How Did We Get Here? (Part 2)

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

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

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

Danny Valencia

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Thome

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

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

But let’s look at the pitching.

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

Jesse Crain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game Chat – Angels @ Twins #3, 7:10 pm on ESPN

It’s time for Scott Baker to step up in tonight’s showdown with Jared Weaver and the Angels. The Bitch Sox fell today in another extra inning game to the Royals (how many teams do you suppose have ever played 31 innings of baseball, covering three games, in something like 22 hours?), so here’s a chance to build the lead back up to 5 games over Chicago before heading to the Oven in Arlington.

The Twins have announced that Anthony Slama is on hand and available to pitch out of the bullpen tonight and that Nick Blackburn will meet the Twins in Texas and he will start game 1 of that series on Monday. That gives the rest of the rotation an extra day to rest the arms this week.

Here are tonight’s lineups as we bid “so long” to Torii and his friends and Jason Repko and Alexi Casilla get starts for the Twins.

ANGELS @ TWINS
Abreu, B, LF   Repko, CF
Kendrick, H, 2B   Hudson, O, 2B
Callaspo, 3B   Mauer, C
Hunter, RF   Kubel, RF
Matsui, H, DH   Cuddyer, 1B
Aybar, E, SS   Thome, DH
Napoli, 1B   Young, D, LF
Mathis, J, C   Valencia, 3B
Bourjos, CF   Casilla, A, SS
Weaver, Jr, P   Baker, S, P

 

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

We could talk about how this game was really one good inning surrounded by 8 innings of mediocrity. We could talk about how a lot of hitters still aren’t exactly ripping the ball. But when the win sends you five games up on the Bitch Sox, why quibble over details?

Scott Baker was on his game tonight. He sliced through the Angels from top to bottom. And when the Twins needed someone to break the scoreless tie, the rookie, Danny Valencia, stepped up and sent a Jared Weaver fastball 426 feet in to the second deck in left-center field. That appeared to wake up the bats a bit as Orlando Hudson hustled out a 2-out triple. Weaver “pitched around” Mauer and Kubel (that’s code for “throwing them nothing remotely close to the strike zone”). The strategy, apparently, was to get to Cuddyer because he has had very little success against Weaver historically.

It looked like the strategy may pay off as Weaver quickly worked ahead of Cuddyer, but Cuddy just kept fouling off one pitch after another until a conference was held on the mound to discuss what to try throwing next. Whatever the decision was, it worked out well for the Twins as Cuddy laced the pitch in to the LC gap, clearing the bases and putting the Twins up 4-0.

Baker completed 7 clean, shutout innings, providing the kind of performance the Twins have needed out of a starting pitcher and Jesse Crain & Matt Capps wrapped up the shutout.

Plenty of baked goods to go around tonight, but the consensus of the GameChat crowd was co-BOD awards for Scooter Baker and Michael Cuddyer!

GameChat – Twins @ Rays #3, 6:10

In the way of injury updates, I’m going to suggest checking out LaVelle’s bit from the Strib today because he covers a lot of our known concerns right now.  To summarize, Mauer is going to continue to DH until his shoulder feels 100%, Morneau is continuing his workouts and improving and, down in AA, Ben Revere took a pitch to the face last night and could have broken bones – awaiting an update.

So, for tonight, we are two games down in a four game series.  After two losses in a row, I really believe that the Twins need to get on the stick and figure out a way to beat the Rays.  Given the tightness of the race between the Rays and the Yankees for the AL East, if we can’t beat the Rays, we have a real problem when it comes to the post-season (assuming we get there) since we already know there is a tendency to give it up to the Yankees when we play on their turf.  Yes, I am still the optimist that sees the Twins not only taking the AL Central from the White Sox (again ;) ) but with chances to go all the way through to October.  But this series is really a good measure for whether or not the talent we have right at this moment can do that – injuries and all.

All that said, the Twins have to get to David Price which is no small task.  AND Scott Baker has to be able to take it to the Rays hitters and get OUTS instead of walks and runs.  Let’s go, guys.

Minnesota @ Tampa Bay
Span, CF   Zobrist, 1B
Casilla, A, 2B   Crawford, LF
Mauer, DH   Longoria, 3B
Young, D, LF   Joyce, RF
Cuddyer, 1B   Johnson, D, DH
Valencia, 3B   Jaso, J, C
Repko, RF   Upton, B, CF
Hardy, SS   Rodriguez, S, 2B
Butera, C   Bartlett, SS
  Baker, S, P     Price, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 R H E
Minnesota 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 10 0
Tampa Bay 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 5 0

 

Holy crap that was quite a game.  Scott Baker was TOTALLY robbed of the decision tonight.  It was an outstanding pitching duel – especially against one of the best pitchers in the game right now.  I greatly disagree with D&B, Baker did NOT match Price pitch for pitch, he out-pitched him fairly dramatically – throwing far fewer pitches inning for inning and shutting the Rays out for 8 full innings.  Sadly, Matt Capps could NOT convert the Save and I have to admit that I thought to myself, “Rauch could have done THAT.”  Of course, he couldn’t since he was back at the hotel during tonight’s game battling an allergic reaction on his hands.

And the Twins offense couldn’t seem to get it’s act together and again left hitters on base and in general committed a lot of defensive mistakes tonight.  FINALLY, after a leadoff walk from Lexi and Mauer moving him to 3B, Delmon Young got his first hit of the evening and got the winning RBI.  After that, Matt Guerrier came out for a second stellar inning and saved the win for the Twins in the 13th.  For that, he deserves a very cold beer in addition to the Save.  Thank you very much Matty.  However, Baker still rules the day and was voted BOD!  Wish we could have gotten you the Win, Scooter.

Twins History Lesson: July 26 – August 1

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

Bruno the speed demon?

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

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

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

Lyman Bostock

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

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

Merritt: No pitch count?

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

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

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

Dean Chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frankie 'Sweet Music" Viola

Rick Aguilera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bert Blyleven

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Rule of Leadership: Everything is Your Fault!

This is Part 2 of my essay (ok, yes, this part is long enough it might almost qualify as a novel) concerning the Twins’ need for Leadership and Accountability heading in to the last couple of months of the season. If you missed Part 1 and care to catch up with the rest of the class, you can find it here.

As was the case with Part 1, extra credit goes to the first person to correctly identify the movie from which the quote serving as this post’s Title is taken (no fair Googling!) - JC

UPDATE: No guesses on the movie quote providing this post’s title, but you can find it by clicking here.

When last we left off, I was bemoaning the fact that we have no larger-than-life John Wayne type figure to step up and assure all of Twins Territory that everything is under control… that all this whining and yelling and cursing and otherwise uncivilized behavior in Twinsville (especially the blogdom neighborhood) needs to cease.

To me, that’s a problem that goes well beyond keeping us blogheads civil. It goes to the heart of the problems on the field. It appears to me that this team lacks leadership. I don’t know who, if anyone, are the “clubhouse leaders” on this team, but I do know that nobody in this organization is out front projecting to the public that he’s got a handle on things and that while there may be challenges right now, they are being addressed.

It’s called leadership and virtually every successful organization has it.

It doesn’t have to just come from the CEO. In fact, it’s better if it is found at various levels of the organization. But you need people who step up and say, in words and deeds, “don’t worry about it, I’ve got this,” then go out and lead the effort to solve the problem.

To my mind, there appears to be a huge leadership void in the Twins organization, at least where actual baseball matters are concerned. (Clearly Target Field is evidence that there are people in other areas of the organization that can get the job done.)

So let’s talk accountability. I’m calling out the following people specifically. These people need to step up and do their jobs or the Twins need to find someone else who can.

Bill Smith had a nice offseason. Yes, he had the benefit of increased revenue projections that no Twins GM has had in the past so he had more freedom to sign players like Pavano, Hudson and Thome. He ended up assembling a roster that looked better on paper than all but a couple of teams in the American League.

But, as the Yankees have often demonstrated, assembling a team that looks good on paper before Spring Training opens is only half the job of a GM. Every team inevitably finds itself with new needs at mid season and teams that are willing and able to address those needs are the teams that will be playing ball in October. Last year, Smith did a decent job of picking up a few key additions on the cheap when he added Orlando Cabrera, Ron Mahay and Jon Rauch.

I know the Twins keep their mouths shut when it comes to deals they are considering and that’s fine. But the public perception is that Smith is 0 for 1 so far in terms of making moves that would help set the Twins back on course to the postseason, since he couldn’t close a deal with the Mariners for Cliff Lee.

Granted, his job won’t be easy. Half of Twins fans don’t want to see him overpay for a 2-3 month rental. But Smith’s options may be limited if he’s trying to acquire players that have contracts extending beyond the end of this season. His allowable 2011 payroll is pretty much spoken for already thanks to arbitration raises due several players next year and contract extensions given to a number of others, in particular the extra $10 million or so going to Joe Mauer.

It’s time for Bill Smith to step up and declare what direction he is going to take this team’s roster. Show some leadership and take accountability for the decisions you make, Bill.

Which segues nicely to Joe Mauer. It’s time to grow up, Joe. It’s time to make this team yours. You’re going to be claiming somwhere between 20-25% of the team’s Major League payroll. You may not be totally comfortable with the role, but that kind of money brings with it some responsibility that goes beyond just hitting for a respectable average and deciding whether your pitcher should throw a two-seamer or a slider.

I sense that Mauer is trying to “lead by example”, rather than filling a more traditional leadership role. It’s possible that he feels “playing hurt” right now is how he’s most comfortable displaying leadership. But we’ve gotten through over half a season now and his performance is not at the level a team with championship asperations needs to get out of its #3 hitter.

Joe, if you are not hurt, you need to step up and do your job (and that dinger last night against the Orioles was a nice start). If you ARE hurt, step up and tell Ron Gardenhire that you can not currently perform at the necessary level. Get rest if that’s what’s needed. If rest won’t fix your problem, then you and your manager need to conclude that it’s best for the team for you to be dropped in the order to a spot more in line with your current performance.

Which conveniently brings us to you, Ron Gardenhire. There’s a reason they call the guy in charge of a professional baseball team on the field a “manager” instead of a “head coach”, like they do in high school and college. It’s because “managing” is at the top of his responsibilities.

If I hear, “Gardy isn’t responsible because he’s not the one pitching/hitting/fielding,” one more time, I’ll pull out what limited amount of hair I still have. I manage a staff of people approximately the same size as a Major League roster. I didn’t hire all of these people personally, but I am responsible for assuring that they perform as a group at or above expected levels. If my staff is not performing well, it reflects on my performance as a manager.

The question is whether this roster, as currently constituted, will perform at sufficient levels to meet everyone’s high expectations. Good managers, in baseball as in business, sometimes lose their effectiveness with a particular “staff”.  Good managers can make changes to their approach to bring improvements to the performance of the charges under them. Can Gardy change his approach to managing to improve his team’s performance?

When performance is substandard, an organization can do one of two things… lower expectations to align with actual performance or make changes to try to improve performance to expected levels. Not many successful organizations choose the former. So let’s assume the Twins want to actually improve their performance. There are a few changes that need to be made.

  • Players need to play better. People like Mauer and Scott Baker, the guys who have been given job security that indicates they are expected to be the nucleus of the team for years to come, need to show some leadership skills AND improve their own personal performance levels.
  • The Manager needs to change his management approach and find a way to motivate or otherwise improve the performance of players who are not playing well.
  • The GM needs to decide what direction this team is going to take the rest of this year and in 2011 and 2012, take ownership of that decision and communicate it, then set a course to be successful over whatever timeline he deterimines is appropriate.

Insanity, they say, is defined as doing the same things the same ways and expecting different results. Absent a demonstration of leadership by some of these people and the necessary changes being made by them, it’s insane for any of us to expect this team to have better results the rest of the season than they have had so far.

People making $40,000 a year are held accountable by those who pay their salaries for performing up to reasonable expectations. It is not unreasonable to expect those making exponentially more money to be held accountable for doing the same thing. – JC

GameChat – Rockies @ Twins #2, 7:10

The good news is that Orlando Hudson actually swung from the left side in BP today (something he’s been unable to do so far) and it looks like they are targeting his return for Friday!!!  I have to admit that I really miss having him in our infield.

Colorado @ Minnesota
Gonzalez, C, CF   Span, CF
Helton, 1B   Tolbert, 2B
Tulowitzki, SS   Mauer, C
Hawpe, RF   Morneau, 1B
Mora, 3B   Cuddyer, RF
Giambi, DH   Kubel, DH
Smith, S, LF   Young, D, LF
Iannetta, C   Valencia, 3B
Barmes, 2B   Punto, SS
  Chacin, P     Baker, S, P

 

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

 

Ladies and gentlemen, we have the return of Scott Baker!!!  That was certainly a fantastic outting for him – 12 k’s being a career high for Scooter – and was actually one of the best pitching outtings we have had for the Twins so far this season.  For that, he was the unanimous BOD selection of the chat gathering.

Twins History Lesson: June 14 – 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GameChat – Orioles @ Twins #3, 7:10

I guess we’ll give this another try today.  We still have two games left in this series and I would like to see the boys make a go of it.

Baltimore @ Minnesota
Lugo, SS   Span, CF
Markakis, RF   Hudson, O, 2B
Wieters, DH   Morneau, 1B
Tejada, 3B   Thome, DH
Wigginton, 2B   Cuddyer, RF
Scott, LF   Young, D, LF
Jones, A, CF   Punto, 3B
Hughes, R, 1B   Casilla, A, SS
Tatum, C   Butera, C
  Millwood, P     Baker, S, P

 

Well that was MUCH better!!  It’s about time the boys remembered how to get runs in – and even with the Bases LOADED!!  Who knew they could do that!?

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Baltimore 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 4 0
Minnesota 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 3 x 6 10 0

click in the boxscore for more game details

 

Chat consensus selected Scott Baker for BOD – and I decided to give a cookie to Butera just because of his timely hitting.

Scott Baker - courtsey of JimCrikket