Hunter/Twins Reunion. What Are They Thinking?

My initial reaction upon hearing that the Twins and outfielder Torii Hunter had agreed to a one-year, $10.5 million contract that will put Hunter back in a Twins uniform for 2015 was pretty much the same as my initial reaction when I first heard the two parties had what media types were referring to as, “mutual interest.”

Why?

For the life of me, this just doesn’t make sense to me. Not if I ran the Twins. Not if I was Torii Hunter.

torii_hunter_studio_portrait_photofileSure, the Twins need outfield help. Oswaldo Arcia is going to play a corner outfield spot in 2015 and he’s not going to play it very well, so the Twins need some guys in the other two outfield spots who can cover their own areas and some of Arcia’s, too.

Eight or nine years ago, Hunter would have been a solution, but for the past several years, his outfield play has been one of those rare things in baseball that bring stat-heads and old-school types together. Whether you believe in defensive metrics or the “eye-test,” you probably have pretty much concluded that Hunter’s defensive game has deteriorated to the point where he’s no longer a positive contributor in that area.

Why would the Twins think he’s likely to be part of the solution to their defensive woes in the outfield?

And while we’re at it, why would Hunter want to join the Twins?

He’ll be 40 years old before next season ends. At that age, shouldn’t he be looking for opportunities to sign with a team that enters 2015 with a much better chance of playing ball in to October next year than the Twins have?

I get that new Twins manager Paul Molitor might like to have someone like Hunter in his clubhouse, especially given the reputation said clubhouse has had in recent years for lacking anything resembling a competitive spirit.

I get that the Twins front office might welcome a popular familiar face to include in their advertising, given the expected decline in ticket sales next year.

But I have always felt you have to first prove you’re among the best players on the field before you can lead in the clubhouse and I’m not convinced his young teammates will look at Hunter and see someone who still has the ability to perform at levels that earn their respect.

I also believe that wins will sell more tickets than the return of a popular familiar face.

But if this is what Molitor and the front office want, so be it. It’s just a straight one-year deal, so it won’t block any of the outfield prospects coming up and we all know that there’s no shortage of payroll space in the Twins’ budget right now.

As for Hunter, it’s a little harder to figure out what he’s thinking – but then, hasn’t that pretty much been the case throughout his career?

Still, he must have had other, better, offers. Didin’t he?

The Rangers, Orioles and Mariners all had been rumored to have interest and, with the way some teams have been throwing around money, he seemingly would have been able to get a multi-year deal somewhere. So why take a one-year deal in Minnesota?

There’s really only one reason I can think of.

Hunter may very well think his chances of finishing the season on a legitimate World Series contender are better if he starts the season with the Twins and then gets flipped in July to a contender for prospects, than if he started with a supposed contender.

We’ll call this the “Josh Willingham gambit.”

Why lock himself in to one supposed contender from the start when he may get a chance to join a team with a better shot mid-way through the season?

In the end, this is not a deal I particularly wanted to see. It certainly would not have been high on my wish-list if I were a starting pitcher for the Twins and I doubt it will make any free agent starting pitcher think the Twins are suddenly an attractive option (though their willingness to shell out $10.5 million to Hunter might at least demonstrate that the Twins aren’t shy about over-paying for what they want).

If Hunter discovers the fountain of youth somewhere under the right field overhang in Target Field or if General Manager Terry Ryan can turn Hunter in to some useful prospects at some point, then this deal certainly won’t be a disaster.

At least this is more interesting to discuss than what we’ve had to talk about to this point. Debating the relative pros and cons of base coaches and assistant hitting coaches was getting a little old, wasn’t it?

– JC

 

Episode 74: Joe Nathan’s Cy Young Candidacy

You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

TigerBeat

 

The Detroit Tigers look to be the best team in the division, and it’s not close. They’re offense will beat you into submission and their pitching will have you doing all you can to scratch and claw a measly run or two across the plate. They are the team the Twins wish they were.This week on the podcast we are joined by Bryan Craves (@DisplacedTgrFan) to recap what’s been happening in Motown since the Tigers were bounced out of the playoffs last season.

 

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 help us land more impressive guests for the show.

Drafting WAR

The next crop of Twins draftees.

These champion Twins are (maybe) the next crop of Twins draftees.

Major League’s amateur draft came into existence in 1965.  Since that time the Twins have drafted thousands of players.  Many of those players failed to reach the Big Leagues.  Some of the players that eventually made it to The Show ended up never playing for the Twins.  Of the players the Twins drafted, the ten players to accumulate the most value (judged by Wins Above Replacement, WAR) in a Twins uniform were Kirby Puckett, Bert Blyleven, Brad Radke, Joe Mauer, Chuck Knoblauch, Kent Hrbek, Frank Viola, Gary Gaetti, Torii Hunter, and Dave Goltz.

  1. Kirby Puckett (48.2 WAR) – 1st round – 3rd overall – 1982 – Triton College (River Grove, IL)
  2. Bert Blyleven (46.3) – 3rd round – 55th overall – 1969 – Santiago HS (Garden Grove, CA)
  3. Brad Radke (42.6) – 8th round – 206th overall – 1991 – Jesuit HS (Tampa, FL)
  4. Joe Mauer (37.0) – 1st round – 1st overall – 2001 – Cretin HS (St. Paul, MN)
  5. Chuck Knoblauch (36.3) – 1st round – 25th overall – 1989 – Texas A&M University (College Station, TX)
  6. Kent Hrbek (35.7) – 17th round – 432nd overall – 1978 – Kennedy HS (Bloomington, MN)
  7. Frank Viola (25.0) – 2nd round – 37th overall – 1981 – St. John’s University (Queens, NY)
  8. Gary Gaetti (24.8) – 1st round – 11th overall – 1979 – Northwest Missouri State University (Maryville, MO)
  9. Torii Hunter (24.7) – 1st round – 20th overall – 1993 – Pine Bluff HS (Pine Bluff, AR)
  10. Dave Goltz (22.5) – 5th round – 97th overall – 1967 – Rothsay HS (Rothsay, MN)

It certainly takes some time for players to accumulate enough playing time, even at elite performance levels, to produce the career WAR totals that would put a player on this list.  Joe Mauer, drafted in 2001, is the only player on this list that remains active and with the Twins (Torii Hunter is active and playing for the division rival Detroit Tigers), and if he can remain healthy for a couple more seasons he should find himself on top of this list before his current contract expires.

The Twins have been in Minnesota for more than 50 years, but seven of the players on this top ten list were all drafted within the 15 year period betwee 1978 and 1993.  Unsurprisingly, these players contributed to some of the best Teams in Twins history.  If the Twins are to return to success in the near future, successful drafting will be a big part of their reappearance at the top of the standings.

-ERolfPleiss

Money Matters

I’m constantly struck by how so many otherwise intelligent people suddenly sound like idiots when discussing issues related to money. A number of these people are certainly not idiots… they’re accomplished business owners and/or people who have achieved considerable success at running businesses. So if they aren’t as stupid as the words they’re saying makes them sound, one can only assume that they think the people hearing/reading their words are stupid enough to believe what they’re saying.

Yes, I’m referring primarily to the Twins front office.

Owner Jim Pohlad, GM Terry Ryan and President Dave St. Peter

It was over a month ago that the Twins held a press conference and made owner Jim Pohlad, President Dave St. Peter and General Manager Terry Ryan available to the mainstream media. Predictably, the topic of the team’s potential 2013 payroll came up. Also predictably, the Twins brass was non-committal. Here’s an excerpt from the story written at the time by MLB.com’s Twins beat reporter Rhett Bollinger (click here for the link):

Pohlad said that payroll will not be a concern this offseason, but wouldn’t give a firm number on what that will be. The Twins entered the 2012 season with a payroll right around $100 million.

“We’ve never told anybody they have to spend ‘X’ dollars or that they can’t spend whatever they are recommending,” Pohlad said. “So it could go up, it could go down. It’s whatever Terry tells us. We’ve talked about spending in that 50 percent of revenue, but it doesn’t mean Terry will spend that.”

Ryan said that the payroll situation will be fluid and that it should not hinder him from acquiring the starting pitching the club needs to compete next season.

“I think we can quit fooling ourselves that money is the answer,” Ryan said. “We’re going to have to make good decisions to create a pitching staff that’s going to give us a chance.”

Well, I’m glad they put that question to rest, aren’t you? I’m so glad to know that money doesn’t matter.

We don’t know whether the Twins could have made a deal with the Marlins for the same package of players that they dealt to Toronto last week. There’s absolutely no doubt, however, that the addition of Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes would have gone a long way toward addressing the biggest holes in the Twins lineup and the level of players the Jays sent back to Miami certainly could have been made available by the Twins.

So why wasn’t it the Twins that made the deal? I don’t know. But it’s such a friggin relief to know that whatever the reason was, it wasn’t money!

The Twins also lost Scott Baker to the Cubs last week. Baker got a good deal. $5.5 million guaranteed with another $1.5 million in incentives on a straight one year deal. According to the Star Tribune’s beat reporter, Joe Christensen, the Twins were very interested in keeping Baker, but wanted an option year for 2014, which Baker wouldn’t agree to. Again, it makes me feel so much better to know that the reason Baker won’t be wearing a Twins uniform in 2013 had nothing whatsoever to do with money.

Here’s something I’ve learned from working in Corporate America for the past 30+ years: Whenever someone in senior management tells you, “It’s not about the money,” that means that money is exactly what it’s all about.

As Twins fans, we’ve become programmed to just accept the “company line.” We’ve been hearing it since the days of Calvin Griffith and on through the Pohlad era at the Metrodome. Sure, there were hints that having a new stadium and the revenues it would generate might change things, but by and large, the fan base has continued to just accept the, “we’ll spend 50% of revenue on payroll,” line of crap that has always come out of the Twins’ offices.

It has become second nature, to the point where Twins fans seem to almost think that’s how every Major League team does business and we act surprised when other teams behave differently.

The Tigers went to the World Series, but clearly needed to improve at a corner outfield position. They looked for the best option on the market, moved quickly and signed Torii Hunter to a deal that seemed like it was a little excessive, given his age. How can they do that? Won’t that mean their payroll might exceed half of their revenues? Ah, but they’ve got an old owner who wants to win a World Series before he dies, so that’s why they can do what the Twins won’t, right?

The Blue Jays saw themselves needing much the same kind of help that the Twins need. They agreed to take on more years of higher salaries than they might have really been comfortable with, but they made the deal because they want to compete. But that’s ridiculous, right? Boy, they’ll sure regret having Buehrle and Reyes on the payroll toward the back end of those contracts because in a couple of years, their payroll might exceed half their revenues! Ah, but they’re owned by a giant Communications conglomerate and that’s why they aren’t limited as to payroll.

I’ve got a news flash, folks. Every team starts the offseason with a self-examination that identifies what their biggest needs are. The next step for most teams that are committed to being competitive is to identify the best options available via free agency or trades to meet the identified needs. Unless you’re the Rays (who have a whole bunch of financial issues unrelated to the quality of their team), your front office knows that the quality of the product on the field drives revenue.

But if you’re a Twins fan, you’ve been conditioned not to ask who would best fill the team’s needs, but who would fit in to the Twins’ designated payroll limit. That’s because the Twins have historically seemed oblivious to the basic business tenet that product quality drives revenues.

They’ve brainwashed fans in to believing that the only reasonable way to operate a business is by subscribing to the theory that a drop in revenues last year means they must cut payroll next year. It’s time for fans to become deprogrammed from that mindset and let the Twins know that their fan base is not as stupid as the club has treated them as being.

Maybe I’m being premature with this criticism. After all, it’s still early in the offseason and the Winter Meetings are still a couple of weeks away. Terry Ryan may actually sign honest-to-goodness legitimate starting pitchers to fill the Twins’ needs in that area, regardless of the cost. He may make a trade or two that will improve the middle infield, even if it means making his bosses nervous. Maybe he’ll prove that his words about payroll not hindering him from doing his job were more than just more of the same BS we’ve heard for the past decade.

But until the Twins start ACTING like money doesn’t matter, they should stop saying it. It just makes them look like fools… or like they think that’s what we are.

– JC

Alexi Casilla – A Twins Career in Retrospect

Alexi (Lora) Casilla was signed by the Anaheim Angels as an amateur free agent in 2003.  He played for the Angels’ Minor League affiliates for two seasons before being traded to the Twins in 2005 for left-handed reliever J.C. Romero.  Casilla started the 2006 season in High-A Fort Myers playing for the Miracle and by September had earned himself a Major League call-up and played in nine games to close out the year.  For the next six seasons Casilla was at least a part time player for the Minnesota Twins, though he never really became the reliable middle infielder that many expected him to become.  And then last week, after losing the starting second base job and struggling to live up to even the meager offensive standards he had set for himself following 2010 and 2011 (the first time in his career he put up two relatively similar offensive seasons back to back), the Twins waived Casilla and he was claimed by the Baltimore Orioles, ending his lackluster career in Minneapolis.

Alexi Casilla, Credit: Knuckleballs Blog

In parts of seven seasons in Minnesota Alexi Casilla hit .250/.305/334 (BA/OBP/SLG), and only in his initial nine games in 2006 did he record an above average offensive season by OPS+ (clearly, some small sample size bias).  All told, he was worth 57 runs LESS than an average hitter in Minnesota.  In terms of Runs Created, among Minnesota Twins players with at least 1500 plate appearances, Casilla ranks 71/76, ahead of only Hosken Powell, Scott Leius, Jim Holt, Al Newman and Jerry Terrell.

Defensively, where most Casilla Apologists would pin most of his value, Casilla falls short of average in almost every defensive statistic. He’s been worth -21 runs in Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average, -1 in BIS Defensive Runs Saved Above Average, and his fielding percentage (arguably a poor predictor of true defensive value) was just .976 compared to a league average of .985.  Again, against other Twins with 1500 plate appearances, Casilla compares poorly coming at 53/76 with -3 runs created from fielding.  Though he’s ahead of some other big name Twins, Joe Mauer (57th), Kirby Puckett (59th), Jason Kubel (68th), Harmon Killebrew (75th) and Michael Cuddyer (76th).  Unlike many of the Twins below him on the all time list, as noted above, Casilla’s bat did little to justify his continued presence on the Twins roster.

The only place where Casilla compares favorably to Twins of the past, is his ability to effectively steal bases.  Casilla’s 71 stolen bases are good enough for an 18th best in franchise history (though 71 is a fairly low total, as Ben Revere, with 700 fewer plate appearances, is already ahead of him with 74).  However, Casilla is the most efficient base stealer in Twins history (min 25 SB attempts), swiping bags in 88.75% of his attempts.  Why Casilla doesn’t have more stolen bases is probably the result of not getting on base frequently enough and playing for Ron Gardenhire, who doesn’t typically push runners to steal bases.*

Casilla leaves the Twins as a fairly successful Major Leaguer, if not a successful Twin, simply because he was able to collect so many plate appearances.  Not counting his September call-up in 2006, only 241 MLB players have more plate appearances since 2007, putting him in the top 10% of players since the start of 2007 (2,447 players had plate appearances between 2007 and 2012.).  And while that list contains players who may have since retired, Casilla still ranks in the top 15% for plate appearances by active players during the same time period.  Whether it was the Twins’ lack of viable middle infield options, or their continued belief in Casilla as a project, he has more plate appearances than all but 57 other Twins players putting him ahead of 92% of players to play for the Minnesota Twins.  He might not be missed, but he was certainly a big part of the ball club for a little more than six years.

*Only three Twins have more than 100 SB attempts since Gardenhire took over as skipper, Torii Hunter, Nick Punto and Denard Span.  And only Ben Revere has a chance to join that group in the next several years.  For a quick point of comparison, Tom Kelly had seven different players attempt at least 100 SB, and Chuck Knoblauch attempted 353 (2nd in team history to Rod Carew).  

-ERolfPleiss

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

Yankee Doodle Dandy

After some early season snafus relating to the Twins’ previous post-season failures against the Yankees, the Twins have an opportunity to put some of those demons to bed, starting tonight, as the open a 4-game series in New York tonight at 6:05pm central.

Image from M.T.'s Blog, http://matt7.mlblogs.com/

While some former Twins (Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, etc.) may have indicated that they Twins were mentally beat against the Yankees before their previous post-season collapses, there is a wealth of historical precedence that helped create those mental barriers.  In the past 10 years the Twins are 18-51 against the Yankees, and that does not include the three times the Yankees eliminated the Twins from post-season play.  Add those in and the Twins are an even more embarrassing 20-63 against the Bronx Bombers. A W-L% of  about .241.  To put that in perspective, over a 162 game season, playing ONLY the Yankees, the Twins would win 39 games.

In those 83 games against the Yankees, 42 were in New York, and the Twins won only 7 times, which does not bode well for the Twins as they roll in to Yankee Stadium this evening.

But here is why I think the Twins have a chance to split* this four game series, which would be a resounding victory, historically:

*Let’s just assume that C.C. Sabathia is his regular self, and Francisco Liriano is the disappointing fallen star that we’ve come to know, so the Twins are not going to win tomorrow night.  And while only two Twins have faced Hiroki Kuroda (Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham), both have been unsuccessful and the Yankees have blasted Jason Marquis to the tun of .361/.395/.778 for an OPS of almost 1200! In the other two games, the Twins will face Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes.  Both are beatable and if the Twins can pitch well enough to keep the Yankees to 5 runs per game, they will have a chance to steal a couple of wins from the Yanks.

Hitting:

In addition to hitting 4 home runs and 6 doubles against Garcia in 71 plate appearances, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have combined to walk 10 times compared to just 5 strikeouts.  Of the 114 total plate appearances by current Twins, only Danny Valencia (1/4) has an OBP against Garcia that’s lower than .285.  The Twins have not fared quite as well against Phil Hughes, but still post an OBP of .317, albeit in a sample size limited to just 38 at bats.  Either way, the Twins have an opportunity to get out front of the Yankees early and to allow their starters to work deeper into games, limiting the opportunities for the bullpen to let another close game slip away.

Pitching/Defense:

In addition to hitting well against the Yankees, Carl Pavano (tonight’s starter) and Anthony Swarzak (projected to take Nick Blackburn‘s start on Thursday) have managed to keep the Yankees in check.  Pavano has limited current Yankees to a triple slash of just .229/.252/.359 with just 9/30 hits against him going for extra bases.  Swarzak has faced current Yankees hitters just 39 times, but he has yet to give up a home run to any of the current Yankees, which has been one of their biggest weapons against the Minnesota Twins.  Decent starting pitching will be complemented with a defense that is likely to be near league average with Justin Morneau slotted into first base and either Trevor Plouffe or Clete Thomas taking an outfield spot away from Ryan Doumit.

Winning two games against the Yankees and splitting the series will not get this team any closer to contending for the AL Central, but it will help plant the seed in the minds of this current group of Twins that they can beat the Yankees, something the Twins haven’t really done for a decade.

It starts tonight!

ERolfPleiss

THAT’S How Ya Do It!

After attending the debacle Friday night and then reading that Francisco Liriano had been scratched from his Saturday start in favor of Anthony Swarzak, who would be facing off with Jared Weaver, I can’t say I was optimistic about the possibility of witnessing a Twins win Saturday night.

Silly me.

OF COURSE this would be the circumstance under which the wins would put things together to pull out a W!

There was a great crowd on hand, reminding me a bit of the enthusiasm I felt during so many games last season. I think we all knew that the Twins were likely to have trouble scoring much off of Weaver, who’s had a pretty strong year, thus far. But Swarzak was every bit Weaver’s equal as the two pitchers matched one another almost pitch for pitch from one inning to the next.

Toward the 7th inning, Swarzak gave up a couple of pretty deep, well hit balls that found the gloves of Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young. In fact, the defense tonight was very solid all night long. It hasn’t been often that we’ve been able to say that this year.

With one out in the 8th inning Peter Bourjos laced a line drive down the left field line for a double to ruin Swarzak’s no-hitter bid and the crowd immediately rose to give the young pitcher a huge standing ovation. As we sat down, the three 20-something women sitting to my left asked me why everyone had been cheering… they had no idea Swarzak had a no-hitter going. I’m not sure they even knew what a no-hitter was, to be honest. Ah well.

The guy to my right almost flipped out when Matt Capps entered the game to start the 9th inning on the mound for the Twins… but he stood and gave Capps an ovation with the rest of us after his hitless inning. Alex Burnett followed with a clean inning of relief, himself. (Where have THESE versions of those two pitchers been lately… and can we keep them a while?)

And then it was the bottom of the 10th. Lefty reliever Hisanori Takahashi took over for Weaver and struck Jason Kubel out looking before giving up a solid line drive single to Justin Morneau. Jason Repko ran for Morneau and righty Kevin Jepson took the mound for the Angels. Michael Cuddyer grounded a single past the SS in to left field and Delmon Young lined a single to center field. Unfortunately, Repko couldn’t get a jump on that single because there was a real chance it could have been snagged by the shortstop (I thought he was going to catch it from where I sat).

A lot of people around me were upset that Repko didn’t score, but to be honest, he HAD to make sure that ball got through. The LAST thing you want is to have him get doubled off 2B to end that inning. He still got to 3B and the bases were loaded with just one out and Danny Valencia at the plate.

The Angels used five infielders, all playing in on the grass, and just two outfielders, but it didn’t matter. Valencia lifted a fly ball to RF and right off the bat, everyone knew it was deep enough to score Repko from 3B. Torii Hunter jogged back a bit but he knew it didn’t matter whether he got to it or not and it landed well beyond Hunter. Game over.

The Twins celebrated on the field and you could just tell this was a win that made everyone feel good… players and fans alike.

I didn’t take as many pictures this trip as I usually do at games and many I did take are far from high quality, but I thought I would post a few anyway… hope you enjoy!

– JC

Pregame fraternization between Torii, Denard and Cuddy, as well as Justin and Russell Branyan

TC Bear fires tshirts in to the crowd

Anthony Swarzak was very, very good

Jared Weaver was also very, very good

Torii Hunter went hitless... but looked good doing it

An appreciative crowd gives Swarzak a standing ovation after he gives up the first Angels hit in the 8th inning

The Angels play a 5 man infield when the Twins loaded the bases in the 10th

Danny Valencia strokes a deep fly ball to right field...

... and the Twins celebrate a much-needed win!

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: July 11-17. All-Star Edition

It has been a while since we’ve posted a Twins History Lesson* and, as you can imagine, we’ve passed over a number of events of interest in the organization’s past. Too many to get caught up on all at once so we’re just going to pretend we haven’t missed anything and pick things up with this week in Twins History.

Since the second week of July has been when MLB has historically held the All-Star game, this week naturally has an All-Star bend to it. Of course, not starting until July 11 means that we just barely miss reminding fans of the All-Star game held on July 9, 1968 where Twin Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew ruptured a hamstring at the Astrodome, missed the next seven weeks of the season and, ultimately, very likely cost the Twins what coulda/woulda/shoulda been their second AL pennant. That’s still painful for many of us older Twins fans to remember, so I’m actually glad it falls outside this week’s timeline and I won’t have to relive it here.

Of course, it also means we won’t be able to relive Torii Hunter’s heroics in the 2002 ASG, played on July 8, when he pulled back what would have been a Barry Bonds home run in the first inning of what would become the ASG ending in a tie at Miller Park. Too bad, because that kind of thing should be remembered. I could have even posted a picture, like the one at the right. Ah well, maybe next year.

So now, on to this week’s memories:

July 11 has seen a couple of notable events.

1961: Harmon Killebrew became the first Twin All-Star on this date in 1961 and in a pinch hit appearance, ripped a home run off of Mike McCormick in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.

1965: The Twins took a 4 game lead in the AL standings in to the last game before the All-Star break. The Twins fell behind the Yankees in the top of the ninth inning when pitcher Jerry Fosnow picked up a slow roller up the 1B line and went to tag Yankee hitter Roger Repoz. But the ball popped free and Elston Howard crossed home plate. The home plate umpire ruled Repoz had interfered with Fosnow, however, and the run was taken off the board. That’s when the 1B umpire stepped in and overruled the home plate umpire, allowing the Yankee run to score (see… things really haven’t changed that much over the years, have they?) Things looked bleak for the Twin in the bottom of the ninth when Tony Oliva flew out for the second out with Rich Rollins, who had walked, on 1B. Que Harmon Killebrew. His full count HR won the game and, as described by Killer after the game was, “one of the sweetest of the sweet.” The Twins would go on to the World Series in 1965 and the Yankees would finish 25 games behind. (All together now… Awwwwwwwwwww.)

1968: Twins rookie Rick Rennick homered in his first MLB at bat, becoming the first Twin to do so, as he took the Tigers’ Mickey Lolich yard in a 5-4 Twins victory.

2005: Speaking of things that are painful to remember, it was on this date that the Twins acquired Bret Boone from the Mariners. He was released, thank God, not long afterward.

Not a real eventful date, but let’s look in on July 12 anyway:

1972: Bert Blyleven put the lid on the Brewers 7-1, giving the Twins their 1,000th win since the franchise moved to Minnesota. Coincidentally, Blyleven would also be the winning pitcher years later when the Twins notched win number 2,000.

1996: 36-year-old Kirby Puckett, appearing at a press conference with a white patch over his right eye, announced his retirement. “I was told I would never make it because I’m too short,” the 5’8″ Puckett said during the press conference. “Well, I’m still too short, but I’ve got 10 All-Star games, two World Series championships, and I’m a very happy and contented guy. It doesn’t matter what your height is, it’s what’s in your heart.”

2001: The Twins held their own version of Home Run Derby in a 13-5 win over the Brewers. Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie and Jacque Jones tied a MLB record of three players on the same team hitting two home runs in a game. Doug Mientkiewicz tried to keep pace, but could manage only one HR.

July 13 must be a popular day for holding All-Star Games.Lots of ASG history and we’re seeing yet another game on that date this year.

1965: The Twins’ Metropolitan Stadium hosted the All-Star Game and six Twins were on the AL squad (Earl Battey, Mudcat Grant,  Jimmie Hall, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, and Zoilo Versalles). But the NL won the game 6-5 as Willie Mays homered, walked twice and scored twice and Juan Marichal tossed three scoreless innings.

1971: Long before they began holding a Home Run Derby before the ASG, a group of future Hall of Fame members played long ball during the AL’s 6-4 win in Tiger Stadium. The Twins Harmon Killebrew went yard, as did Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Roberto Clemente, Reggie Jackson (who’s mammoth shot travels 520 feet!) and Frank Robinson. It was the sole AL victory between 1962 and 1983.

1976 When he pinch hit for Luis Tiant in the 7th inning, catcher Butch Wynegar became the youngest Twin (20 years and 121 days) to appear in an All-Star Game. He was walked by John “the Count” Montefusco.

1993: Torii Hunter Kirby Puckett may have won the ASG MVP award for his HR and double in the AL’s 9-3 win, but that’s not what most baseball fans recall about this game. Rather, that would be John Kruk’s comical at bat against a young, very hard-throwing and very, very wild Randy Johnson.

On July 14, 1991, the Twins retired Tony Oliva’s #6. Seventeen years later, Twins 1B Justin Morneau won the 2008 ASG Home Run Derby by defeating the Rangers Josh Hamilton 5-3 in the finals. So why does every Derby commercial since then feature Hamilton instead of Morneau? Possibly because of Hamilton’s 28 HRs in the first round (including 13 consecutive at one point).

July 15 has seen a couple of oddities among the noteworthy events taking place on that date.

1964: About a month after joining the Twins in a trade with Cleveland, pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant threw a 6-0 complete game shutout against the Senators. So what? Well he did it while giving up 13 hits (all singles). The Senators left 12 men on base (boy does that sound familiar, huh?) and when it was all over, Grant told reporters, “You might say I utilized the position of my fielders hansomely. The way they were hitting me, it’s a wonder somehody didn’t get killed out there.”

2008: One day after claiming his Home Run Derby title, Twins 1B Justin Morneau slid home with the winning run on Michael Young’s sac fly as the AL won the ASG 4-3. The game wents 15 innings and took 4 hours and 50 minutes to complete.

Looking back at July 16…

1969: Rod Carew recorded his 7th and final steal of home plate of the season, tying a 15 year old MLB record. What made this all the more unusual is that it took place with the bases loaded and led a unique triple steal as Harmon Killebrew recorded one of his 19 career SBs and Charlie Manuel (yes, the same Charlie Manuel managing the Phillies now) was credited with the sole SB of his career as they moved up to 2B and 3B behind Carew’s steal of home. So why didn’t Carew steal home again that year after swiping it 7 times by mid July? Not only were pitchers no longer pitching from the windup with Carew on 3B, but he missed much of August when he was called up for military duty. Sure are a lot of things we don’t see much of these days, aren’t there?

1985: The Metrodome hosted the All-Star Game (and I was there… 3 rows from the top of dead centerfield!) and OF Tom Brunansky was the Twins only representative on the AL roster. Led by LeMar Hoyt’s 3 innings of pitching, the NL won 6-1.

Let’s wrap up the History Lesson with a good news/bad news item. On July17, 1990, the Twins became the first team in MLB history to record two triple plays in one game, both started by ground balls to 3B Gary Gaetti. Unfortunately, they were using assbats that day and the Red Sox won the game 1-0.

I’m out of town this week and won’t be online much, if at all. Let’s hope all the guys come back from the All-Star break healthy, rested and ready to get after it. (Sorry… sort of channeling my inner Gardy there) – 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”.