost to the Royals and thus lost a full game in the standings and two games on the “Magic Number” chart).

And for that game winner, Jim Thome (is our Homey), you are our Boyfriend of the Day! – JC