Who will be the Twins’ Opening Day Starter?

With the Twins likely done making moves this winter, and with Spring Training games just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to put my predictive powers to the test and try and suss-out the Twins’ plan for the Opening Day starter.  With the Twins opening the season at home this year, the Opening Day start has a little more significance than it has the past couple of years when the Twins started the season on the road.  The Twins have not started the year at home since 2009, and the last Twins pitcher to win the Opening Day game at home was Livan Hernandez in 2008 against the Los Angeles Angels.  In fact, the Twins haven’t won an Opening Day game since 2008, working on an 0-4 streak losing 6-1 in 2009 against the Mariners, 6-3 against the Angels in 2010, 11-3 in 2011 against the Blue Jays, and 4-2 a year ago in Camden Yards against the Orioles.  An Opening Day win would be a nice change of pace.

opening day optimism

Since the Twins moved to Minnesota to start the 1961 season, Opening Day starters are just 14-25, with 12 no decisions.  Not exactly a great track record on baseball’s biggest day, but with names like Camilo Pascual, Jim Kaat, Jim Perry, Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola, Brad Radke, and Johan Santana, the Twins’ Opening Day starter has historically been some of the most beloved players in Twins history.

Looking over the current 40-man roster, and some non-roster invites to Spring Training, there are several players who have a shot at being the Opening Day starter.  I’ll rank them from least likely to start to most likely to start on Opening Day.

Rafael Perez  (1% chance to start Opening Day) – Perez was just signed to a Minor League deal with the club a week ago.  He’s spent his entire big league career working out of the bullpen, and has not had a K/9 above 6 since 2008.  He has put up strong ERAs every year except 2009, but with the declining strike out rates and a ballooning walk rate, his ERA has been propped up by an above average strand rate.  Perez has an uphill battle to even make the team as a left-handed reliever, and an even tougher climb into the starting rotation.

Rich Harden (4%) – Like Perez, Harden is with the Twins on a Minor League deal.  Harden has not pitched in the big leagues since 2011, and while he has had a consistently above average strike out rate, he has not been an above average pitcher since 2009.  There is some question as to whether or not Harden’s shoulder can stand up to the high pitch counts associated with starting, so there is a pretty decent chance that if he makes the team at all, the Twins would prefer that he work out of the bullpen to keep him healthy for the entire season.  I like him more than Perez because Harden has a track record as a starting pitcher, and because the Twins are so desperately in need of strike outs, but he is still a long shot to even break camp with the Twins.

Mike Pelfrey (7%) – Pelfrey signed a 1-year deal with the Twins this offseason hoping to rebuild his value coming off of Tommy-John surgery.  Pelfrey is still not a ful year removed from surgery, so there are concerns about his ability to be ready to start the season in the rotation.  Unlike Harden and Perez, if he is healthy, Pelfrey has a guaranteed spot in the rotation.  If I was confident that Pelfrey would be healthy when the Twins break camp I would have him higher, but it is early in camp and I anticipate that he will end up needing an extra few weeks go get all the way up to speed.

Liam Hendriks (10%) – Hendriks is a fringe candidate to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, but with questions about health among several of the arms ahead of him on the pecking order, he is likely to be the next man in if any one of the projected five starters are not ready to start the season.  Even a healthy Liam Hendriks is a long shot to take the ball for the Twins on Opening Day as Ron Gardenhire usually likes to reward his veterans.

Kevin Correia (12%) – Poor Kevin Correia has been written off since before the ink was dry on his shiny-new 2-year $10 million dollar contract.  Correia certainly is not the type of pitcher that would typically get the ball on baseball’s biggest stage, but the Twins seem to like his veteran leadership and clubhouse presence, something that went a long way for Carl Pavano (who started back-to-back Openers in 2011 and 2012).  Pavano had almost a year and a half of starts with the Twins under his belt prior to taking the mound on Opening Day, but with no other experienced veterans on the roster, Correia might end up pitching by default.

Kyle Gibson (13%) – The Twins seem dead set on starting the year with Aaron Hicks in center field field despite not having any Major League experience.  If the Twins are trying to build excitement in 2013 and invite fans to buy into the Twins future, Gibson could wind up pitching on Opening Day to help build momentum toward 2014 and beyond.  But like Pelfry, Gibson is coming off of Tommy-John surgery, and unlike Pelfrey, Gibson figures heavily into the Twins future plans, so they are likely to treat him with kid gloves.  The Twins are looking to limit his inning totals in 2013, so putting him on the mound from Day 1 does not do a lot to aid that effort.

Scott Diamond (15%) – After playing the role of savior for the 2012 Twins, Diamond was the overwhelming favorite to take the ball on Opening Day.  If Diamond is healthy he will undoubtedly be pitching on April 1st.  But Diamond had surgery in December to remove some bone chips from his throwing elbow and is reported to be progressing through his rehab slower than anticipated.  There is still an outside chance that Diamond is healthy when the Twins open 2013, but the Twins want Diamond healthy long-term, so if any question marks remain about his health, expect the Twins to take things nice and slow.

Vance Worley (38%) – Vance Worley seems to have become the Twins de facto Opening Day starter because there really is not anyone else with a real shot at keeping him from it.  He has a lot of things working in his favor; he is healthy, he is young and exciting, has a chance to be a long-term part of the Twins ballclub, and he is not Kevin Correia (which is to say he is not old, ineffective, and overpaid).

When the Twins traded away Ben Revere for Worley and Trevor May I would not have though Worley had any shot to pitch on Opening Day, but he seems to be the last man standing.

-ERolfPleiss

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 12

Episode 12 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Mail Call!
This week on the podcast Paul and I discuss Jim Kaat’s place in the Twins Hall of Fame, we take a look at the high-A ShortStop prospect Daniel Santana and we dive into a dozen or so questions we received from listeners covering a wide variety of topics from the best Patrick Swayze movie, to a romantic business proposal and a whole slough of Twins topics. We also take a look at the Twins radio and TV broadcast teams and give them a ranking on the 20-80 scale. A special thanks to @Jessicann713@BransonWerner@Nimi_badger@youcancallmeAde@mntwinsforever@mntwinsisters@mikeywaldo and @sideburg for submitting questions to this week’s podcast.
Once again thank you to Egon’s Unicat for letting us use their music on the podcast.

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at Puckett’s Pond.

- ERolfPleiss

________________
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes  (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help us become warlocks)

Three “Golden Era” Twins on HOF Ballot

On the heels of Bert Blyleven’s induction in to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, three more former Twins have renewed chances to join Bert, Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett in Cooperstown. Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Luis Tiant have been nominated for consideration by the Baseball HOF’s new “Golden Era Committee”.

Tony Oliva

The Committee, made up of 16 voters consisting of executives, veteran media members and existing HOF members, will be choosing from among ten players and executives that made their greatest contributions to the game of baseball between the years 1947 and 1972.

The committee will be meeting during MLB’s winter meetings in December and each member can vote for anywhere from zero to five candidates. It takes being included on 75% of ballots cast to gain election. This committee will be holding similar elections just every three years, so anyone who doesn’t gain election this year will have to wait another three years just to find out if they’ll be considered again. Given the age of most of these guys, that could literally be a lifetime.

Jim Kaat (photo: S. Grile/Palm Beach Post)

Oliva, Kaat and Tiant are joined on the ballot by Ron Santo, Buzzie Bavasi, Ken Boyer, Charlie Finley, Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso and Allie Reynolds. For a fan in his mid-fifties like me, those names bring back a flood of memories and it’s hard to believe that none of them are in the HOF already.

Luis Tiant

Interestingly, the three former Twins all played together, along with Blyleven, Carew and Killebrew, on the 1970 team that won the AL West Division. Think of that for a moment… it could very well turn out that the 1970 Twins included SIX future Hall of Famers!

At a time when many of us are trying to figure out how the Twins should rebuild their roster in an effort to regain some level of competitiveness, take a look at some of the numbers that members of that 1970 team put up:

Tony Oliva: .325/.364/.514 .878 OPS, 23 HR, 107 RBI in 157 games.

Harmon Killebrew:  .271/.411/.546 .957 OPS,  41 HR, 113 RBI in 157 games.

Rod Carew:  .366/.407/.524 .930 OPS, 4 HR, 28 RBI, in just  51 games.

And just to prove they weren’t the only guys hitting the ball…

Cesar Tovar: .300/.356/.442 .798 OPS, 10 HR, 54 RBI and 30 stolen bases in 161 games.

The pitchers had some pretty decent seasons, too:

Jim Kaat: 14-10, 3.56 ERA, 34 starts, 4 complete games, 230.1 IP

Bert Blyleven: 10-9, 3.18 ERA, 25 starts, 5 complete games, 164 IP

Luis Tiant: 7-3, 3.40 ERA, 17 starts, 2 complete games, 92.2 IP

Not bad, but not one of those pitchers was even the ace of that staff in 1970. That honor went to…

Jim Perry: 24-12, 3.04 ERA, 40 starts, 13 complete games, 278.2 IP… and a Cy Young Award.

Congratulations to Tony-O, Kitty-Kaat and El Tiante on their nominations and here’s hoping the voters recognize that all three of these guys are deserving of the honor to stand with their peers as among the best to ever play the game.

- JC

Twins History Lesson: September 20 – October 3

After what can only be described as a truly ugly weekend series in Detroit, maybe what we need to get that taste out of our mouths is a Twins History Lesson “doubleheader”. Let’s look at highlights for both the past week and the upcoming week in Twins history*.

September 20 has seen a couple of interesting events:

1965: As the Twins wound the clock down toward their first World Series appearance, it’s hard to imagine just 537 fans showing up for a make-up game with the Kansas City A’s. “Catfish” Hunter beat “Mudcat” Grant 8-2 before the smallest home crowd in Twins history. I suppose the 52 degree drizzling weather kept people away. Almost enough to make you wonder if they should build a domed stadium in the Twin Cities or something.

2004: The Twins clinched the AL Central title as Carlos Silva picked up the win in an 8-2 victory over the White Sox.

Harmon Killebrew

September 21 has seen both highs and lows:

1963: Harmon Killebrew hit three home runs in the first game of a doubleheader at Fenway Park. To prove it wasn’t a fluke, he hit another one in the second game against the Red Sox. While it would seem that Fenway would be a great place for a guy like Killebrew (a right handed hitter known for his towering fly balls to LF) to hit, it was actually the only multi-home run game for Killer at the home of the Green Monster. It was also the only 3-home run game of Harmon’s career.

1997: There weren’t a lot of Twins highlights in the late 90s, but on this day Brad Radke gave us something to cheer about. He pitched all 10 innings of a 2-1 win over the Brewers at the Dome, striking out 9, walking nobody and giving up 6 hits (including a Jeff Cirillo solo HR). The Twins won on a Paul Molitor triple that drove in Brent Brede from first base. The Twins would finish with just 69 wins on the year… and Radke won 20 of those.

Looking at September 22:

Cesar Tovar

1968: Proving he could “do it all”, Cesar Tovar played one inning at each of the nine defensive positions in a win over Oakland. Tovar pitched the first inning and not only threw a scoreless inning, he struck out future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson in the process. The game was the ONLY time a position player pitched for the Twins at a game in Metropolitan Stadium, the only time a position player has been the starting pitcher for the Twins, and the only time the Twins have ever won a game in which a position player has pitched. It was obviously a Calvin Griffith publicity stunt and I suppose you would say it worked. The game drew the second highest paid attendance among the final 10 home games of the season… 11, 340. Griffith was so moved by Tovar’s willingness to do his part to bring in the extra fans, that he gave Tovar a little bonus… a new color TV.

1969: The Twins clinched the AL Western Division title with a 4-3 win over the Royals, on the strength of Harmon Killebrew’s 47th home run of the year. Bob Miller was the winning pitcher. (See NOTE at September 28 entry)

1970: Exactly one year later, to the day, the Twins clinched their second AL Western Division title with a 5-3 win over the A’s.

September 23:

1978: California Angel (and former Twin) Lyman Bostock, Jr., was shot and killed in Gary, Indiana. He remains the only Major League Baseball player murdered during a baseball season while he was an active player.

2003: The Twins clinched the AL Central title as they defeated the Tribe 4-1 at the Metrodome, then watched the White Sox and Royals both lose their games.

Johan Santana became the first Venezuelan to record 20 wins in a season on September 24, 2004, with an 8-2 win over Cleveland. In the process, he established a new Twins record with his 13th consecutive win and also broke Bert Blyleven’s franchise single-season strikeout record.

September 25 has seen its share of eventful games:

1985: Bert Blyleven was the winning pitcher as the Twins beat the Rangers 5-1… win number 2,000 for the Twins

2000: One of those “things you don’t see every day in MLB.” The Twins beat the Indians in the nightcap of a split doubleheader. What’s odd about that? Well, it was the only game of the doubleheader that the Twins participated in. In the afternoon game, the Tribe lost to the White Sox 9-2. This sort of 3-team twinbill has occurred only twice in MLB history.

Carlos Gomez

2008: The White Sox had come to Minnesota with a 2 and a half game lead over the Twins in the AL Central, but that lead was down to a half game when the teams took the field for the final game of the series. The Sox built a 6-1 lead through the top of the 4th inning, then managed just 4 baserunners the rest of the game. The Twins scored 2 in the 4th on a Carlos Gomez triple and Denard Span double and added another in the 6th on another Gomez triple and a successful Span suicide squeeze bunt. The 8th inning saw two more Twins runs on a double by Brendan Harris, a single by Gomez and a triple by Span that tied the game at 6. The game stayed that way until the bottom of the 10th inning when Alexi Casilla singled home Nick Punto with the winning run, sending the Twins a half game ahead of the White Sox and forcing Chicago to play a make up game in Detroit the following day in an attempt to force a Game 163 with the Twins.

1965 Twins Celebrate

On September 26, 1965, the Twins clinched their first American League Pennant, with a 2-1 win over the Senators at DC Stadium. Jim Kaat got the complete-game win for Minnesota, striking out 10 and walking nobody. Kaat and battery-mate Earl Battey were among 7 Twins on that team that had played for the organization as Washington Senators in 1960, before the move to Minnesota. Surveying the crazy scene in the winners locker room after the game, Battey smiled and said, “You guys act like you have never done this before.” It had been over three decades since the franchise had won a pennant.

September 27 has witnessed a couple of games of note:

1981: In recording their last win at Met Stadium, the Twins beat the Rangers 5-2 with John Castino and Gary Ward each hitting a pair of home runs.

1987: The Twins set a team record for single game regular season attendance when 53,106 watch a day game with the Royals.

1998: Paul Molitor ended his Hall of Fame career by going 2 for 4 with a single in his final at-bat in the Twins 6-2 win over the Indians.

Of interest for events of September 28:

1969: The Twins clinched the AL Western Division championship with a 5-2 win over the Mariners in the opening game of a doubleheader in Seattle. (NOTE: As indicated in the entry for September 22, there appears to be some confusion as to exactly when the Twins clinched their title in 1969. Perhaps they clinched at least a tie on 9/22? In any event, rather than digging to find out which is accurate, I’m reporting both… I’m feeling particularly lazy today.)

1974: The Twins were on the losing end of Nolan Ryan’s third (of an eventual seven) career no-hitter as Ryan and the Angels topped Minnesota 4-0. Ryan struck out 15 Twins in the game.

1978: This is the date of “the Speech”, given by Twins owner Calvin Griffith at a Lions Club event in Waseca MN. You can read all about it here, if you haven’t before. It was… unbelievable. For me personally, the low point in Minnesota Twins history.

1987: A much higher point in franchise history was reached when the Twins clinched the AL Western Division title with a 5-3 win over the Rangers in Arlington.

Kirby Puckett

1995: Kirby Puckett’s jaw was broken by a Dennis Martinez pitch. It would be the last regular season appearance of Puckett’s career. He would go through spring training the following year, but be diagnosed with glaucoma before the regular season would begin.

On September 29, 1991, the Twins clinched the AL Western Division title despite their 2-1 loss to Toronto, when the White Sox also suffered a 2-1 loss to the Mariners.

There have been two historic Twins games held on September 30:

1981: 15,900 fans attended the final home game played at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. Roy Smalley made the final out of the final game, a 5-2 loss to the Royals.

2008: We try not to hold it against him today, but on this date, Jim Thome broke our hearts with a home run off Nick Blackburn, accounting for the sole White Sox run in their 1-0 win over the Twins in the extra “Game 163″ necessitated when the Twins and Sox finished the season tied for the lead in the AL Central.

Let’s look at October 1:

2002: Despite falling behind 5-1 after the first two innings, the Twins came back to defeat Oakland 7-5 in Game 1 of the ALDS. Corey Koskie and Doug Mientkiewicz each homered in support of winning pitcher Brad Radke.

2006: It had never happened in MLB history before but it did on this date… a team that had not held sole possession of first place in their division/league for a single prior day the entire season, claimed their title on the last day of the season. The Twins won their game and then watched with fans as the Tigers blew a 6-0 lead over the Royals before losing 10-8 in 12 innings. 23 year old Joe Mauer became the first AL catcher to win a league batting title, hitting .347 to lead the Major Leagues.

A few oddities are mixed in with the events of October 2:

1974: In a game against the Twins, Texas manager Billy Martin became the first AL manager in the DH-era NOT to use a DH… allowing pitcher Fergie Jenkins to hit instead.

1988: With a crowd of 35,952, the Twins became the first team to pass the 3 million mark in paid attendance for a season. It was a Twins attendance mark that would stand unitl… well… a few days ago, when the Twins broke that record during a game at Target Field last week.

2004: Play was suspended at the Metrodome after 11 innings with the Twins and Indians tied at 5. Why? So crews would have sufficient time to convert the playing field for the scheduled Minnesota Gopher football game that night. Hmmm… maybe they should think about building a basball-only ballpark?

2009: Joe Nathan notched his 46th save, breaking Eddie Guardado’s prior team record of 45, which he recorded in 2002. Nathan would finish the season with 47 saves.

For those who may be tempted to take the Twins recent success for granted, let me end this History Lesson with a review of the final game of the 1999 season at Comisky Park on October 3, 1999. The White Sox scored in the bottom of the first inning and neither team tallied again until the top of the 7th when Doug Mientkiewicz singled and Torii Hunter drove him in with a double, both coming with two outs. At that point, with the score tied 1-1 in the middle of the 7th, the game was called due to rain, wind, cold and, I would imagine, indifference.

The Twins simply didn’t matter in 1999.

Win or lose this post season, the Twins matter now and they’ve mattered for the past 9 seasons. It’s good to be a Twins fan! – 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”.

Twins History Lesson: August 23-29

With about 6 weeks left in the season and the Twins grasping on to a five game lead in the AL Central standings, it’s tempting to start to feel like things are well within hand. But before we dig in to the upcoming week in Twins history, let’s keep one little piece of history in mind… one year ago, the Twins were not only 4.5 games behind the division leading Tigers, but 2.5 behind the White Sox. We all know those leads weren’t safe last year and it’s too early to assume the Twins’ current lead is any safer.

Let’s see what August 23 has brought the Twins direction:

1966: Jim Kaat got the W as the Twins notched win number 500 since the franchise relocated to Minnesota with a victory, appropriately enough, over the Senators.

1977: Dave Goltz threw a one-hitter at the Red Sox and got support from everyone in the line up (each of them recording at least one hit), including a home run from Rod Carew. Goltz struck out 10 in the 7-0 win over Boston.

Jacque Jones

2005: For the second time in Twins history, Minnesota won a game 1-0 with the only run coming on the team’s only hit, a 423 foot home run by Jacque Jones to lead off the 8th inning. Freddy Garcia of the White Sox gave up the dinger and lost to Johan Santana, who only gave up 3 hits, himself.

Kent Hrbek made his MLB debut with the Twins on August 24, 1981, and what a debut it was. In what was a sneak preview of things to come, Hrbie delivered a game-winning home run in the top of the 12th inning off of  George Frazier at Yankee Stadium.

A lot was made about the rain out of their Friday game this weekend resulting in the White Sox and Royals having to play three games inside of 24 hours and, without a doubt, that was a challenge for both teams. But on August 25, 1967, the Twins faced the prospect of playing their third double header in four days. That’s 7 games in four days in the middle of a four-team pennant race. Desperate for a complete game to give their bullpen a break, the Twins turned to Dean Chance, who would be pitching on just two days’ rest, to face the Indians in the second game of the twin bill. The result? Only the second no-hitter in Twins history. Chance actually gave up a run to the tribe in the first inning on two walks, an error and a wild pitch, before going on to strike out 8 to earn the 2-1 win.

Jack Kralick

Speaking of no-hitters, the first Twins no-no was recorded on August 26, 1962, by Jack Kralick, who came within a couple of outs in the ninth inning from being perfect. After Kralick helped his own cause against the A’s with a successful sacrifice bunt in the top of the 9th, followed by a Lenny Green sac fly scoring Bernie Allen, the Twins held a 1-0 lead heading in to the bottom of the ninth. Kralick lost his perfect game with a 1-out full count walk, but got two straight pop outs to put the Twins first no-hitter in the record books.

It’s hard telling which factoid was the most unusual to come out of the Twins’ 1-0 extra inning win over the Brewers on August 27, 1975… was it Craig Kusick tying the MLB record of getting hit by three pitches or iron man Bert Blyleven pitching the 11 inning complete game shutout?

August 28 has seen a couple of items of interest:

1981: Just four days after Kent Hrbek’s debut at Yankee Stadium, fellow rookie Tim Laudner also homered in his first MLB game against the Tigers at Metropolitan Stadium.

2009: The Twins acquired relief pitcher Jon Rauch from the D’Backs.

Lets wrap up this week’s trip down memory lane with a couple of items from August 29:

1963: In what has to be one of the more impressive demonstrations of power hitting in the franchise’s history, the Twins swept a double header from the Senators, 14-2 and 10-1. The Twins hit 12 home runs combined in the two games. Rich Rollins, Bob Allison and Zoilo Versalles each hit one HR, while Bernie Allen, Jimmie Hall and Vic Power each hit two balls out of DC Stadium. Harmon Killebrew won the club’s Home Run Derby with 3 round-trippers.

2009: The Twins signed lefty reliever Ron Mahay, who had been released by the Royals three days earlier.

That’s it! Tonight, the Twins start a critical four-game series against the Rangers at the Oven in Arlington (where high temperatures are forecast to be 106, 103, 93 and 94 degrees over the next four days). Meanwhile, the White Sox have the day off as they wait for the Orioles to show up in Chicago for a three-game series starting Tuesday. Should be an interesting week! – 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”.

Twins History Lesson: August 9-15

It seems to me like this week’s History Lesson* is loaded down with a lot of “lasts”. I suppose it is getting to be the time of year when we’re going to see more and more of those. They don’t call these the “dog days of summer” for nothing, I guess.

Is August 9 ALWAYS an off day? There really were only a couple of items of any interest taking place on the 9th and those were both back during the Twins first decade in Minnesota:

Rich Rollins

1962: You know how fun it is when the current Twins get big games out of the “new kids” on days when the studs don’t perform up to expectations? That kind of thing is hardly new to the Twins. On this date in 1962, those “new kids” were 3B Rich Rollins, who went 2 for 6 with 4 RBI, and 2B Bernie Allen who went 4 for 6, also with 4 RBI. They led the Twins to a 12-10 win over the Kansas City A’s.

1967: On the flip side, you know how much it sucks to see the Twins build a nice big lead throughout the course of the game, only to see them give up a huge inning that sends the game in to Extra Innings? That’s not exactly new, either. On August 9, 1967, the Twins coughed up a 7-0 lead, giving up 7 runs to the Senators in the 7th inning. The Twins would lose the 5 hour, 40 minute game in the 20th inning, but that’s not the most remarkable part. Check out these stats for a couple of the two teams’ RELIEF pitchers: The Twins’ fourth pitcher, Al Worthington, threw 8 and 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, striking out 8 and giving up just 2 hits (Jim Roland threw the last four innings and got the loss). But Worthington’s performance was only good for second best that night. Washington’s fifth pitcher, Darold Knowles, went 10 innings, striking out 10 and giving up just 3 hits. He didn’t get the W though as Dave Baldwin tossed the final 3 innings.

August 10 has been an active date in Twins history and has witnessed a couple of those “lasts” I referred to at the beginning of this post:

1971: Harmon Killebrew became a member of what was still an elite club at the time when he notched his 500th career home run off Baltimore’s Mike Cuellar in the first inning of their game at Met Stadium. He also hit #501 off Cuellar in the same game, but the Twins lost to the O’s 4-3. Killebrew was the 10th player in history to reach the 500 HR mark.

Kent Hrbek

1994: The Twins’ 17-7 win over Boston on this date was not only the final regular season game of the year (due to the players’ walkout that would ultimately lead to the cancellation of the rest of the 1994 season, including the World Series), it was also the day Twins Territory said good-bye to #14. Kent Hrbek went 1 for 5 but knocked in 3 runs in the game, but Kirby Puckett brought the heavy lumber, going 2 for 3, scoring 4 runs and driving in 7 more. Since nobody really knew for sure how long the walkout would last, there was no certainty about this being Hrbie’s final game. As a result, he didn’t get the proper ceremonial send off he deserved. Typical of Twins crowds, however, they sent Hrbek in to retirement with standing ovations before each of his final two plate appearances.

The early 1980s Twins’ general era of futility may have been perfectly epitomized by pitcher Terry Felton. On August 11, 1982, Felton broke the MLB record for most losses at the beginning of a career without recording a win when he and the Twins dropped a 6-3 game to the Angels. Felton would go on to lose 16 straight games (13 in 1982, along with his 0-3 career record going in to that season). Felton would never win a Major League game and left baseball with the record for most career losses without a win (16) and the most losses in a season without a win (13). How bad were the Twins that year? Felton actually had an ERA of 4.99 and a WHIP of 1.491. Not great by any means, but not 0-13 material. The Twins lost 102 games in 1982 so there were plenty of L’s to go around. Let the record also show that Felton did record 3 saves in 1982.

August 12 has seen a few more positive events in the organization’s history:

1979: It can’t be easy to throw a 10 hit complete game shutout but that’s exactly what Twins pitcher Jerry Koosman did on this date against the Oakland A’s. Good thing, too, because the Twins only managed to push across one run in support of Kooz.

Harmon Killebrew, HOF

1984: Harmon Killebrew’s journey to Cooperstown was fittingly completed as Killer was inducted in to the Baseball Hall of Fame along with Don Drysdale, Pee Wee Reese, Luis Aparicio and Rick Ferrell.

August 13 has seen it’s share of fond farewells among other items of note on that date:

1970: If you were a pitcher with a no-hitter going against the Twins, the last guy you wanted to see come to the plate was Cesar Tover. On this date, for a record-tying fourth time in his Twins career, Tovar accounted for the only hit against an opposing pitcher. The Twins lost 1-0 to the Senators and pitcher Dick Bosman. Jim Kaat gave up the one Senator run (it was unearned) for the loss.

1986: The Ron Davis era came to a close in Minnesota as RD wass traded to the Cubs, along with Dewayne Coleman in return for shortstop Julius McDougal, and pitchers George Frazier and  Ray Fontenot.

1995: Kent Hrbek got the formal “thank you” he deserved as the Twins held a ceremony to retire his number 14.

Brad Radke

2006: Pitcher Brad Radke threw 7 shutout innings at the Blue Jays before turning the game over to Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan to complete the 5-0 shutout. It was Radke’s 148th (and last) regular season W.

Now that Twins fans are having so much fun in Target Field, it’s fair to ask why the Twins ever moved out of Metropolitan Stadium in the first place. Perhaps one clue can be found in the box score of the Twins’ final doubleheader played at the Met on August 14, 1981 against the Seattle Mariners. Paid Attendance: 5,630.

August 15 has seen a couple of trades of note. In 1993, the Twins traded 3B Mike Pagliarulo to the Orioles for a player to be named later (which became pitcher Erik Schullstrom) and 14 years later on the same date in 2007, we said good bye to Ramon Ortiz as he was shipped to the Rockies for infielder Matt Macri.

What does this week hold in store for 2010? Well a sweep of the WhiteSox would be a good start, right?! The number of trades in our look back at this week reminds us that we can still see new faces on the roster at this time of year, as well. – 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”.

Twins History Lesson: June 14 – 20

It’s no wonder that Major League Baseball came up with interleague play as a gimmick to generate interest in games played during the month of June. Based on the relative lack of notable events taking place in Twins history this month, baseball certainly needed something to keep fans from turning their attention elsewhere. Nevertheless, there’s been a smattering of noteworthy milestones, transactions and general an entertaining event or two that we felt worth bringing to the attention of Knuckleballs Nation. (Yeah, we know… it’s a REALLLLLLY small nation. But we can dream!) Now on with this week’s Twins History Lesson.*

Even to someone like me who had the pleasure of following Jim Kaat’s Twins career as it was playing out, it’s still somewhat amazing to me how often his name comes up in these peeks back in Twins history. June 14, 1964, may not have been a monumental date in the organization’s history, but the game that day did demonstrate just the sort of player Kaat was. It was questionable whether would even take his turn in the rotation against the Washington Senators because of a sore shoulder that had caused him to leave a game five days earlier. Kaat got a shot of Novocain in the shoulder the day before his start and took the mound vs. the Senators. He not only threw a complete game, but hit a 2-run home run in the sixth inning of the Twins 9-2 victory in the second game of a double header. It was Kaat’s second HR of the season.

There have been a couple of notable events on June 15 over the years:

On June 15, 1964 (the day after Kaat’s big game mentioned above), in a deal that would prove critical to their AL Championship season a year later in 1965, the Twins acquired pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant from the Cleveland Indians in return for pitcher Lee Stange and OF/3B George Banks.

Forty-four years later, on June 15, 2008, pitcher Scott Baker became the first Twins pitcher to strike out four hitters in one inning, when he K’d Brewers Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder (who reached 1B on a wild pitch on strike 3), Russell Branyan, and Mike Cameron.

June 16 has seen a pair of events, one personal and one more team oriented, that proved indicative of greater things to come:

The Twins’ rookie starting pitcher Frank Viola threw seven innings while giving up just one run on June 16, 1982, to earn his first career victory… a 5-2 win over the Kansas City Royals.

Nine years later, on June 16, 1991, the Twins scratched out a 4-2, 10-inning, win over the Indians. It was the Twins’ 15th straight victory and moved them in to first place in the Western Division for the first time since the final day of their 1987 championship season. Not a bad comeback for a team that lost 9 of their fist 11 games of the year and didn’t reach .500 until May 15.  The winning streak ended the following night, but by the time they finished their road trip a week later, they held a 3 1/2 game lead in the Division… and never looked back.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and Astros manager Cecil Cooper became the first managers fined by MLB for failing to comply with the league’s “pace of game” regulations on June 17, 2008. A month earlier, teams were instructed by MLB to help enforce rules intended to cut the amount of time it took to play games. (Apparently the Yankees and Red Sox still haven’t received that memo.)

Washington Nationals rookie Stephen Strasburg has drawn a lot of attention recently as he continues to be heralded as the next “can’t miss” superstar pitcher. But he’s far from the first phenom to garner that kind of attention and the events of June 18, 1973, could provide a cautionary lesson to those singing Strasburg’s praises. On that date, the Rangers’ David Clyde took the mound for his first Major League start… just 20 days after pitching in the state championship game for his high school team. The 18 year old Clyde gave up just one hit to the Twins in the 4-3 Ranger victory, in front of the first sell-out crowd at Arlington Stadium. Clyde, the $125,000 bonus baby, would go on to win a total of 18 games in his five year MLB career.

June 19 has been an eventful day for a trio of famous Twins:

On June 19, 1968, in a game against the Washington Senators at Metropolitan Stadium, slugger Harmon Killebrew became the first Twin to drive in 1000 runs in a career.

Twenty years later, on June 19, 1988, Jeff Reardon notched his 20th save of the year as he closed out a 3-1 win over the Mariners. It was the seventh consecutive season he accomplished that feat. The game also marked Bert Blyleven’s 250th career victory.

On June 19, 2007, on the team bus to Shea Stadium for that night’s interleague game with the Mets, Blyleven, who as a broadcaster never misses the opportunity to complain about starting pitchers failing to complete games, told Johan Santana he’d allow his head to be shaved if Santana throws a complete game shutout that night against the Mets. Not a single Met so much as reached third base  against Santana and before the next night’s game, Blyleven was shorn.

On June 20, 1965, the Twins played in front of the largest crowd ever to see the team play on the road, as 71,245 showed up for a double header at Yankee Stadium. In the first game, the Twins broke a 4-4 tie in the ninth inning when Zoilo Versalles and Sandy Valdespino scored runs on two separate wild pitches thrown by two different Yankee pitchers in the Twins 6-3 win. 20-year old pitcher Dave Boswell was credited with the win in the second game but, once again, a wild pitch played a role when Versalles reached first base after swinging and missing at a 3rd strike knuckleball ahead of a Harmon Killebrew home run. The 7-4 win capped a sweep of the Yankees on their home turf and served notice that the Twins were for real and they went on to win the ’65 AL pennant.

This week has the potential to create some new “history” as the Twins are scheduled to face the current odds-on favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award, the Rockies Ubaldo Jimenez, on Thursday before heading to Philadelphia for a weekend series against the defending NL champion Phillies. Let’s hope the Twins get healthy in a hurry and return to their traditional dominant ways over NL opponents. – 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”.

Twins History Lesson: June 7-13

It’s that time of the week again so before the Twins kick off their homestand tonight against the Landed Gentry, let’s take a quick look back at this week in Minnesota Twins history*

There isn’t much all that notable connected to June 7, unless your name is Kent Hrbek. On June 7, 1986, Hrbie singled three times, doubled once and hit a HR as he backed up pitcher Bert Blyleven with the first and only 5-hit game of his career as the Twins beat the Royals 4-1.

June 8 hasn’t been all that much more remarkable:

1965: MLB conducted its first free agent draft for HS and college players. The Twins drafted SS Eddie Leon out of the University of Arizona. Leon did not sign with the Twins, opting to stay in school.

1976: Gene Mauch caleds on his “closer”, Bill Campbell, to relieve Pete Redfern in the 4th inning with 2 Cleveland Indians on base. Campbell faced only 17 hitters (one over the minimum) as he finished out the game to earn the 3-1 win. It was Campbell’s 6th appearance in an eight day period during which he threw 16 innings and it was the fifth game already that season that he had thrown at least four innings. That year, Campbell would go on to pitch in 78 games and record 17 wins as a relief pitcher! He led the Twins in those categories, as well as ERA (3.00). It’s the only time in Twins history that a pitcher has led the team in all three of those categories. My, how times have changed.

1978: The Twins drafted Kent Hrbek in the 17th round of the free agent draft.

June 9 has seen a couple of the more unique events in the organization’s history:

1966: Rich Rollins, Zoilo Versalles, Tony Oliva, Don Mincher and Harmon Killebrew all homered in the 7th inning of their win over the Kansas City A’s. It’s the first time in American League history that a team hit five HRs in one inning.

1975: Twins Manager Frank Quillici turned in a lineup card to the umpires that differed from the one he turned in to the press box and posted in the dugout for his team. The official version, given to the umpire, had Dan Ford hitting 7th and Danny Thompson 8th, but the version posted in the dugout had them reversed… and that’s the way they batted through the 8th inning. Indians manager Frank Robinson never brought the matter to the attention of the umpire. For some reason, Ford decided to hit in his correct spot in the order, ahead of Thompson, in the 9th inning. After a 9th inning HR by Vic Adbury tied the game at 10-10, Ford and Thompson again hit in their correct spots in the 11th inning, when Thompson’s single scored Eric Soderholm with what would eventually be the winning run.

Ah interleague play. On June 10, 2004, the Twins completed a 3-game sweep of the NY Mets with a 15-inning, 3-2 win. Kyle Lohse gave up 2 runs in the first 3 innings but he, along with help from five relievers shut down the Mets on 5 hits through the following 12 innings. Trailing 2-1 in the 9th, Jose Offerman doubled home Matt LeCroy all the way from 1B to tie the score. In the top of the 15th, with a Met runner on 1B, Torii Hunter ran down two potential gappers to maintain the 2-2 tie. In the bottom of the inning, three straight Twins singled to load the bases. Michael Ryan (who entered the game as a pinch runner for Joe Mauer in the 8th inning) slapped a single to RF to win the game.

Hmmm let’s see… June 11…

1964: The Twins traded 1B Vic Power and OF Lenny Green to the Angels for OF Frank Kastro. Ouch. And fans today think Bartlett and Garza for Young and Harris was a bad trade?

1972: Twins pitcher Jim Kaat homered off of the Tribe’s Vince Colbert during the Twins 5-2 win. It’s the last HR, to date, hit by a Twins pitcher.

2005: Forty seasons after the Twins lose 3 World Series games to the Dodgers in the 1965 Classic, Justin Morneau’s single, HR and 4 RBI helped the Twins win for the first time in Dodger Stadium, 5-3.

June 12 has been eventful in a couple of recent years:

2006: Joe Mauer earned Player of the Week honors by going 15 for 24 (a .625 clip) and reaching base four times in five consecutive games.

2009: It was just a year ago that the Cubs’ Milton Bradley provided comic relief in the 8th inning of their contest with the Twins by catching Joe Mauer’s 1-out sacrifice fly ball to RF… and promptly tossing the ball in to the bleachers. Bradley had lost track of the number of outs and was charged with an error, allowing Brendan Harris to advance to 3rd base.

On June 13, 1997, the Twins played their first regular season interleague game at the Astrodome in Houston. Manager Tom Kelly got his first lesson in NL customs as he had to borrow a lineup card from the Houston manager (seems in the AL, the home team provided cards to both teams and in the NL, each team provided their own). Behind Chuck Knoblauch’s 4 for 4 night, Paul Molitor’s 2 run HR… on a night when he made his second non-DH appearance (at first base) of the year… and Brad Radke’s 8 innings of 1-run, 6-hit pitching, the Twins mob the Astros 8-1. It’s the first of what becomes an annual Twins tradition of feasting on NL teams in interleague play.

That’s it for this week’s history lesson. Let’s hope the Twins get healthy and kick the Royals around a bit before commencing to whup some NL butt as interleague play resumes this weekend. Personally, I’m just glad the games are returning to a more reasonable starting time this week. – 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”.

Twins Offday History Lesson: May 24-30

Getting ready for another series with the Evil Empire this week and starting it off with an off day. Once again, it’s a good day to take a glance back through Twins history*.

May 24 has seen monumental performances from a couple of all-time Twins legends:

1964: Oriole Milt Pappas gave up the longest home run in the history of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium to Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew… a 471 foot shot to left-centerfield. Unfortunately, the Twins lost the game, 8-7.

Extra Innings? No problem for Kaat.

1972: Jim Kaat pitched 11 innings of the Twins’ 12-inning, 1-0 win over the Royals and pitcher Dick Drago. Drago went all 12 innings but gave up an RBI single to Rod Carew in the 12th. Wayne Granger got the save for Kaat. Amazingly, this was nothing really unusual for Kaat, who pitched more than nine innings 18 times in his career… winning 10 of those games.

May 25, 1977 saw one of the most impressive doubleheader performances in Twins’ history. In game one of the twi-night doubleheader in Boston, the Twins took advantage of a wind blowing out to CF and hit .500 for the game, as a team (24 for 48), in their 13-5 win. The game featured the last of Rod Carew’s five 5-hit games. In the nightcap, Lyman Bostock tied a MLB record for outfielders with 12 put outs (and his 17 put outs for the doubleheader was also a record), as the Twins swept the doubledip from the Red Sox with a 9-4 win. Also of note, twenty years later, on May 25, 1997, the Twins retired the #34 jersey of Kirby Puckett.

On May 26, 1997, the Twins and A’s fought a battle of attrition that the Twins eventually won 12-11 after a long line of relief pitchers in both bullpens failed to hold opposing hitters in check. It was not an insubstantial list of arms either, as Goose Gossage, Rick Honeycutt, Dennis Eckersley, and Rick Aguilera were all among the relievers who got knocked around. By the time the Twins had the W, the game had seen 5 lead changes, 30 hits and 15 walks off of 13 pitchers and the teams had left a combined 22 runners on base. Rookie George Tsamis eventually recorded the win for the Twins, his first (and only) career W. Tsamis finished his night in a local hospital with a stomach ailment.

On May 27, 1983, Twins relief pitcher Rick Lysander became the first Twins pitcher to lose both ends of a doubleheader as he was the pitcher of record in the Twins’ 7-4 and 2-1 losses to the Tigers in Detroit.

May 28 has seen a couple of unremarkable, yet unusual, events in Twins’ history… both in the last two years:

2008: Craig Monroe had one of his few highlights as a Twin in the 9th inning of a game in Kansas City. A Carlos Gomez single scored 2 runs to bring the Twins within an 8-5 score with two runners on base and Gardy elected to have Monroe hit for Alexi Casilla. Monroe took a Joel Peralta pitch over the left field wall to tie the game. Justin Morneau’s 10th inning HR won the game 9-8.

2009: A close call at the plate in the top of the 7th inning of a game vs. the Red Sox resulted in umpire Todd Tichenor ejecting Twins catcher Mike Redmond for the first time in his 12 years as a big leaguer. Ron Gardenhire earned his own ejection moments later. But Tichenor wasn’t finished. In the bottom of the 7th, Tichenor also ejected Boston catcher Jason Varitek, for arguing a ball/strike call, and followed it up by throwing out Boston manager Terry Francona. Despite Tichenor’s best efforts, the two teams keep enough players eligible to finish the game and the Sox win 3-1.

May 29 has seen a couple of impressive feats, exactly 20 years apart:

1962: The Twins wiped out Cleveland 14-3 on the strength of first inning grand slam home runs by both Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison.

1982: Twins current backup catcher Drew Butera is reputed to be a fine defensive catcher and has shown off his arm already in 2010. Perhaps he comes by that prowess naturally. On May 29, 1982, Twins catcher (and Drew’s father) Sal Butera set a Twins record by throwing out four baserunners in a game. Yankees Ken Griffey Sr., Graig Nettles, Bobby Murcer and Willie Randolph were the victims.

The Metrodome saw a couple of “firsts” on May 30:

1986: In a game against the Red Sox, Roy Smalley became the first Twin to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game.

1992: Tiger Rob Deer popped out on consecutive trips to the plate, both times to Twins SS Greg Gagne. What’s so unique about that? Nothing… except that both popups also landed in Gagne’s glove after first ricocheting off of the Metrodome ceiling.

That’s a wrap for this week’s History Lesson! Now let’s get ready for the inevitable humbling of the Evil Empire!- 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”.

 

Crikket in the Club! (A Day in Target Field’s Legends Club)

Armed with tickets in Section C of the Legends Club at Target field, I took in my first regular season game of the year on Saturday. Sure, the game kind of sucked, with the Twins losing to the Orioles in game 1 of the split doubleheader, and the weather was on the chilly side (it has to be chilly for it to sleet, right?), but it was still a great time. I thought this off-day would be a good day to share a few pictures.

Walking up to the ballpark, we were greeted by the new Rod Carew statue (I’d seen the Killebrew and Puckett statues, but this was my first look at Carew’s).

The Rod Carew bronze statue outside Target Field

There are three lounges in the Legends Club.

The Killebrew Lounge is directly behind home plate…

The Killebrew mural inside the Killebrew Lounge

… the Carew lounge is on one side…

The wooden Carew mural above the bar

… and the Puckett Lounge is down the other side.

The wood mural behind the bar in the Puckett Lounge

A few pictures from inside the Legends Club:

Inside the Legends Club looking out toward the field

One of the Legends Club hallways

Inside the Legends Club

The Tony Oliva mural along one wall of the Legends Club

The Hot Chocolate line (mmmm with a little something added) and Hrbek mural

Nice pic above the condiments. (How many can you name?)

In the Puckett, Carew and Killebrew Lounges, there are several display cases filled with each player’s memorabilia (jerseys, shoes, bats and a number of more personal items, including various awards such as gold gloves, silver sluggers and even Puckett’s MVP and World Series rings). The picture of one of the Killebrew display cases below is just one example.

One of the display cases in the Killebrew Lounge (includes his contract below)

Yes, I did actually go sit outside and watch the game. To prove it, I’ll include a couple of pictures from Section C.

The view from row 6 of Section C

Cuddyer thought it was cold, too. Note the earflaps.

Morneau's HR was just about the only Twins highlight of the day.

Finally… can you identify all of these Twins Legends from their lifesize pictures adorning the Legends Club walls?

This Twins Legend served two tours with the club and is still hanging around

This lefty was a cornerstone of the Twins rotation in the 60s

This Twins Legend won an AL MVP award.

The Twins player who "exemplifies determination, hustle, tenacity, competitive spirit and leadership both on and off the field" wins an award named for this Twins Legend

I hope this helped feed your baseball addiction on the second off-day of the week. Tomorrow, the Twins take on the Evil Empire (aka the F’ing Yankees) on the road at the Death Star (aka F’ing Yankee Stadium). Let’s kick some F’ing Yankee butt! – JC