Monday, Grumpy Monday

I’m in a bit of a grumpy mood this morning. That’s not an altogether unusual thing for me on a Monday morning, but I generally try to avoid human contact until noon or later on Monday so I can spare others having to deal with my mood and spare myself the chances I’ll say something I’ll regret later. I certainly avoid publishing written work on Monday mornings for a broad audience to read. But, despite that, here I am writing this.

Here are just a few things I’m feeling a bit… what’s the word my mom used to use?… “owlish”?… about this morning. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Twins Stuff

My mood isn’t only reflected in Twins-related topics, but since this is primarily a Twins blog, let’s start with those topics.

Brian Dozier

I like Brian Dozier. I think he has a chance to be a decent infielder, but I’m not optimistic that he’s going to be the long-awaited “answer” to the Twins’ revolving door at shortstop. But even if he is, I simply don’t get why he’s being called up now to be inserted as the everyday shortstop.

It’s not that I think Jamey Carroll is irreplaceable, nor is Alexi Casilla necessarily entitled to be an everyday infielder at the Major League level. But if you start a list of all the things that have worked WELL for the Twins this season, middle infield defense would be one of a very short number of things on that list.

Have Carroll and Casilla turned EVERY double play opportunity in to two outs? No. But if you can’t see the improvement over the swisscheese-like pairings that were on the field last year for the Twins, your memory sucks. The Twins’ pitchers are, by and large, awful and the results aren’t going to get better by changing the middle infield defense.

Speaking of the Twins pitching… talk about your mood dampeners. Can these guys get ANYONE out? If the Twins sent their entire rotation to Rochester and brought up the Red Wings’ starting pitchers, Wings fans would complain about getting the raw end of the deal… and rightfully so. Not that the starting quintet in Rochester has been all that good, but the Twins’ rotation has been THAT bad. Sending Hendriks down and bringing Scott Diamond up is a start, I guess, but both the Dozier and Diamond moves feel an awful lot like the proverbial, “rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic,” to me.

I don’t envy Terry Ryan these days. There are no easy answers to fixing the Twins. There really aren’t even any difficult answers, if you’re thinking in terms of salvaging anything this season. He’s got a fan base spoiled by a decade of relative success, at least as measured by contention at the Divisional level. He’s got ownership that ‘s providing payroll levels at least 30% higher than the Metrodome days and expecting at least competence in return. That combination is resulting in fewer people showing up at Target Field, which means lower revenues, which means lower future payrolls, which means a tougher job to assemble a roster that can turn things around any time soon.

But while I may not envy Ryan, I don’t feel sorry for him, either. He may have just recently taken over Bill Smith’s mess, but his hands weren’t clean. He was playing a significant role in the scouting and player evaluation process, even while Smith sat in the GM chair. As a result, the players on this team right now and in the minor league pipeline are just as much Ryan’s responsibility as they were Smith’s.

I don’t consider Ron Gardenhire blameless, either, but I really don’t know what manager could win with this collection of pitchers. I don’t know enough about the pitchers individually to know whether better “coaching” from Rick Anderson would help. But I do know that the organization is fast approaching a need to DO “something” to keep fans’ interest… or at least give us some sign that they’ve at least noticed that the wheels have come off.

Maybe it’s my mood this morning, but if I were Terry Ryan, I’d probably make a change right now in my manager and pitching coach. The problem is, I wouldn’t necessarily want to promote anyone from within my organization to the manager’s job that would give the impression he was going to be my manager for the next decade. Maybe Gene Glynn or Tom Brunansky or Jeff Smith will be logical selections or maybe I’d want to open up the search to outside candidates, but I don’t want to make such an important decision hastily.

Paul Molitor

So here’s my Monday Morning suggestion to Terry: Get on your knees and beg Paul Molitor to finish out 2012 as your manager. He’s supposedly not been interested in a field job with the Twins, but maybe on an interim basis, he could be convinced to take things over.

As for the pitching coach…  I really have no idea who in the organization would work on an interim basis, but try this name on for size: Bert Blyleven. OK, OK… once you’ve stopped laughing, think about it… he couldn’t screw the staff up any worse than they are already and at least he wouldn’t be up in the booth the rest of the year. Then again, I’m not sure how they’d get the monitor hooked up in the dugout in a way that would allow him to circle fans in the stands, so maybe it wouldn’t work after all.

Vikings Stuff

I’m a Vikings fan, not necessarily a “Minnesota” fan, so I’ll root for the Vikings wherever they call home in the future. That said, I’d REALLY prefer they stay in Minnesota. It’s where they belong, in my mind.

Philosophically, I understand the opinion that public money shouldn’t be used for stadiums. Then again, I think we use public money for a lot of crap that it shouldn’t be used for, while our health care system in this country is the laughingstock of the rest of the world’s modern civilizations.

Some things just are what they are and among those things is that communities that want major league professional sports teams have to pony up enough public financial support to provide modern playgrounds for those teams every quarter-century or so. This is particularly true with regard to NFL franchises, which are, whether we baseball fans want to admit it or not, the most popular major sports organizations in virtually every community that has one.

For the past couple of decades, this has been a difficult truth for Minnesotans and their political leaders (and I use the term “leaders” loosely here) to grasp.

So, sometime late tonight, I expect the Minnesota legislature to defeat a bill that has been negotiated in good faith by the Vikings, the city of Minneapolis, the Governor of Minnesota and legislators  from both political parties.

And that’s a damn shame.

I’ve been a registered Republican for over three decades and over that period, I’ve been relatively active in state and local politics where I live. While I don’t want to turn this in to a political discussion, I’ll say that I’m disappointed by the way my party has been hijacked by extremists over the past several years at the national level. But if there’s one thing that makes me feel better about what’s happened to the GOP at the national level, it’s seeing what a bunch of political hacks seem to be running the GOP in Minnesota.

Sure, there were missteps along the way by all parties and governing is often about compromise. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” is more inherent to American politics than separation of powers.

If, as a legislator, you oppose public funding of a stadium, in principle, so that’s how you will cast your vote, I can respect that. But what the GOP leadership is essentially telling the Governor… and the people of Minnesota… is that it’s not so much opposition to the bill in principle that could likely cause its demise tonight, it’s that the Governor wouldn’t give them his signature on a couple of tax and bonding bills and they’re going to vote against the Vikings stadium bill as political “payback.”

If that means the Vikings are playing in LA or Toronto in 2013, so be it… at least the GOP won’t have let a Democratic Governor “win.”

If that’s what passes for statemanship in Minnesota these days, that’s unfortunate.

– JC

When Major Leaguers Are Minor Leaguers

If you’ve been paying attention to reports coming out of Ft. Myers for the past week or so, you’ve no doubt read or heard about various Twins playing in minor league games and perhaps you’ve wondered just exactly what that means… and why these established stars would be playing in minor league games.

It seems like there has been even more of that kind of thing this spring than normal and that’s probably due to a couple of reasons. First, so many Twins missed the first several spring training games and they need to get a few extra cuts in order to get their timing down. Second, the quirks of this spring’s schedule resulted in the Twins playing most of their games over the past week or so on the road and the organization hasn’t been anxious to make stars with various aches and pains compound those issues by spending several hours on buses crisscrossing the state of Florida.

But what exactly does it mean when it’s reported that Justin Morneau or Jim Thome is “2 for 4 in a minor league game”?

As I’ve mentioned in another post, the best way I can think of to describe what happens is to envision these Major Leaguers showing up to play in your Sunday afternoon beer-league softball game. The scattering of fans who happen to be hanging out around the minor league complex to watch their games get that kind of close-up view of whatever Major League Twins might be participating in a given day.

Fans are litterally 6 feet away from Justin Morneau as he prepares to hit

Michael Cuddyer signs for fans before the minor league game

On Tuesday, before heading to the airport for my flight home, I stopped by the Twins minor league complex to watch a few innings of the games being played there. On this particular day, there were two games going on between the Low A and High A Twins and their counterparts from the Rays camp. Jim Thome DH’d in the Low A game, while Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau played RF and 1B, respectively, in the High A game.

They gave those fans in attendance plenty to watch.

You see, the Major Leaguers hit every inning. For example, in the High A game, Cuddyer and Morneau batted second and third… every inning for as long as they stayed around. That’s how these players get 4-5 plate appearances while only playing half the game.

If course, you have to curb your enthusiasm a bit when you hear that one of these guys launched a couple of home runs in one of these games (as Thome did in one such minor league game earlier this week), because they’re often facing 19-20 year old Class A pitchers who show up expecting to face guys destined for Beloit and find themselves trying to slip an inside fastball past MVPs and future Hall of Famers!

Doubtful the Rays Class A pitcher expected to face this guy every inning when he got on the bus

Of course, the games aren’t all you’ll see on the minor league complex. When I arrived, a familiar face was dragging the practice infield adjacent to the minor league clubhouse and an hour or so later, a Hall of Famer was hitting ground balls on that practice field to a couple of minor league first basemen.

Former Twins manager Tom Kelly drags the infield on a minor league practice field

Hall of Famer Paul Molitor works with a couple of minor league first basemen

All of this is just a long way of letting you know that, if you ever go down to Ft. Myers during Spring Training, only to find that the Twins are playing road games while you’re there, don’t let that dissuade you from checking out the action at the Lee County Sports Complex. Not only can you watch the Twins stars of tomorrow playing games there every afternoon, but you may get a closer look at some of the Twins’ stars than you’re ever likely to get anywhere else.

A few more pictures from the Tuesday minor league games… not much for zoom lenses needed for most of these pictures.

– 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 2-8

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

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

August 2:

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

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

August 3:

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

Joe Niekro and umpire Tim Tschida

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

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

August 4:

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

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

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

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

Kirby Puckett

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

Dave Winfield

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

August 6:

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

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

August 7:

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

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

August 8:

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

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

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

Paul Molitor

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

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

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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: 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

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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: May 31 – June 6

While we all drain the extra cups of coffee necessary to get through the day after last night’s late game in Seattle, let’s take a quick look back at Twins history for this week*.

Apparently not a single really impressive thing has happened on May 31 (although last night’s win was certainly nice). Well, that’s not entirely true. Big Orioles’ 1B Boog Powell scored from second base on a Twins wild pitch on May 31, 1966. For a guy as big and slow as Powell, that was impressive. And on this date in 1980, the Twins’ Ken Landreaux went 0 for 4. That certainly wasn’t impressive, but the 31 game hitting streak that ended with his May 31 collar was impressive.

June 1 hasn’t been a whole lot more impressive, but at least there were a couple of items worth noting:

1961: The Twins acquired OF Bill Tuttle from the Kansas City A’s  and 2B Billy Martin from the Milwaukee Braves in the first two trades in Twins’ history.

1976: In a trade involving a few more notable players, Minnesota traded P Bert Blyleven and SS Danny Thompson to the Texas Rangers for SS Roy Smalley, 3B Mike Cubbage and pitchers Bill Singer and Jim Gideon.

1996: Led by Chuck Knoblauch’s fifth hit of the game and Paul Molitor’s 3-run HR, the Twins erupted for six runs in the 9th inning in a come-from-behind 9-5 win over the Rangers.

Persistence paid off on June 2, 2005, after Johan Santana’s 14 stikeouts in 8 innings were only good enough for a 3-3 tie game when his work was finished. Despite losing Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Nick Punto to injuries during the game, the Twins prevailed in the 13th inning on a Lew Ford double and Jacque Jones single, to win the game 4-3.

On June 3, 1967, Angels pitcher Lew Burdette was about half a dozen games away from the end of his 18-year career when he entered the game in relief and promptly walked Rich Reese. That brought Harmon Killebrew up with Reese on 1B and Rod Carew on 2B. Burdette threw Killer a knuckleball that didn’t knuckle much and Harmon hit the ball 520 feet and cracked a seat in the 6th row of the upper deck in LF at Met Stadium. The seat would later be painted and stand as a reminder of the longest HR in that stadium’s history. In what may have been the closest he ever came to being boastful, Killebrew told reporters after the game, “I got all of it.”

June 4 has seen a couple of games of interest and one critically important event over the years:

1976: In an 8-6 win over the Orioles, Larry Hisle became the third Twin to hit for the cycle.

1982: The 8,000 or so fans attending the Twins’ 6-0 victory over Baltimore celebrated after the game because the win broke the Twins’ 14-game losing streak… and they had each “won” a ticket to a future game for $1, thanks to a pre-game promise by owner Calvin Griffith. But little did they know they had an even bigger reason to cheer. Earlier that day, the Twins signed a certain JuCo player they had drafted in January… Kirby Puckett was headed to Elizabethton.

2002: The Twins set a club record with 10 runs scored in a single inning (batting around before recording a single out) and have four players get four hits, four with at least 3 RBI and four scoring at least 3 runs in their 23-2 win over the Indians. Altogether, the Twins had 25 hits in the game.

June 5 is all about the “kids”:

1970: Despite his manager misspelling his name on the lineup card and his giving up a HR to the first hitter he faced in the Major Leagues (Lee Maye), 19-year-old Bert Blyleven went on to strike out 7 Washington Senators, walk just 1 and give up 4 hits to record the first of his eventual 287 career wins. With Maye scheduled to lead off the 8th inning, manager Bill Rigney had Ron Perranoski relieve Blyleven to start the inning. Good move… Perranoski retired six straight Senators to close out the game.

2001: The Twins made local boy Joe Mauer the first pick of the First Year Player Draft. He would go on to be pretty good at baseball.

Since this feature is labeled “Twins History Lesson”, it’s appropriate that June 6 presented two such lessons through the years, along with a few “firsts”:

1961: The first lesson was learned by Twins Manager Cookie Lavagetto. “If your owner offers you a week’s vacation in June, turn it down.” On June 1, Calvin Griffith gave Lavagetto a week off and made coach Sam Mele the interim manager. By June 23 the move is no longer “interim”.

1965: The second lesson, from Twins backup catcher Jerry Zimmerman: “Any man with a bat in his hands has a chance to hit one out.” Earlier that day, Zimmerman had hit his first career HR. A feat he would accomplish twice more in a career that saw 994 ABs.

1983: The Twins used the first pick in the draft to select pitcher Tim Belcher… who eventually rejected their $125,000 offer. He’s the only first round pick that year who did not sign with the team that drafted him.

1987: The Twins acquired their first knuckleballer, Joe Niekro, from the Yankees for C Mark Salas.

2004: Joe Mauer hit his first MLB home run in a 6-5 win over Detroit in the Dome.

That’s a wrap for this week’s history lesson. Let’s all hope the Twins make all of the late nights and bloodshot eyes we’re going to be enduring to watch/listen to the West coast games this week worthwhile! – 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”.

Spring Training 2009, remembered

Michael Cuddyer

Cuddyer waits for a pitch

Just because it’s that time of year again and seeing a Twin in home white unform with the sun shining down on him is almost enough to make me forget the foot of snow still on the ground around here.

Just thought I’d post a picture (or two) from last year’s Spring Training.

Tom Kelly and Paul Molitor on the Minor League fields