Baseball Means Saying Good-bye

I admit that Saturday night I was ready to forcibly and forever remove the Twins logo from the chest of almost every member of the Twins’ starting lineup. I’ve regained my perspective since then. Well, most of it.

We’ve begun to see writers/bloggers discuss various topics related to the issue of the makeup of the Twins’ 2011 roster. Some look at payroll figures and possible free agents. There’s also some good material about Twins minor leaguers who may be ready to step up on to the big stage next year.

My first reaction to reading this stuff was that it’s a bit early for all that. My team just “died” and I’m not sure I’m quite ready to look at who I’m going to be rooting for next season. But it was the first week of November last year when Bill Smith sent Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee for JJ Hardy. No doubt, the Twins’ GM is already working on piecing together the 2011 Twins, so I suppose a devoted blogger should start doing the same thing.

This is going to be a long process, however. I’m simply not prepared to ask and answer every roster question yet, so let’s do this in stages, shall we?

We’ll start with what is, perhaps for some of us, the most painful question to ask… who are we willing to say good-bye to?

To many of us, the players that make up our favorite team become pseudo-family members. This is especially true for the sort of players that traditionally make up the Twins roster. They’re good guys and they each have their own devoted following among fans. But every year, we have to say good-bye to some of them. Last year, in addition to Go-Go, we said farewell to Mike “Naked Batting Practice” Redmond, Joe Crede and Orlando Cabrera. Crede and Cabrera weren’t really with the team long enough to build much of a following, but Redmond and Gomez, despite being reserves, each had their own loyal fan base.

This year could see more dramatic changes. In fact, the number of players who are virtual locks to be on the team next year, whether because of performance or contract status, are very few. I would put Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Span, Valencia, Liriano and Nathan (assuming all are healthy) in this category. That’s it.

So let’s look at the rest.

A year ago, the Twins had five players eligible to file for free agency. In addition to Cabrera, Crede and Redmond, pitchers Ron Mahay and Carl Pavano also filed. While they followed different paths, both pitchers eventually found their way back to the Twins roster in 2010.

Will Thome hit #600 as a Twin?

This off-season, not only is the number of players eligible for free agency higher, but we’re talking about some guys who made major contributions this season. Pavano and Mahay are eligible again and they are joined by Orlando Hudson, Jim Thome, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Randy Flores. While I think we can all agree that re-signing Flores and Mahay won’t be high priorities for Bill Smith, that still leaves half a dozen significant contributors that can walk out the door and sign with the highest bidder. The truth is, some of them will not be in Twins uniforms next year. In fact, it’s possible that none of them will be.

Other players, while technically still under Twins control, still present some tough decisions for Bill Smith in terms of deciding whether to exercise team options or offer arbitration.  Is Hardy worth $7 million to keep or do you let him become a free agent, too? Jason Kubel would make $5.25 million in 2011, the final year of his current contract… but the Twins can buy out that year for just $350,000, making him a free agent, as well.

Will Nick Punto and Orlando Hudson be back?

What about Nick Punto? The Twins have been paying him “starter” money and have an option for 2011 to do the same (at $5 million). They’ll certainly pay him the $500,000 buy out instead. Does he re-sign with the Twins for less money or will his agent find him a deal with a team offering more money, more playing time, and less blogger abuse than he’ll get with the Twins?

If you offer Delmon Young and Matt Capps arbitration, they’re going to get something between $5-6 million (Young) and up to $9 million (Capps) for 2011. If you don’t offer them arbitration, their agents will find someone more than willing to pay those amounts, or more. Don’t think you need both Capps AND Brian Fuentes with Joe Nathan coming back? OK… but keeping Fuentes from free agency means picking up the team’s $9 million option for him, too.

And we haven’t even discussed possible trades yet. In addition to the possibility that the Twins could trade any of the players mentioned above who are still under team control, you have to wonder if any of the five starting pitchers not named Pavano would be trade bait in the off-season. I don’t think any of them are untouchable except Liriano.

Finally, there are a handful of guys that may just be gone next year because, even though the Twins technically still control them, their performance levels make them candidates to either be traded or simply beaten out for jobs in Spring Training. I’m looking at you, Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla, Drew Butera, Jason Repko, Jose Mijares and Pat Neshek.

By my count, that’s 25 players who may be playing elsewhere in 2011. A small number are almost certainly gone. A couple are almost certainly staying. Most are somewhere in between. Off the top of my head, I’d break it down like this:

Almost certainly gone: Mahay, Flores, Rauch, Fuentes

Probably gone: Guerrier, Crain, Hudson, Pavano

Virtually a toss-up: Punto, Thome, Repko, Butera, Neshek, Harris, Tolbert

Probably staying: Kubel, Hardy, Capps, Baker, Blackburn, Duensing, Slowey, Casilla

Almost certainly staying: Young, Mijares

We’ll share our own thoughts about what Bill Smith should or shouldn’t do with regard to roster changes in future posts, but for now, please use the comment section to let us know your opinions.

Who are you willing to say good-bye to? Who do you think the Twins MUST bring back? – JC

PROGRAMMING NOTE: We’ve had some inquiries about whether we’ll be hosting GameChats for any of the remaining postseason games and we’re more than willing to do that if anyone is interested in hanging out at the Knuckleballs Virtual Sports Bar. We’re hoping to open up a GameChat window during tonight’s Rays/Rangers ALDS Game 5 so check back later if you’ve got nothing better to do with your life than watch baseball with us! :)

How Did We Get Here? (Part 2)

Earlier, in Part 1 of this essay, we took a trip down Memory Lane back in to last offseason and through spring training and discussed some of the decisions made by Bill Smith and Ron Gardenhire as they constructed the roster that the Twins would start the 2010 season with. Now let’s take a look at how those decisions worked out.

In essence, the Twins started the 2010 season with six starting pitchers that they felt pretty good about, a bullpen that was missing its anchor in Joe Nathan, but was otherwise solid, an improved starting line up and a bench with some speed and one very dangerous bat.

When Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy and Nick Punto (3/4 of the Opening Day infield) collectively made seven trips to the Disabled List, Alexi Casilla was there to fill in because the Twins decided not to risk losing him to waivers in order to keep Matt Tolbert or Danny Valencia to begin the season. The decision to start the year with Valencia and Tolbert in Rochester and Casilla with the Twins has resulted in all three of them being available to make significant contributions when the starting infielders went down.

Danny Valencia

By the way, it’s just plain mean to say that Nick Punto’s biggest contribution to the Twins success was getting injured and thereby allowing Danny Valencia to take over full time at 3B. Mean… and not altogether accurate. The truth is that Valencia’s ticket back to Rochester had pretty much been bought and paid for when Justin Morneau bumped his head against Blue Jays’ 2B John McDonald’s knee. It was Morneau’s absence and the resulting move of Michael Cuddyer to 1B that kept Valencia in Minnesota.

Of course, it was also Morneau’s injury that made Smith’s signing of Jim Thome all the more important.

Keep in mind, this is the same Jim Thome that mlb.com columnist Hal Brody had written the following about during mid-March:

So, Thome, in the twilight of a career that should land him in the Hall of Fame, will be used mostly as a late-inning pinch-hitter. This is Spring Training, when most everyone oozes with optimism, but the dark side is if Thome’s skills diminish during 2010 he might not finish the year with the Twins.

Or it could be a swan song, his final season.

Jim Thome

In the second half of the season, Thome has hit for a .310 average, with a .450 on-base percentage and a .722 slugging percentage. That’s a 1.172 OPS in 44 games (38 of which he has started as the DH). “Swan song” indeed.

So yes, decisions to sign Hudson and Thome and to keep Casilla to start the season have proved to be huge.

But let’s look at the pitching.

Yes, the Twins have been without the services of Joe Nathan. But they have three pitchers who have racked up over 20 saves each this season (though obviously not all for the Twins). Jon Rauch did well filling in at the back end of the bullpen during the first half of the season. When he started to show some signs of faltering, the Twins traded for Matt Capps. Sure, maybe they overpaid for him, but he’s gotten the job done. Then just for good measure (and to have a shut down arm against lefty hitters), Smith went and got Angels closer Brian Fuentes.

Jesse Crain

So the Twins replaced Nathan with three closers… and yet none of them has been their best relief pitcher this year. That would have to be Jesse Crain (the same Jesse Crain who was rumored to be a non-tender candidate in December), who recovered from a shaky start to the season to become virtually unhittable for the past few months. He’s the guy who has come in to get the critical outs against the opposing team’s toughest hitters before the ninth inning rolls around.

Finally, how huge does that decision NOT to convert Francisco Liriano to a closer look right now? The Twins started the season with six starting pitchers they felt they could rely upon. The two who were battling for the final roster spot, Liriano and Brian Duensing, will pitch games 1 and 3 of the ALDS in October, but the other four haven’t been shabby either.

Those six pitchers, Liriano and Duensing along with Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey and Carl Pavano, have  started all but three games for the Twins this season and nobody outside of that group has started more than one game. All six have been credited with at least 10 wins this season. (By comparison, in 2009, the Twins used 11 starting pitchers, 8 of them started at least 9 games, and only three of them notched 10 or more wins.)

So, how did the Twins get here…with a Division Championship already under their belts with another week and a half of games to play?

I don’t want to minimize the contributions of the other starting pitchers or of guys like Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Denard Span and Jason Kubel who have all obviously played significant roles in the Twins’ success and the ironman versatility of Michael Cuddyer shouldn’t be underappreciated.

But in my mind, the decisions to retain Pavano and Crain, add Thome and Hudson, keep Liriano in a starting pitcher role and give Casilla the final roster spot out of Spring Training made the difference between the 2010 Twins once again being borderline contenders and being a team capable of blowing away the AL Central competition.

It’s been a fantastic ride so far… let’s hope the best is yet to come! – JC

How Did We Get Here? (Part 1)

No, I’m not contemplating the origins of the universe and I’m certainly not about to begin a debate over Creationism, Darwinism, or any other “ism” that much deeper thinkers than myself have put forth to explain mankind’s existence.

I just thought now might be a good time to take a look at just how our Twins went about becoming the first team in Major League Baseball to clinch their Division’s championship banner. It feels like this season has just flown by.

It seems like just yesterday that I was earning a March sunburn as I followed the Twins around Florida for a week during Spring Training. At the same time, it also feels like ages since we’ve been able to enjoy the sight of Justin Morneau in the batters box. Still, here we are… 152 games in to a 162-game schedule and the Twins are the AL Central Champions!

When your team has put together a second half like the Twins have, it’s easy to overlook just how difficult winning the AL Central really was. So today, before we get back in to discussions about playoff rotations and whether the Twins should carry 3 utility infielders or 3 catchers on their ALDS roster, let’s pause to glance back at what the Twins have accomplished this season… and how they did it.

In the first part of this post, let’s look at what went on before the 2010 season even got started.

Bill Smith

Let’s start by giving credit to General Manager Bill Smith. While other GMs made the big offseason splashes, Smith quietly laid the groundwork for this season. Shortly after the end of the 2009 season, Smith struck a deal with Milwaukee for shortstop JJ Hardy, in return for Carlos Gomez. The trade was widely viewed as two teams exchanging spare parts, each hoping the player they were getting might bounce back from an off year and fill a need for their new team.

There was speculation that the Twins might not offer arbitration to Carl Pavano, allowing him to become a free agent without the Twins receiving any draft picks as compensation. But Smith offered arbitration to Pavano and the offer was accepted. Still, Smith and the Twins were being loudly criticized by the end of the Winter Meetings in December when none of the Twins’ perceived needs had been addressed.

There was also speculation that the Twins might not have enough money to keep their bullpen depth together. Jesse Crain was considered a possible non-tender candidate. But Smith offered arbitration to all eight of the Twins arbitration-eligible players and signed all of them to deals… including Crain (whew!).

Orlando Hudson

As January came to a close, the Twins finally created a little buzz when it was revealed that the they had interest in Jim Thome, primarily as a late inning pinch hitter and occasional DH. On February 4, the Twins signed Thome to a one-year $1.5 million base contract that would, at best, be considered adequate for a part-time role player. The buzz got a bit louder the next day when the Twins announced they had signed 2B Orlando Hudson to a one-year deal.

With most of the roster set, Smith and the Twins headed to Spring Training with really only one more major issue to spend some time working out… a little matter about a contract extension for their catcher. But only the most pessimistic of Twins fans and media doubted that eventually a deal would get done… and it did.

Joe Nathan

The Twins entered March widely considered the favorites to win the AL Central again in 2010. That consensus lasted just long enough for Joe Nathan to take the mound in his first Spring Training game. On March 6, Nathan was pulled from the game “for precautionary reasons” due to “tightness and achiness” in his right elbow. After giving the injury a couple of weeks to magically repair itself, the Twins announced Nathan would miss the 2010 season and undergo Tommy John surgery. Immediately, the national media experts declared the Twins dead meat without their All Star closer and declared that the White Sox and Tigers would battle for the AL Central crown.

While Smith sniffed around the Padres camp for a possible trade for their closer Heath Bell, Gardy declared that the Twins would have a, “closer by committee… I think… no wait… I mean Jon Rauch will be our closer… for a while.” (I’m paraphrasing, of course.)

There were a few final roster spots and pitching roles up for grabs as the Twins prepared to break camp and a couple of them would turn out to be critical to the team’s ultimate success.

Alexi Casilla

The last position-player spot was given to Alexi Casilla, over Matt Tolbert, largely because Casilla was out of minor league options and Tolbert wasn’t. Danny Valencia was given a long look in Ft. Myers but in the end it was felt he needed more time in AAA to work on his defense.

Francisco Liriano

As difficult as it may be to imagine now, Francisco Liriano ended Spring Training in a battle for the fifth spot in the Twins rotation. A fair number of people felt he couldn’t be relied upon to pitch deep in to games, but might make a good closer. Brian Duensing ultimately lost out to Liriano for that final rotation spot but made the team as the long relief arm in the bullpen.

I don’t know who made those final roster decisions… Ron Gardenhire, Bill Smith or some combination of the two… but those decisions would prove crucial to the Twins’ ultimate success. We’ll take a look at just how that happened in Part 2. – JC

Boyfriend of the Month for August: Dead Heat at the Wire

The folks who have gathered in our GameChats handed out 22 Boyfriend of the Day (BOD) awards in August (a few more than the actual number of Twins wins because we had some co-BOD games mixed in there). Heading in to the final game of the month, there were no fewer than eight players tied for the lead in the Boyfriend of the Month battle. That’s a far cry from the month of July when Delmon Young had his monster month and walked away with BOM honors.

But before we get to this month’s BOM award, let’s take a glance at where the race for Knuckleballs’ Boyfriend of the Year stands heading in to September. This race is all but over, folks. It will take someone getting awfully hot down the stretch to overtake DY’s lead in the BOY race, given that he holds a 12 to 7 lead over Francisco Liriano on the year. Frankie’s grip on “runner up” honors is much more tenuous, however. Fellow rotation members, Kevin Slowey and Carl Pavano have racked up 6 BODs each, while the group of Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel, and Danny Valencia all are still within reach of Liriano with 5 BODs a piece.

Turning back to Boyfriend of the Month… as it turns out, it was very appropriate that Valencia and Michael Cuddyer wrapped up the month of August with co-BOD performances against the Tigers on Tuesday night. Heading in to that final game, those two guys joined Mauer, Liriano, Slowey, Jim Thome, Scott Baker and Brian Duensing with two BOD awards during the month, making August by far the month with the largest number of players earning multiple awards.

But with their efforts on Tuesday, Michael and Danny did just enough to separate themselves from the pack and earn co-Boyfriend of the Month awards for August! – JC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. A huge thank you to Joe Christensen at the Star Tribune for sending out via text message (and his blog) a link to this column by Sports Illustrated’s Steve Rushin. It’s a terrific read for anyone who saw games at the Met, the Dome and Target Field (and a pretty darn good read even for those who didn’t). If you only have time to read one more article online today, make it that one. – JC

GameChat – Twins @ White Sox #3, 7:10 pm

Sometimes it gets a little old starting every game chat with an injury update but after yesterday, yeah, we need to cover a few things.  Mijares is going to the DL with a sprained knee and they officially called Manship back up to take his roster spot.  I’m still not sure what that means for Perkins – and I don’t think they have quite figured it out yet either.  Because we have yet another pitcher who can’t pitch right now.  Jon Rauch screwed up a toe in such a way that even Gardy is talking/wincing about how “ugly” and black & blue it is.  Really?  How are we supposed to keep fielding a team this way?!  The good news on the pitching front is that Slowey is throwing in the bullpen and feeling good so he’ll do his next start just fine.

As far as our fielders go, JJ Hardy did leave last night’s game because of a sore wrist.  However, he says he’s going to play through it and it doesn’t require him to spend any time benched.  We’ll see if Punto is ready to come back tomorrow but from the looks of things, it would be a good thing if he’s ready.

** update from Joe C: Punto and Morneau are planning to work out with the team on Friday. Punto will be activated this weekend. That would ALSO be very good news. **

Considering that we are now back in that tied spot for the division lead, I would love it if Frankie could bring it in that way we all know and love and get us back into that first place spot by ourselves.  Again, that will require some freaking RUN SUPPORT!!!  Let’s get 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   Quentin, RF
Thome, DH   Pierzynski, C
Young, D, LF   Viciedo, DH
Valencia, 3B   Vizquel, 3B
Casilla, A, SS   Beckham, 2B
  Liriano, P     Floyd, G, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 1 1 1 0 0 0 3 0 0 6 11 0
Chi White Sox 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 9 1

 

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!  We’re back in first place and we own it!  I would like to make sure that we keep that same attitude playing the A’s.  But that was just a good game all the way around.  They battled quite a bit and they had to EARN this win but it was unbelievable to see the nasty come out in Liriano when he needed it – got himself out of 3 bases-loaded situations.  He wasn’t perfect tonight but I have always measured my respect for pitchers by how they perform when they aren’t having their best day – this was a HUGE game for Liriano.  Orlando Hudson and Kubel both hit Homeruns tonight but Kubes… his was a 3 run shot that just seemed to put the nail in the coffin.  And huge kudos for the bullpen – especially Matty G – for coming in and slamming the lid down a little earlier than we’d like to see them out there. 

So, for all the happiness in the Chat – it was a REALLY tough call for the BOD voting.  In the end, here’s how we broke it down:  Hudson gets an ice cream cake for that homerun in the first inning – nothing like setting the tone.  The bullpen gets a Keg and a Family bucket of KFC for being so finger-licking good!  Matty, first cup’s on me!  And finally, because we refuse to take the fun out of a good debate, we chose to assign CO-BOD status to both Kubel and Liriano for being really good at their jobs and keeping the morale of the team up where it should be.  Thanks boys!

Boyfriend of the Month for July is No Surprise. DY!

Yeah, big shock huh? Delmon Young kicked some major butt in July (no doubt motivated by having to share the Knuckleballs Boyfriend of the Month award with Carl Pavano in June) and ran away with the BOM race last month. DY racked up six Boyfriend of the Day awards in July alone.

We Knuckleballers weren’t the only ones impressed with Delmon’s performance in July, however. According to The Sports Network, Delmon and Toronto’s Jose Bautista are sharing the July American League Player of the Month award.

Pavano, meanwhile, apparently believed duplicating the three BOD awards that earned him a share of the BOM prize for June would be enough to do the same in July. Silly starting pitcher.

Young is now in double figures for BOD awards on the year, tallying 11 awards with two months of games still to play. Pavano’s six BODs are good for second place, thus far, in the Boyfriend of the Year race. His grip on the runner-up spot is tenuous however, as Francisco Liriano finished July just one BOD award behind Pavano and has already made up the distance with an early August BOD.

Denard Span, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey and Denard Span round out the top 5 (and ties) with four BODs each through the end of July. (Slowey got the jump on that group with his 5th BOD Thursday.)

Will DY continue running away with the BOY race? Will The ‘Stache fend off the challengers for runner-up? Let’s just hope August brings a lot of wins and a lot of BODs! – JC

Twins History Lesson: August 2-8

It’s not yet nearing the end of the season, but we can certainly see the end from here. The Twins are only half a game out of first place in the AL Central Division and there’s still a lot of baseball to be played. It won’t be long, however, before we won’t be able to say that.

I debated with myself about whether to post another Twins History Lesson this week, but then I realized the Twins didn’t lose a single game last week after I posted the Lesson for July 26 – August 1. I wouldn’t dare do anything to risk bringing this winning streak to a premature end! So let’s start the month of August with another trip down memory lane with the Twins.*

August 2:

1965: Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew was leading the AL in two of the three Triple Crown categories entering this date with 22 home runs and 70 RBI. After suffering a dislocated left elbow in a collision with Oriole Russ Snyder on August 2, Killebrew missed the following 48 games. As we all know, the Twins managed to win the American League pennant even without Killer in the line up for most of the last 2 months of the season.

1982: The Twins took the worst record in MLB in to a game with the Western Division leading Angels and predictably were getting shut out 6-0 through six innings (the 5th and 6th runs coming on the strength of a 2-RBI single by former Twin Rob Wilfong). Tom Brunansky’s double and singles by Kent Hrbek and Gary Ward (combined with a bit of an Angel circus act) put three runs on the board for the Twins in the 7th. Another former Twin, Doug Corbett, was on the mound for the Angels in the 8th when Gary Ward’s 3-run HR brought the Twins to within 7-6. Ron Washington and Brunansky (who had been traded by the Angels to the Twins for Corbett and Wilfong) came through with runners on base in the 9th inning to give the Twins a 9-7 lead with the Angels coming to bat against Twins closer Ron Davis. I know what you’re thinking, but just to demonstrate that not everything he touched as a Twin turned to stone, RD sat down Don Baylor, Fred Lynn and Doug DeCinces in order to close out the win. Perhaps not the most important win in Twins history, but with the benefit of hindsight, it provided a glimpse of what Twins fans had to look forward to five years later.

August 3:

1969: Oriole pitcher Dave McNally was on a roll when he took the mound at Met Stadium to face the Twins. He had a 15-game winning streak during the 1969 season (and since he had won his last two games in 1968, his personal streak was actually 17 tames). The streak came to an end in Bloomington when Rich Reese powered the Twins to a 5-2 win on the strength of his pinch hit grand slam home run.

Joe Niekro and umpire Tim Tschida

1987: We could make a good case for the 11-3 win over the Angels on this date warranting inclusion in this post on the basis of Gary Gaetti’s night. He went 3 for 5, scored twice, homered once and drove in 5 RBI. But nobody remembers any of that (except, most likely, Gaetti). What we remember is umpire Tim Tschida approaching the mound and asking to see pitcher Joe Niekro ‘s glove and for him to empty his pockets… at which time an emery board flew to the ground and a piece of sandpaper was also discovered in his pocket. It would be Niekro’s only ejection in his 702 career game appearances.

2008: The Twins entered the day a half game behind the White Sox and sent Francisco Liriano to the mound to face Cleveland in his first start after being recalled from Rochester. Liriano had pitched poorly in accumulating an 0-3 record before being sent down to AAA in April. All he did upon his return this night was shut down the Tribe for six innings, enabling the Twins to win 6-2 and take over first place from the Sox, who lost on the same day.

August 4:

1985: Rod Carew blooped a single to left field for his 3,000th career hit, becoming the first foreign born player to reach that plateau. Unfortunately, rather than reaching the milestone as a Twin, he did so as an Angel, and got the hit off of Frank Viola in the third inning of a 6-5 Angel win over the Twins.

1993: Kent Hrbek became just the second player to reach 1,000 career hits in a Twins uniform.

1994: Exactly one year after his milestone hit, Kent Hrbek announced his retirement from baseball, effective at the end of the season.

1997: Twin pitcher Brad Radke went 7 innings to earn the W over the Blue Jays and, in doing so, recorded a win in his 12th straight start… a feat only Bob Gibson (1968) and Pat Dobson (1971) had accomplished before.

Kirby Puckett

August 5, 2001 was a bad day for Twins fans to be at the Metrodome (where the AC went out and the Twins lost to the Royals while the temperature in the ‘Dome reached 91 degrees), but a good day to be in Cooperstown, NY.

Dave Winfield

That’s where former Twins Kirby Puckett and Dave Winfield  were being inducted in to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

August 6:

1967: Twins pitcher Dean Chance threw a perfect game that will not be found on any list of MLB perfect games or no-hitters because he “only” retired all 15 hitters he faced in a rain-shortened 5 inning, 2-0 win over the Red Sox.

1969: The Twins’ Dave Boswell ended the night with a trip to the hospital to get 20 stitches after being punched by Twins manager Billy Martin. Martin stepped in after Boswell and team mate Bob Allison had a bit of a scuffle.

August 7:

2005: Yes, we all had a good laugh at the Cubs’ Milton Bradley a while back when he lost track of the number of outs and tossed a ball in to the stands after catching it, thinking there were 3 outs when there were only 2. But I don’t recall anyone mentioning at the time that on August 7, 2005, the Twins’ Shannon Stewart did pretty much exactly the same thing. The Red Sox went on to score 5 runs in the first inning and beat the Twins 11-7.

2009: The Twins acquired pitcher Carl Pavano from Cleveland in return for a “player to be named later”.

August 8:

1074: The Twins-Royals game in Kansas City is delayed several minutes while the fans (along with the rest of the country) listen to President Richard Nixon’s resignation speech, as it was broadcast in the stadium. The game resumes after the speech concludes. The Twins go on to win 3-2 in 14 innings with Bill Campbell tossing 7 innings of relief to get the win as Tony Oliva’s sac fly drives in Rod Carew with what would be the winning run.

1987: Steve Carleton records the 329th and final win of his career in a 9-2 Twins win over the A’s. Carleton gave up 2 runs in 8 and two-thirds innings of work.

1988: Twins catcher Brian Harper went 4 for 4 and outfielder Dan Gladden went 3 for 5 to lead the Twins to a 7-2 win over the Tribe. But the real excitement came in the fourth inning with former Twin Ron Washington on 2B for Cleveland and Willie Upshaw on 1B behind him. Joe Carter ripped an Allan Anderson pitch deep to left field. It looked like the Indians would be taking the lead until Gladden managed to run down the line drive, turn, and throw a strike to second baseman Steve Lombardozzi to double off Washington. Lombardozzi then turned and threw to Gene Larkin at 1B to complete the 7-4-3 triple play.

Paul Molitor

1998: Paul Molitor joined an exclusive club as he stoles the 500th base of his career. With 500 SBs and 3,000 hits, Molitor joined Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins and Lou Brock in that club.

With that, let’s look forward to another big week for the Twins. I suppose it would be a bit much to expect another perfect week, but I’ll settle for winning 6 out of 7 games this week (it wouldn’t be so bad to lose ONE game to the Rays, I suppose), seeing Justin Morneau rejoin the team in time to sweep the Tribe in the weekend series at Cleveland, and reclaiming their rightful spot atop the AL Central Division. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

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

*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 – Mariners @ Twins, 1:10

The Twins FINALLY gained a game on the BitchSox yesterday as the A’s and Dallas Braden beat Chicago and allowed the Twins to move within half a game of first place in the AL Central Division entering today. The Twins will be going for their second straight series sweep as they wrap up this homestand with today’s game against the Mariners. I imagine this is where the scoreboard watching starts to get serious as the Sox and A’s will be starting their series finale a couple of minutes before today’s Twins game gets going.

On the medical front, Joe Mauer got a cortisone shot to treat tendonitis in his right shoulder. Hopefully he comes back with less pain after getting today and Monday off from catching duties.

On the positive side, we’ve got a couple of Joe Christensen tweets with good news. Justin Morneau took BP this morning so we’re seeing progress as he works his way back from his concussion. Doc was going to take outdoor practice but went indoors to avoid making “a spectacle” and because of the Sunday family game. Speaking of which, Joe Nathan made his first pitching appearance since his TJ surgery… pitching to his 5 year old son, Cole, in the family game. There’s a punchline in there somewhere with reference to recovery requiring “baby steps”… but I’m just not coming up with it right now.

We all are conditioned to expect a “B team” lineup on Sundays and that’s what Gardy has penciled in today, but I’ve seen Sunday lineups much worse than this one. I’m going to call this one a Sunday “B+ lineup”. – JC

MARINERS @ TWINS
Suzuki, I, RF Span, CF
Figgins, 2B Casilla, A, 2B
Gutierrez, F, CF Young, D, LF
Branyan, DH Cuddyer, 1B
Kotchman, 1B Kubel, DH
Wilson, Jo, SS Valencia, 3B
Tuiasosopo, M, 3B Repko, RF
Saunders, LF Hardy, SS
Johnson, Ro, C Butera, C
French, P Liriano, P

.

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

.

Two straight series sweeps! Can’t beat that with a stick… but we can sweep ‘em away with brooms!

I tried to get back in to the Chatroll by phone from the Kernels/RiverBandits game but it appears Chatroll went back down for “maintenance”. The program certainly has not been reliable this weekend and we apologize for that. Hopefully the Chatroll people get their crap together by Monday night.

I followed the game by phone and caught a few video clips when I got home. Since I wasn’t in the GameChat, I’m going to make an executive decision with regard to the Boyfriend of the Day. It’s pretty tempting to hand the award to Jason Kubel for his bases emptying double that was oh-so-close to a grand slam HR. We’ll award him a great big ole giant chocolate chip cookie and some pastries for Danny Valencia who drove Kubes in with a base hit to top of the scoring.

But when your pitcher goes seven shutout innings, striking out 11 and giving up only 2 hits, that’s indisputable BOD material… and that makes you, ‘Cisco Liriano, the Knuckleballs BOD!

Twins History Lesson: July 26 – August 1

Yes, I know… I skipped the Twins History Lesson* post (again) last week. Did you miss it? You did? Really? Dang… now I feel bad. Tell you what, there wasn’t a LOT of cool stuff that happened during the week of July 19-25 but I’ll briefly mention a couple of items, just for you, then I’ll move on to all the noteworthy items (and a few not so noteworthy) for the upcoming week.

Bruno the speed demon?

If I say “pine tar incident”, chances are you’re mind goes to George Brett’s famous “out” on July 24, 1983, that was later reversed. But how many of you remember July 19, 1975, when the Yankees’ Thurman Munson had his first inning RBI single nullified when his bat was found to have pine tar more than the legally allowed 18 inches up the handle?  Nobody? OK, do you maybe remember Tom Brunansky’s inside-the-park Grand Slam Home Run seven years later, on July 19, 1982?

Let’s also catch up with a couple of pitching performances taking place on July 23 in 2005 and 2006. On 7/23/05, the Twins needed a starting pitcher to face off against Justin Verlander in the second game of a doubleheader with the Tigers so the call went to Rochester for an arm to pitch one game and head back to the Red Wings. Enter Scott Baker, who held the Kitties to 2 runs on 5 hits in 7 innings to earn his first W as a Twin… then headed straight back to Rochester. Gardy’s postgame quote: “I think you’re seeing what we hope to get out of this young man. It’s very exciting.”

Exactly a year later, another young starting pitcher, Francisco Liriano, combined with four Twins relievers (Pat Neshek, Dennys Reyes, Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan) to set a new Twins record for most strikeouts in a nine inning game, with 17 combined Ks, in a 3-1 win over the Indians. Liriano recorded an even 10 of those Ks in his 5 innings of work.

Lyman Bostock

July 24 is also worth catching up on. On that date in 1961, The Twins signed Tony Oliva and 15 years later, in 1976, Twins OF Lyman Bostock hit for the cycle during a 17-2 win over the WhiteSox.

That’s enough for last week… let’s move on to this week in Twins History:

Merritt: No pitch count?

On July 26, 1967, Twins pitcher Jim Merritt set a Twins record when he pitched 13 innings in a 3-2 win over the Yankees. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for Merritt to earn the W as it took 18 innings for the Twins to earn that win. I’m guessing the Twins didn’t have Merritt on a pitch count limit.

There have been a couple of hitting performances of note on July 27. In 1978, Twins 3B Mike Cubbage hit for the cycle in a 6-3 win over the Blue Jays. He was the 5th Twin to accomplish the feat and the first after Bostock’s cycle two years and  three days earlier.

Five years later, on July 27, 1983, the Brewers Ben Ogilvie hit the longest HR in Metrodome history when he took a Brad Havens pitch 481 feet in to the upper deck in RF.

Dean Chance

Those in attendance at Fenway Park for the Twins/RedSox game on July 28, 1967, saw something very few people ever had an opportunity to see, but few of them probably really appreciated it. The Twins beat the Sox 9-2 as pitcher Dean Chance outdueled Boston ace Jim Lonborg (who was allowed to take leave from his National Guard duty to pitch the game). The rarity? That would be Chance’s bunt for a base hit in the Twins’ 7-run 4th inning. It was Chance’s first base hit following a stretch of 78 straight ABs without a hit (setting an AL record). Chance and Lonborg matched up twice more that season in eventful games. Nine days after this game, Chance retired all 15 hitters he faced in a rain shortened five inning “perfect game” win over Lonborg and the RedSox, making Lonborg 0-12 against the Twins in his career. Unfortunately, he broke that string on October 1, leading the Sox to the AL pennant over the Twins on the last day of the season.  Chance was the Twins’ losing pitcher.

I couldn’t find a darn thing of note that has ever occurred on July 29 in the history of the Twins. That probably won’t change this season as the team has the 29th off this year.

Not much going on for the Twins on July 30, either, for that matter, unless you consider the Twins trading Matt Lawton to the Mets for Rick Reed in 2001 or the trade of Luis Castillo to the same Mets for Drew Butera and Dustin Martin in 2007 to be big deals. Hmmmm… I do sense a pattern here. Should we look forward to Bill Smith completing another trade with the Mets on Friday?

We’ll make up for the lack of activity over July29-30 with a pretty long list of stuff for July 31, much of it trade related as it’s the last day for non-waiver trades:

1965: No trades of note on this date, but Tony Oliva’s heads up baserunning brought home a 2-1 win in 11 innings over the Orioles. (See if this sounds familiar, you fans of the movie Major League.) With one out in the 11th and Oliva on 2B and Harmon Killebrew having been intentionally walked to set up the double play, Joe Nossek hit a roller to Brooks Robinson at 3B. Robinson threw to second to force Killer but the relay to first was too late to complete the double play. That’s when O’s firstbaseman Boog Powell was surprised to realize Oliva never stopped at 3B but had rounded it and headed for home. Powell’s throw was late and Oliva slid home for the Twins win. His quote after the game, “… if I’m out at home, it’s a bad play. Today it was a good play because I made it.”

1972: No trade involved here either, but if you ever get a chance to talk to Bert Blyleven ask him about the day he gave up two inside-the-park HRs to the WhiteSox’ Dick Allen (then duck).

Now let’s get to some of those trades, shall we?

1987: The Twins picked up future HoF pitcher Steve Carleton from the Indians for a player to be named (who turned out to be pitcher Jeff Perry).

Frankie 'Sweet Music" Viola

Rick Aguilera

1989: The Twins became the first team in MLB history to trade a reigning Cy Young Award winner by trading Frank Viola to the Mets for Rick Aguilera, David West, Kevin Tapani, Jack Savage and Tim Drummond.

1995: Tapani was traded to the Dodgers along with Mark Guthrie in return for Jose Parra, Greg Hansell, Chris Latham and future FSN field reporter Ron Coomer.

2004: The Twins sent 1B Doug Mientkiewicz to the Cubs for pitcher Justin Jones.

2006: The Twins sent P Kyle Lohse (and his evil twin, Lyle) to the Reds for P Zach Ward.

2009: The Twins acquired SS Orlando Cabrera and cash from the A’s for minor leaguer Tyler Ladendorf.

Finally, let’s check in on what the first day of August has meant to the Twins:

1985: Pitcher Bert Blyleven returned to the Twins in a trade with Cleveland. The Twins sent outfielder Jim Weaver, pitchers Curt Wardle and Rich Yett, and shortstop Jay Bell to the Indians.

Bert Blyleven

1986: Exactly a year after returning to the Twins, Blyleven threw a 2 hitter against the A’s and struck out 15 hitters (then a club record). In the process, he became the 10th pitcher with 3,000 career Ks. In the same 10-1 win, Kirby Puckett became the first Twin to hit for the cycle in a game at the Metrodome.

1994: Oriole Cal Ripken played in his 2,000th consecutive game in a 1-0 win over the Twins at the ‘Dome.

2007: Perhaps a memory many of us would prefer not be reminded about as the Twins decided to go forward with their game against the Royals in order to keep from sending almost 25,000 fans on to already congested roads following the collapse of the I-35W bridge about an hour before game time. A moment of silence to remember the victims of the bridge collapse was held prior to the game.

With that, let’s all look forward to cheering on the Twins in their series this week at Kansas City and at home, next weekend, against the Mariners! – JC

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

*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 – Indians @ Twins #3, 12:10, FSN & am1500

These are the days of our lives…. 

It’s no wonder that I really find no need or interest in daytime dramas – I get my fill with Twins baseball!  The emotional ups and downs are darn near reaching levels where medication should be considered.  Sheesh. 

There are some bright spots – FSN has picked up the telecast of several days games in the season that weren’t on their original broadcast schedule, including today.  So, for those of us that are able to be near a TV, we get to SEE the game.  Let’s hope they give us something worth watching.

More news:  Kevin Slowey’s outting last night was enough to keep his bacon out of the fire.  It helped make the decision of WHICH struggling starting pitcher was going to need to be replaced.  Nick Blackburn will trade over to the bullpen and do the long relief job for now that will be vacated by Brian Duensing as he moves into a starting role.  Obviously, we’ve anticipated this move coming for awhile.  It’s all presented as temporary to give Blackburn a chance to get his balls down.  #isthataeuphamism? 

Both Mauer and Gardenhire are not in the game today – Gardenhire is attending to a personal matter and Mauer is riding the pine.  Butera will be catching Frankie and Thome is DH’ing.  After Mauer’s mental break last night, a day off is probably a good thing.  He did respond to questions last night about WTF?!?! from the media.  His response really didn’t make me feel any better.  Basically he said that it seemed like a good idea at the time and he just didn’t do it well – if he had, well then everyone would have thought it was a good idea…  uh… really?  Tom Pelissero at 1500 ESPN had a nearly perfect response to that, IMHO.  Didn’t Execute??

Let’s hope that Liriano can shine today and the boys can put their hits together to get runs.  I like runs.  Runs are good.  *sending positive vibes*

Cleveland @ Minnesota
Cabrera, A, SS   Span, CF
Nix, J, LF   Hudson, O, 2B
Santana, C, DH   Young, D, LF
Peralta, J, 3B   Kubel, RF
LaPorta, 1B   Cuddyer, 1B
Duncan, S, RF   Thome, DH
Crowe, CF   Hardy, SS
Donald, 2B   Punto, 3B
Gimenez, C   Butera, C
  Westbrook, P     Liriano, P

 

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

 

A WIN!! A WIN!! A WIN!! 

It sure is nice to head off for the road trip on a good note – and it was a shutout on a getaway day game too!  Lots of good things today.  Slama got to make his MLB debut in front of his parents who were at the game today.  All his buddies down on the Fort Meyers Miracle team were gathered in the clubhouse to watch the mustachio’d man in stirrups throw k’s.  He was definitely nervous so it was good that the Twins offense had done such a good job to give him a nice good cushion which he didn’t need but must have felt good.  So many guys deserve pastries today that I think we should buy stock in a bakery.  Thome had FOUR untinentional walks today; Hardy, Cuddy & Butera had great timely hits.  And the Twins remembered that leaving men on base doesn’t really help your game much. 

But the big standouts today were Delmon Young and Francisco Liriano.  Frankie gave us exactly what we needed – a fiery, dominant 7 inning performance that kept the hitters off-balance.  It was really a thing of beauty.  Delmon also kept up his new Delmon pace – hitting and running and doing things to keep things hopping and earning more RBI.  It’s a beautiful day!  The gamechat has determined that the game deserves both a Defensive and Offensive BOD:  Delmon on Offense and Frankie on Defense.

 

** final note of the day – Twins have sent Manship back down to AAA and re-instated Alexi Casilla off the DL.  We knew that was coming for all the debate that some thought it would be Blackburn going down. **