Episode 73: Kyle Knudson’s Non-Roster Invite

This week on the podcast we struggle through a couple of technical difficulties, and lament the loss of Miguel Sano for the season. This week we take a look in on the Cleveland Indians. We are joined on the podcast by Jason Lukehart (@JasonLukehart) of Let’s Go Tribe to discuss comings and goings for the Indians and what Twins fans can expect from the Tribe in 2014. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

tribe

In this week’s Down on the Pond segment we take a closer look at Twins minor league pitcher David Hurlbut who pitched in Cedar Rapids and Ft Myers last season. Paul commits a beer drinking sin and admits to in on air and is mocked by all. The Twins say goodbye to any hope of signing Johan Santana and there are several jokes made at Delmon Young‘s expense.

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews increase the number of underscores in Jay Corn’s twitter handle.

Episode 72: Reviewing the White Sox

You can put it on the board… YES! This week we are joined by lifelong Chicago White Sox fan Tom Flynn (@Mighty_Flynn) to check in on what’s been happening on the South Side of Chicago since the season came to a close. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

HawkBoard

We check in on just about every relevant ex-Twin, including Johan Santana, who threw off a mound for several teams and Matt Garza, who signed with the Brewers. Eric takes the gang through a quick round of pepper and eventually we get around to discussing other happenings in baseball, including the new rule concerning collisions at home plate. Strangely enough, Drew Butera is mentioned a handful of times throughout the podcast and there is even talk of a dog running a sausage race.

Thanks for the download. You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Eric on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read his writing at Knuckleballs, and you can find Jay Corn on twitter @Jay__Corn! 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 that will help Johan regain some of his Cy Young prowess.

Thanks for listening!

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews will help Jason Bartlett make the 25-man roster.

Don’t Blame “Those Damn Yankees”

The Twins, according to legend, are afraid of the Yankees. And you know what, after some quick post-season exits at the hands of the Yankees, that is a pretty easy narrative to build.  Add in the fact that the Twins have struggled to beat the Yankees in the regular season, despite the Twins having fairly successful regular season teams for most of the 2000’s, and you begin to see how that narrative continues to grow.

Johan Santana

Johan Santana

In the 11 years between 2000 and 2010 the Twins compiled a .537 winning percentage, going 957-826.  During that same span the Twins went 25-57 against the New York Yankees, a .325 winning percentage.  Take out the 77 games against the Yankees and the Twins are 163 games above .500 instead of just 131.  That is a significant bump.  During that same time period the Twins played the Yankees four times in the post-season, managing to win just two games, while losing 12, swept in 2009 and 2010.  That brings the Twins’ 11-year record against the Yankees to 27-69 (.281).  That is bad, almost as bad as the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119), the worst team of the last 50 years.

During that same 11-year span the Yankees were 1060-718, only had a losing record against one American League team (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 45-54), and won two World Series titles (and losing in the World Series two other times).  So clearly the Yankees were a better team than the Twins over that same time period, but the Yankees’ .596 winning percentage is not so much larger than the Twins’ .537 that you would expect the Twins fail so miserably against the Yankees during the span.

Assuming each team’s regular season winning percentages represented their true talent over those 11 years, the Yankees should have beaten the Twins only about 53% of the time, not the nearly 72% clip they had over that same span.  So what gives?  Why did the Yankees perform so well against the Minnesota Twins, especially in the post season?

For me, it comes down to roster construction, and specifically the postseason pitching rotations, where teams often turn to only their top three or four pitchers.

2003

Game (score, winner) Twins (starting pitcher) Yankees (starting pitcher)
1 (3-1 Twins) Johan Santana Mike Mussina
2 (1-4 Yankees) Brad Radke Andy Pettitte
3 (1-3 Yankees) Kyle Lohse Roger Clemens
4 (1-8 Yankees) Johan Santana David Wells

The Twins, with a lack of depth in their starting rotation chose to go back to their ace on four days of rest, facing elimination in Game 4.  The Yankees, alternatively, felt strong enough to run out David Wells (4.14 ERA, 4.3K/9, essentially a league average pitcher in 2003 despite his 15-7 W/L record) knowing that should they be pushed to a decisive Game 5 they could turn to Mike Mussina, their ace, against Brad Radke (4.49 ERA and a pitch to contact friendly contact rate of 82.2%).

So while you would certainly expect the Twins to score more than 3 runs over their final 3 games in this series, outside of Santana the Twins certainly did not have a rotation that could even dream about keeping up with New York (and remember that the Kyle Lohse of 2003 (4.61 ERA) is a far cry from the pitcher he has been over the past three seasons).

2004 Continue reading

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

Say, whatever happened to what’s his name?

We’ve been running into so many of our former players on opposing teams lately, like Nathan, Guerrier, Hunter, Hardy, Thome, Punto, Crain…. well, you know. With recent news on a couple more, it got me wondering about some of those guys we don’t hear so much about. Whatever happened to some of the players we used to spend practically every day talking about?

So I went and did a little looking around – not too much because I’m lazy so I’m sure there are lot more of our former guys out there doing things we wouldn’t expect or with teams we don’t see often. If you know of one I didn’t include here, feel free to share what you know! It’s always fun to to catch up..

One of guys we didn’t get to see even though we could have hoped for it was Lew Ford! He recently came up from the minor leagues with the Orioles and got his first hit in MLB since 2007. During that time he played in Japan, Mexico and with an independent league before coming back to the minor leagues in the Orioles system. I’m not sure what it is about the Red Sox and the Orioles but they seem to be a haven for former Twins. And he’s finally on Twitter so you can follow @CaptainLew20 there – anyone else have a little trouble believing that it took a geek like Lew so long to finally join the social media world of micro-blogging?!?! Of course, I found out information about another former Twin by following him! It turns out Terry Tiffee is playing 3B for the AAA Gwinnett Braves. The interesting part is that apparently he recently got called upon to pull a Butera! He pitched an inning in the 22-1 Gwinnett loss. His line: 1IP, 5ER, 4H, 2BB, 0K,45.00ERA.

Also rejoining the ranks after an albeit VERY brief stint in independent league baseball is Luke Hughes! The very same day he announced that he was joining an independent team, he followed up with an announcement that he was going to Las Vegas instead to play for the 51s in the Toronto Blue Jays system. I am hoping his return to the big leagues comes a lot quicker than Lew’s!

Also still in the minor leagues is former utility everything guy, Matt Tolbert. He’s doing well with the Iowa Cubs. He’s also hitting significantly better in the minor leagues than he was able to achieve in the bigs. I suppose that is to be expected for a guy who is used to facing major league pitching. But he’s getting more multiple base hits including a recent outing where he was only a homer short of a cycle. I wish him all the best!

Of course not all former Twins are playing in the minor leagues. Plenty of them are still playing well in their new homes. Interestingly enough, I happened to catch the end of the Cardinals game on the radio on my way home from work on Sunday. Sure enough, there was a former Twin. Kyle Lohse racked up win #12 and is probably their best starting pitcher. I think he could be a good example for Liriano to look to – a guy with a LOT of talent who really struggled with the mental readiness required to anchor a rotation. Clearly Kyle figured something out after he left us.

Speaking of pitching, perennial fan favorite, Pat Neshek is providing a show relieving for the Oakland A’s. Yes, his pitching is still as awkward looking as it always was. And we just faced Jose Mijares with the Royals but yeah, he just got claimed off waivers by the Giants so he’s off to a new home. A couple other former Twins pitchers are currently on the DL, again. I guess they didn’t just have that problem with us. Things are looking up for Johan Santana who is expect to make his return from rehab on Saturday. Things aren’t as rosy for Kevin Slowey. There’s a reason we won’t see him playing the Indians. He’s been out since May with what was reported to be a strained lat. On Friday, trainer Lonnie Soloff said Slowey’s actual injury is a fractured rib. “That takes a long time to heal,” said Soloff. I guess the Twins training staff isn’t the only one having trouble with diagnoses.

It’s not like pitching is the only thing we lose over time. Two of our biggest hitters from last year are with new teams this year. Michael Cuddyer was having a good season with the Rockies — hitting .260 with 15 home runs and 56 RBI — but has been bothered by a strained right oblique muscle and hadn’t played since Tuesday. Does that sound familiar to anyone else?

And my thanks to Thrylos who got me to go check out what is going on with Jason Kubel these days. He’s doing VERY well batting .281 with 23 homeruns. And as Thrylos pointed out, he’s lost a significant amount of weight so in some pictures, it’s hard to recognize him! That has to be a LOT easier on his knees. Yeah, that’s him all they way over on the left. I think he looks taller in addition to looking smaller.

Manager Nelson Prada and Hitting Coach Tommy Watkins

And there are the guys who aren’t playing anymore but are doing the best to pass on what they know to the next generation of players – they are coaching! I am amused by how many former Twins become Hitting Coaches.. really? But one we even get to interact with occasionally. JC just got see Tommy Watkins while visiting in Beloit because he’s still in the Twins system – coaching for us even! You can even follow him on Twitter: @TommyWatkins. He’s been fun to chat with.

Also filling the role as hitting coach are Doug Mientkiewicz and Jacque Jones. I’m very glad they are both still working in baseball but I have to admit that with Dougie especially, I wouldn’t have pegged him as a HITTING coach per se. But according to Utah’s Standard Examiner he’s making a big impact:

Baseball America, in their pre-draft player rankings comprised of both college and high school prospects, tabbed Rathjen as the 229th best draft-eligible player in the country. Had he been the 229th pick, he would have gone off the board early in the seventh round.

But instead of being taken where pundits predicted, he fell to the 11th round, and Rathjen seems pleased with how that’s worked out so far. He’s been given the opportunity to learn from Raptors hitting coach Doug Mientkiewicz, and the two have made a strong connection.

“(Mientkiewicz) was a player, and he was a good player, so he knows how to relate to us and explain things,” Rathjen said. “He can show us what we’re doing wrong and explain it in a way we can understand. For me, personally, that’s really helped.”

Already, Mientkiewicz has helped Rathjen speed up his timing and cut down his long, “metal-bat” swing to a short, direct-to-the-ball cut that’s more suited for wooden bats.

“He’s really done a solid job of (making adjustments),” Berryhill said of Rathjen. “He’s being able to recognize pitches a lot better, which means he’s getting better pitches to hit. He’s driving the baseball.”

I always wanted Dougie to get into coaching – hoped it would be for us like Tommy – because I really thought he had a gift for imparting his love of the game and ability to LEARN the needed skills on to others. I just never really thought it would be about hitting. It makes much more sense to me that Jacque Jones is doing the same thing for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in the Padres system. Since his last couple of playing years involved a LOT of bouncing up and down between the minors and the majors and from team to team, I am almost glad he decided to retire and go into coaching.

Last on my list today but most definitely not last in my baseball heart is Mike Redmond! He’s really making a name for himself Managing in the Blue Jays system. He has already been promoted to AA after a winning season with his A team, the Lansing Lugnuts, last year. His new team speaks pretty highly of him:

…the team will be operating under the guidance of a new skipper, former Major League catcher Mike Redmond.

Redmond made his managerial debut in 2011, when he took the Blue Jays A-ball affiliate, the Lansing Lugnuts, to the Midwest League Championship Series. Though the team fell in finals, the Lugnuts finished the regular season 17 games over .500 at 77-60, and won two post-season series under their rookie Manager.

A native of Seattle, Washington, Redmond spent 13 seasons as a catcher at the Major League level with three different Clubs (1998-2004 with FLA, 2005-2009 with MIN & 2010 with CLE), batting .287 with 13 home runs & 243 RBI in 764 career games.

I honestly couldn’t be happier for him and still really wish we could snag him away to help the Twins minor league system (and eventually the majors!) I think he has a long future in baseball ahead of him.

As I said at the beginning, if you know of someone else I didn’t mention here today, feel free to share! Obviously I love finding out what has happened to someone since the days I wrote their names in my scorebook.

**note: as I was putting the final touches on this post, in the space of about 10 minutes, I was lucky enough to see Brad Radke on TV and see a story about Corey Koskie tweeted out!! Bradke was discussing the American Indian Community Center in Minneapolis that he had recently helped remodel and the story about Koskie, you can read better for yourself: Koskie finds peace of mind.

Will Past Be Prologue?

I’m kinda confused.

I am getting the overwhelming sense that far too many so-called Twins “fans” are actually rooting against the team right now. Why? Because they’re apparently afraid that if the Twins continue to win games at their recent rate, they’ll pull themselves up out of the AL Central Division cellar and perhaps even within shouting distance of whatever sorry excuse for a Division Leader happens to be sitting atop the Division as July nears. These “fans” think that might cause General Manager Terry Ryan to exercise undue restraint when other GMs come calling to inquire about the availability of current Twins players on the trade market.

Yes, that’s right… a significant segment of the fanbase doesn’t want to see the Twins win TOO much because they think the Twins can get significantly better in 2013 or 2014 by trading veterans for prospects this summer and they don’t give a damn how bad the resulting product on the field is for the rest of 2012.

My goodness, how things have changed in Twinsville.

Luis Castillo

I could have sworn we all (both fans and Twins players, themselves) spent most of the early to middle part of the past decade complaining that the front office was always looking toward “next year” when it came to making mid-season deals. Does anyone else remember the reaction from fans and the clubhouse when Luis Castillo was dealt to the Mets in 2007 with the Twins only a handful of games out of the Division lead? The players and many fans believed Torii and Johan and the others still had another run in them, but Terry Ryan dealt the team’s leadoff hitter anyway. Many people felt Hunter and Santana eventually left via Free Agency after that season in part because they didn’t believe the Twins would ever play for “now.”

With the limited revenue that the Twins’ Metrodome lease allowed, Terry Ryan always had to have one eye on the bottom line as he crafted his roster from one season to the next, but the promise of a new ballpark and the additional revenue streams that would come with it changed that perception. Finally, the Twins would be able to afford to pay for enough talent to make a run whenever they were on the edge of contention at mid-season.

So here we are, mid-way through the third season in that new ballpark and fans want Terry Ryan to hold a fire sale?

There are two reasons for teams to trade away veteran ballplayers at midseason. One is because someone who needs instant help this year is willing to give up prospects that the selling team believes will play key roles when they’re finally able to turn things around and contend themselves. The other is to shed payroll, which is often necessary because a bad team is not generating attendance and other revenue streams as had been hoped when the roster was built in the spring.

I hope we can all agree that the latter simply is not an acceptable reason for the Twins to trade anyone. There’s no shortage of cash in the Twins checking account right now. They did their payroll slashing before the season even started and that economizing, rather than paying to bring on better starting pitching, is the main reason this team isn’t living up to hopes this season.

That leaves the only reason for “selling” being to bring in high upside prospects that can play critical roles later. But how realistic is that, really?

I’m afraid some of these people clamoring for the Twins to sell off parts are significantly overestimating what Ryan can get for those parts. Remember the return he got for what was still a very productive leadoff hitter and second baseman in 2007? Castillo was batting .304 with 9 stolen bases, 54 runs and a .356 on-base percentage when he was traded to the Mets… for Dustin Martin and Drew Butera. How do you think people are going to feel if THAT’S the kind of return the Twins get for Denard Span? I, for one, will be pissed!

The Twins’ primary need, in their efforts to rebuild a competitive team, is starting pitching. Their hitting is fine. Their defense could be better, but it’s improved over last year. Their bullpen has been surprisingly solid. They need good starting pitching.

Does anyone really believe there are contending teams out there with such a surplus of good starting pitchers that they’re going to be willing to trade one of them for a Denard Span, a Ryan Doumit, or even a Justin Morneau? I don’t believe it for a heartbeat.

I also believe people are underestimating how competitive this team could be over the next year and a half. The biggest need is for better starting pitching and, unfortunately, that’s something that’s just not easy to come by. It’s certainly unlikely to be something acquired in a mid-season trade with a team looking to improve their ability to contend this season.

That being the case, I simply do not believe that you tear down other areas of your roster when you’re unlikely to improve the area most in need of help… not when there’s no economic reason to do so.

If there’s a GM out there willing to part with a high-ceiling starting pitcher that’s likely to contribute to the Twins at the Major League level in 2013 or at least by 2014, fine… see what it takes to get that player. But I don’t think it’s likely. More likely, potential trade partners will be offering up more of the Dustin Martin/Drew Butera level of prospect or simply offering to take on contracts without giving up any kind of prospects at all.

If that’s the best Terry Ryan can do, I’d rather just keep watching the guys wearing Twins uniforms right now for the rest of the season and see what they can do if a couple of these young pitchers keep getting hitters out the way they have been lately.

I know many fans disagree. But for those who are prevailing on the Twins to trade their veterans over the coming weeks , I have just a small bit of advice. Be careful what you wish for. Based on Terry Ryan’s history, you may just get it.

– 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

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

Twins History Lesson: September 13-19

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

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

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

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

Eric Milton

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

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

Anyway… on to this week’s History Lesson:

Terry Ryan

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

Looking at September 14:

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

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

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

And on September 15:

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

2002 Twins Celebrate ALDS

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

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

September 16 has seen a few notable events:

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

Paul Molitor

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

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

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

Looking at September 18:

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

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

Cesar Tovar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twins History Lesson: August 16-22

Before we dig in to the events that transpired during the upcoming week in Twins history, I want to take a few moments to mention a bit more about one of the reference sources we use for this feature. We footnote three sources that we routinely check every week at the bottom of each Twins History Lesson post*.

One of those resources, however, warrants a little extra mention. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Twins Trivia site just provides a few obscure facts about our favorite team. There is so much more of interest to be found there. Want to know exactly which players have worn your favorite jersey number over the years? It’s there. Too young to remember what Metropolitan Stadium looked like, there are a bunch of pictures (including a link so some pictures of an abandoned “Met” that almost brought tears to my eyes). There are interviews with a boatload of former Twins, as well. And of course, there are all of the facts and figures you would expect from a “trivia” site. I highly recommend the site and you can always find the link in our Twins Blogroll list at the right.

Now, on to this week in Twins history…

Kicking off the week on August 16:

1975: You think having a multi-hit game is a big deal? On August 16, 1975, you needed at least two hits just to feel like you played a role at all in the Twins’ 9-1 win over Cleveland. The Twins set a MLB record with nine different hitters collecting at least two hits. Those hitters were Lyman Bostock, Dan Ford, Rod Carew, John Briggs, Tony Oliva, Eric Soderholm, Steve Braun, Jerry Terrell and Phil Roof.

Tom Kelly

1990: A lot has been made of Michael Cuddyer being moved around the field this season by manager Ron Gardenhire, but on this date in 1990, Tom Kelly took the title of “manager” to a whole new level during a game with the Indians. Kelly shifted Kirby Puckett from RF to SS.. to 3B… and finally to 2B while moving Al Newman from 3B to SS and back to 3B, all in the 8th inning alone.

R.A. Dickey is having a very nice season for the Mets this season after never quite having the sort of success with the Twins that the organization hoped he might in 2009. Reportedly, Ron Gardenhire had wanted a knuckleballer on the staff because he felt such a pitcher could be successful in the climate controlled Metrodome. Given Dickey’s performance for the Mariners against the Twins at the ‘Dome on August 17, 2008, it’s not real  clear what may have made Gardy draw that conclusion. On that date, Dickey tied a MLB record with four wild pitches in one inning. He could have broken the record if not for one additional pitch that found the backstop being ruled a passed ball charged to catcher Kenji Johjima.

August 18 has seen a “first” and a “last” of note over the years:

1966: It may not roll off the tongue as smoothly poetic as “Tinker to Evers to Chance”, but Rollins to Tovar to Killebrew made history on 8/18/66 when Rich, Cesar and Harmon turned the first triple play in Twins history during a game against the Angels at Met Stadium.

1986: Twenty years later, Hall-of-Famer-to-be Tom Seaver struck out 7 Twins in 8.2 innings in a Red Sox win over the Twins to earn his 311th, and final, career win.

Johan Santana

Tell me if this sounds at all familiar, Twins fans… a Twins pitcher walks off the mound during what could be a historic night with his team nursing a 1-0 lead. But having already thrown over 100 pitches, manager Ron Gardenhire puts team and the health of the pitcher ahead of “history” and lets the pitcher know he’ll be turning to the bullpen. Kevin Slowey on Sunday? Nope… on August 19, 2007, it was Johan Santana who had struck out 17 Rangers in 8 innings and was within 3 Ks of matching the MLB record of 20 in a game. There was no Jim Thome to give the Twins a cushion on that day, but Joe Nathan struck out 2 in the 9th to help set the Twins single game team record of 19 strikeouts and seal the 1-0 win. Santana gave up only two hits to the Rangers… both by Sammy Sosa.

Ken Landreaux was having a good season for the Twins in 1979 but when you’re the player a team gets back in a trade for a certain Hall of Famer like Rod Carew, living up to expectations is pretty much a lost cause. Nonetheless, On August 20, 1979, Landreaux came through with a very Carew-like performance as he ripped three extra base hits (double, triple, HR) and drove in six runs in a 10-5 win over the Red Sox.

The Beatles at Met Stadium (Photo by Sully)

Where were you on August 21, 1965? If you were at Metropolitan Stadium, you were among a packed house of screaming fans… but the Twins were nowhere to be seen. The Beatles were playing at the Met that night!

Our look back at August 22 goes back only two years to 2008. Rookie Carlos Gomez set a Twins rookie stolen base record by swiping his 27th base of the season, breaking a club record held at the time by Luis Rivas.

That’s enough for this week, I think. We’ll skip over a few August trades involving guys most of us have never heard of (sorry, Jackie Collum) or prefer to forget (that would be you, Joe Mays) as we anxiously await the inevitable demolishing of the White Sox remaining playoff hopes this week. Go Twins! – JC

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