July 2008

The Aftermath

Buddy-Boy.jpgDespite featuring perhaps the greatest finish (and extra innings) of any All-Star Game in history, last night the cameras kept periodically panning over to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, whose face wore an expression much like the one above.  The reason?  Here are the details:

Going into the top of the 15th inning, AL manager Terry Francona used Tampa Bay pitcher Scott Kazmir, despite a word of caution from the Rays’ organization as Kazmir had pitched 100+ balls on Sunday before the event.  Kazmir got out of the inning, but Francona will not reveal the pitch count Kazmir would have been on had the AL not pulled out the win in the bottom of the 15th.  Essentially, too, the NL was in a similar situation, as reliever Brad Lidge (had he not allowed the winning run to score) would have been good to go for probably only one more inning.  In essence, both teams ran out of players.

Further complicating matters was the “This Time It Counts” mantra, or having the game decide home-field advantage in the World Series (instituted after the 2002 All-Star Game tie).  Had the game gone into a 16th inning (if Corey Hart had a little bit more on his throw or Justin Morneau would have been a little slower), baseball would have had it’s biggest on-field PR nightmare since the ’02 tie.

Of course, this topic has been discussed ad nauseum by network commentators and analysts throughout the day today.  Here are my quick thoughts:

-Really, the only way to prevent another situation like last night from occurring is to let the starters play longer or save a few guys as bench players that may not enter the game at all.  This is how the game was played in its early existence and for many years.  Of course, the downside is that a few players may not get into the game at all.

-If that above solution is not feasible, however, I honestly don’t think we should worry about last night’s situation, as it is likely an aberration (how many more All-Star games will go 15 innings?!).  For probably the first time in my life last night, I actually felt a little bad for Bud Selig.  I liked his new rule that the All-Star game should determine World Series home-field advantage, and it almost came back to bite him.

Living Up To It’s Name

Logo.jpgAt the start of last night’s All-Star Game, the stage had already been immaculately set for a special evening.  The night before, Josh Hamilton stole the hearts of fans with his incredible performance in the Home Run Derby.  Then, before the start of the game in a tribute to baseball and Yankee Stadium, every living member of the Hall of Fame stood by his respective position as the current starters were introduced.  For those who consider themselves to be students of the game, the ceremony likely brought goosebumps to your arms and chills down your spine.  All that was needed to top off the entire event was a great game, and boy did that ever happen:

Coming into the fifth inning, this All-Star contest was dominated by pitching, as the AL’s Cliff Lee, Joe Saunders, and Roy Halladay locked up against the NL’s Ben Sheets, Carlos Zambrano, and Dan Haren to produce a few scoreless frames.  In the top of the fifth, however, the NL drew first blood…

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A solo home run by Matt Holliday gave the NL a 1-0 lead, which was quickly followed by a sacrifice fly from Lance Berkman to up the deficit to 2-0.  The scored stayed that way until the seventh inning when, after a beautiful rendition of “God Bless America” from singer Josh Groban, J.D. Drew came to the plate with Justin Morneau on base and did this:

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Drew’s two-run bomb tied the game, but the NL quickly took the lead back again when Adrian Gonzalez’s sac fly drove home Miguel Tejada in the top of the eighth inning.  So, with the AL facing fireballer Billy Wagner with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, it seemed as if the outcome would be determined in the ninth.  That is, until the AL found a little more magic:

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After Grady Sizemore singled and stole second, Evan Longoria (until this moment known mostly to his name correlation with actress Eva Longoria) smashed a ground-rule double down the left field line, scoring Sizemore and tying the game at 3-3.  This is when things really started getting crazy.

After a scoreless ninth, the game went into extra innings and saw the AL load the bases with no outs in the bottom of the tenth.  However, ground balls from Sizemore and Longoria resulted in force outs at home plate, while Morneau nearly got an infield single that would have won the game, but he was thrown out on a great play by Tejada at short.  The NL had dodged a bullet, and were understandably pumped up:

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Yet, the NL (who were not hitting at all at this point) wriggled out of another seemingly impossible situation in the bottom of the twelfth when center fielder Nate McClouth gunned down Dioner Navarro at home plate, with NL catcher Russell Martin doing a great job of blocking the dish and tagging him out:

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Finally invigorated, the NL rallied with the bats in the top of the 12th inning, loading the bases with just one out.  However, consecutive strikeouts from Dan Uggla and Gonzalez fizzled the rally.

The 13th inning again saw the AL get a man in scoring position and not score him, while the NL by and large slumped once again.

As the game neared its fifth hour of play, Justin Morneau lead of the bottom of the 15th with a single for the AL.  After a hit from Navarro and an intentional walk to create a force at any base, Michael Young (the hero of the 2006 All-Star game) hit a fly ball to left field.  Corey Hart got under it and fired home to a tagging Morneau:

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After a moment in which the collective audience held its breath, the ump flashed the safe signal and the AL bench erupted:

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After a ******** 4 hours and 50 minutes of play, the American League had beaten the National League 4-3 in perhaps the most exciting midsummer classic in history!  What a game and what a finish!

Home Run Derby Reboot

During the early part of this decade, the annual Home Run Derby on ESPN often eclipsed the actual All-Star games itself, what with guys like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, and Ken Griffey Jr. jacking bombs out of the park.  Of course, then the steroid controversy descended on the game and “mysteriously” the Home Run Derby totals (despite the Bobby Abreu abberration in 2005) took a nose dive, with players advancing by hitting just 4-5 homers a round.  This year, the contest that had stagnated in recent years was given a major reboot:

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The excitement began when this guy (Josh Hamilton) stepped to the plate and began launching bomb after bomb to both right and center field at Yankee Stadium.  Hamilton, a consensus pick to win the contest, is recovering from severe alcoholism and drug addiction, and has quickly become the feel-good story of the major league season.  It’s pretty hard not to cheer for this guy.  I remember Jason Giambi getting hot like this and finish with 14 in the first round in 2001, but Hamilton breezed passed him like he was standing still.  Next came Abreu’s 24-homer first round in 2005, and Hamilton lapped him quickly as well, ultimately finishing with a remarkable 28 homers in the opening round.

After that point, the rest of the Derby probably seemed pretty dull in comparison to most fans.  However, Twins fans had another reason to keep cheering:

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While Hamilton stole the show, Minnesota Twin Justin Morneau was the epitomy of consistency, hitting 17 homers throughout the first two rounds and out-dueling a likely tired Hamilton 5-3 in the finals to take home the silver trophy.  For Twins fans, this is a remarkable event.  In the history of this home run-hitting contest, the Twins have had very few entries in the event, and for good reason:

1985: Tom Brunansky (4 HR)

1989: Gary Gaetti (0 HR)

2002: Torii Hunter (3 HR)

2007: Justin Morneau (4 HR)

Thus, I fully expected Morneau to bow out early in the competition and was incredibly excited to see him take home the prize.  I am glad that Morneau will get some national recognition, as he really should be starting in tomorrow’s All-Star contest.

Overall, the Home Run Derby came back in a big way tonight!!

Preview: AL All-Stars vs. NL All-Stars.  Overall, the NL leads the annual midsummer classic 40-36-2.  However, the AL is currently on a ten-game winning streak and is looking to creep closer to the “Senior Circuit” in the standings.  Here are the lineups and starting pitchers for the contest:

AL

1. Ichiro Suzuki RF; 2. Derek Jeter SS; 3. Josh Hamilton RF; 4. Alex Rodriguez 3B; 5. Manny Ramirez LF; 6. Milton Bradley DH; 7. Kevin Youkilis 1B; 8. Joe Mauer C; 9. Dustin Pedroia 2B; SP- Cliff Lee

NL

1. Hanley Ramirez SS; 2. Chase Utley 2B; 3. Lance Berkman 1B; 4. Albert Pujols; 5. Chipper Jones 3B; 6. Matt Holliday RF; 7. Ryan Braun LF; 8. Kosuke Fukudome CF; 9. Geovany Soto C; SP- Ben Sheets

Hanging In There

Brendan.jpgAt the start of this season, Brendan Harris (acquired along with Delmon Young in sending Matt Garza to Tampa Bay) was slated to play second base on a regular basis.  He struggled mightily with the defensive aspects of the position, and eventually lost his starting spot to Alexi Casilla.

He then moved to shortstop, a position that had been manned by Adam Everett and Matt Tolbert before both were injured early on in the season.  Despite his better fielding, Harris’ offensive numbers then slumped, allowing Nick “The Human Web-Gem” Punto to take over SS.

Recently, Harris has even being getting some time at third base, but newcomer Brian Buscher (a lefty) seems to have a lock on that position, at least against right-handed batters.  Essentially, Harris became a man without a position.

Today, however, Harris got the call at short when Punto was scratched due to a finger injury.  He made the most of the opportunity:

In the second and fourth innings, singles from Harris gave the Twins a 2-0 lead.  After a two-run dinger from Detroit’s Matt Joyce tied the game, Harris again put the Twins ahead…this time with a solo home run in the seventh inning.

From that point, the rest of the Twins lineup gave Harris a little help.  Joe Mauer also homered in the seventh inning, while a rally in the eighth allowed Harris (who else?!) to bring in another run on a sacrifice fly.

Though the Tigers rallied for three runs of their own in the eighth inning, Joe Nathan slammed the door (striking out the side) on the 6-5 victory.  The Twins clinched the four-game series win against the Tigers and, regardless of tomorrow’s outcome, dealt Detroit another setback in the AL Central division.

Final comment about Harris: Does he deserve a starting position?  Probably not at this point.  Buscher is still whacking the ball, Punto is supremely gifted in the field, and Casilla is hitting and fielding like an All-Star.  It is nice, however, to see that Harris is still able to take advantage of opportunities when they come his when…you never know when someone may get hurt.

Preview (2nd, 53-41, 1.5 GB CWS): Nick Blackburn (7-4, 3.72) vs. Justin Verlander (6-9, 4.24). I’m smelling a sweep tomorrow.  When Curtis Granderson is not on base or when they are not hitting long-balls, the Tigers look pallid and slow compared to the Twins’ fast-paced offense.  Wouldn’t a sweep be nice heading into the break?!

It All “Starts” With The Pitching

Glen Perkins.jpgAfter a tough (more like disastrous) series in Boston, in which the pitching staff got knocked around quite a bit, tonight’s great start from Glen Perkins (6.2 IP, 2 ER) was a breath of fresh air for the entire staff.

Despite falling behind early 1-0, Perkins was able to limit the Detroit runs until the seventh inning, by which point the Twins had taken the lead with three runs of their own.

Some observations from tonight’s contest:

-Just when you thought it was safe to put Jesse Crain in a tight situation…he gives up a deep bomb to center field that would have been out of nearly any other ballpark, but was tracked down by Carlos Gomez to end the seventh inning.  Phew!

-It was nice to see Matt Guerrier pitch a flawless inning, as he was really beat up at Fenway earlier in the week.  Also, Joe Nathan bounced backed from a shaky (yet effective) outing yesterday to post a perfect save tonight.

-Nick Punto now has a 10-game hitting streak and is hitting .324 on the season.  Obviously, he won’t finish the season at this pace, but even average production from him combined with his perennial web-gem defense would be a big “plus” at SS.

Preview (2nd, 52-41, 1.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (5-2, 3.32) vs. Nate Robertson (6-7, 5.19). Baker was one of the only pitchers to have success against the Red Sox, but Robertson is a lefty, thus you never know when the Twins’ bats will dry up in the presence of the almighty left arm.

Morneau Cleans Up

JM.jpgThis afternoon’s game wasn’t on television here in Minnesota, so I didn’t get a chance to see it.  From the highlights and box score, however, it seems as if Justin Morneau pretty much just dominated the game.

After taking an early 2-0 lead, the Twins quickly feel behind 6-2 when Kevin Slowey was uncharacteristically battered around, allowing six earned runs in his almost four innings of work.

At that point, a bullpen that was absolutely tattooed in Boston held the Tigers scoreless while the Twins chipped away at the deficit and tied the game at 6-6 in the ninth.  In the 11th, Morneau hit a laser-beam over the left-field wall at Comerica Field to get Matt Guerrier a win.

Starring offensively for the Twins were Morneau (5-5, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB), Nick Punto (3-4, 2 R, 1 BB), and Denard Span (4-4, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB), who handed Todd Jones just his second blown save of the season so far.

Pitching-wise, after Slowey’s bad outing, Breslow, Crain, Reyes, Nathan, and Guerrier combined to hold the Tigers scoreless.

In a series that is actually much more important to the Tigers than it is to the Twins, this was a good foot (besides the shaky Slowey start) to get things started on.

Preview (2nd, 51-41, 2.5 GB CWS): Glen Perkins (5-2, 4.27) vs. Armando Galarraga (7-2, 3.27). Perky has pitched well against Detroit this season, and we have beaten Galarraga twice.  After a taxing bullpen afternoon today, a solid start is greatly needed.  

Get Outta Dodge

Gardy.jpgHave you ever had one of those weeks where you just wish you could either wipe it from your memory or go back and do it over again?  The Twins had EXACTLY that kind of series against the Boston Red Sox, getting swept out of Fenway park.

Today, Minnesota actually jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, thanks to a two-run bomb from Morneau and an RBI single from Mauer.  From that point, the wheels began slowly loosening, until eventually they fell off completely:

First, Boston touched up the Fat Man for four runs in the second inning, then tagged him for two more in the fifth.

Heading into the bottom of the seventh, though, the Twins were down just 7-5, knowing full well that crazy comebacks have happened at Fenway.  Thus, the need to shut down the Sox the rest of the way was Paramount.  With two runners on and no outs, however, Jason Varitek hit a shallow liner to centerfield.  Denard Span came on to supposedly make the catch, then double up both runners off first and second for a triple play.  That should be the play that fires up the team for the rest of the game, right?  Think again.  The umpires held a short conference and decided that Span had trapped the ball (which indeed was the case) and thus overruled the triple play.  However, peeved about having an earlier fan interference call go Boston’s way, Ron Gardenhire exploded, getting tossed out of the game before he could say two words to the umpire.  I don’t think I have ever seen Gardy so hot, and that is quite a statement (heck, nobody even warned the dugouts after a hit batter!).

With Gardy tossed and the team frustrated, Boston proceeded to score seven runs in the seventh and four runs in the eighth for the eventual 18-5 margin of victory.

I think this was just one of those series that needs to be put out of memory as quickly as possible.  Before doing so, however, a few general Twins comments:

-If the Twins cannot beat AL opponents on the road, they will likely not continue to contend for the division title.

-In the not-too-distant future, the Twins are going to have an interesting dilemma in their starting rotation.  Francisco Liriano is starting to blow people away in the minor leagues, while the Fat Man keeps getting shelled here in the bigs.  Should Liriano continue to produce well, I don’t see how one could justify booting Blackburn, Slowey, Baker, or Perkins out of the rotation before Livo.

-Finally, if Manny Ramirez never took another swing in the major leagues, I consider him to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.  This guy has been the most consistent hitter of the last 10 years…he could hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs until he’s 50!  Sure, he may be a bit of an airhead or clown at times, but I’d take a little clowning for that sort of production.  Plus, he has never shown any signs of steroid use…he’s always been a big burly dude who can crank pitches with the best of them.  Unless he is bashing the Twins (which he definitely did enough of this week), I love to just watch him swing.

Preview (50-41, 2nd, 3.5 GB CWS): Kevin Slowey (6-6, 3.78) vs. Kenny Rogers (6-6, 4.60).  The road trip continues with four games in Detroit.  Just splitting the series would be a “win” for the Twins on the road before the All-Star Break.

Manny Being Manny…Again

MannyRamirez.jpgFor the second consecutive night, the Minnesota Twins were essentially defeated by one mightly swing of the bat from the previously-slumping Manny Ramirez.

Last night, after Scott Baker and Daisuke Matsuzaka locked up for seven innings, Gardy made the strange decision of calling for Brian Bass out of the bullpen instead of Jesse Crain or Matt Guerrier.  Of course, the first Boston batter smacked a double off the Green Monster, and that runner eventually came home on a single from Ramirez.

Tonight, Nick Blackburn hooked up with John Lester in another relatively tight contest.  With the Twins leading 5-2 heading into the eighth inning, Guerrier was summoned from the pen this time to try and preserve the lead.  Three batters later, Manny deposited a Matty G. pitch high over the Monster, tying the game.  A few more hits provided the winning run, allowing Jonathan Papelbon to nail down yet another save against the Twins (when the Twins stranded Punto at third base).

Okay, so this was another hard-fought loss to a good team.  To be honest, what worries me more is the Twins’ mediocrity on the road this season.  When at home, the Twins have that swagger/confidence that seems to pump them up.  On the road, however, it’s a whole new ballgame, as the Twins are 18-22 away from the Dome.  With four games at Detroit after tomorrow’s finale with the BoSox, the Twins had better figure out their road plauges quickly.

Preview (50-40, 2nd, 2.5 GB CWS): Livan Hernandez (9-5, 5.18) vs. Josh Beckett (8-5, 3.70).  This is not a good matchup at all.  Livan gives up hits in bunches (which the Red Sox thrive on), while Beckett feasts on over-anxious hitters (often times the Twins’ forte, especially on the road) with his nasty sinker/fastball combination.  A scratch victory is what one can hope for.

Sweeping The Tribe

sweep.jpgThis weekend, I was out of town for the Fourth of July and thus not able to update this blog.  Essentially, here is what happened in my abscence:

Friday: Twins paste the Terrible Tribe 12-3.

Saturday: Twins pasted the Tribe again, 9-6, but just have to come back from a three-run deficit to do it.

Sunday: The real interesting game of the series.  With Cleveland clinging to a 3-1 lead heading into the eighth inning, Indian starter Cliff Lee was mowing down the Twins in near-record time.  However, perhaps stewing over a previous altercation with Carlos Gomez, Lee melted in the eighth, allowing three runs that proved to be enough for a 4-3 win.  If the Twins can come back against Cliff Lee this year, they can come back against anyone!

Short lesson learned from this series: The Twins did what they needed to do against a sluggish Indians club.  I was impressed by their moxie in the third game, as it would have been easy to just say “hey, we got the series won” and throw in the towel against Lee on a hot afternoon.  But, to their credit, the young Twins played their hearts out and came away with the sweep.

On to Fenway!

Something I Never Thought I’d Say

 

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Yesterday, when unfortunately the Twins were not on TV, Nick Punto turned in the defensive play of the year at shortstop.

The play can be seen here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbPwrpsIlec&feature=related

Should Nick Punto be the everyday shortstop?  While he doesn’t have as much batting potential as Brenden Harris, Harris is hitting just .245 this season.  Also, Punto brings his spectacular glove to the diamond, while Harris is mediocre at best.  Just something to consider.

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