October 2009

Thanks For The Memories


dome6.jpgDuring the early goings of September of the 2009 Twins baseball season, it looked as if game number 162 (the contest that typically ends the MLB season unless you happen to play in the Midwest) would be a great remembrance of all the baseball that the Metrodome had produced before giving way to Target Field next season.  A post-game ceremony down on the field after that game was both parts touching and entertaining, but there was just one problem…the old Dome wasn’t done; it would go on to host two more games!

Thus, it never really felt as if the Metrodome got that proper sense of ending as maybe it should have…that moment when you just look around and soak it all in.  Obviously, with the New York Yankees celebrating, it wasn’t the time for that feeling.  That is why I would now like to relive my favorite moments of being at the Dome.  Perhaps you will remember some of these as well:

-1990: My first memory of the Dome recalls seeing Kirby Puckett being given the Silver Slugger award for winning the batting title the previous year.  While going through the turnstiles that day, I got a black bat “signed” by Puck that I believe I still have stashed away to this day.

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-1991: Though most fans may only remember the ’91 seaons for Puckett’s Game Six and Black Jack’s Game Seven, there was also quite a heated race (at least for awhile) with the Oakland A’s.  Back then, when both teams were part of the AL West division, the A’s were the powerhouse team of the circuit.  They came into a summer series at the Dome and jumped way ahead of the Twins in every game thanks to the power of guys like Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Dave Henderson (looking back, can you imagine all the steroids coursing through those veins?).  However, the Twins scrapped back in every game and won them all.  I was lucky enough to be at the one that everyone remembers, where the Twins rallied against Dennis Eckersley (the Mariano Rivera of his day) on a triple from Chili Davis that RF Canseco played like a pin-ball down in the corner.  As Jose was bouncing around, a fan overhanging right field chucked an unravelling roll of toilet paper down onto the field, only adding to the mayhem!

 
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-1996-2000: I really began following the Twins with a passion in ’96, but from then until ’00 the Twins were perennial cellar-dwellers. Not to be deterred, though, my Dad and I would still get down to the Dome a few times each year to watch guys like Bob Tewksbury, Pat Mahomes, Brent Gates, Rich Becker, and Scott Stahoviak (among others) battle to not lose 100 games.  I didn’t seem to care about the futility, I guess, as I still root-root-rooted for the home team with all I had.  The attendance was so poor during those years that one could (and we often did) guy a cheap ticket and move right up behind the infield.  Believe it or not, there were no users to stop people!

A more specific game from that time period involves a field trip with my sixth grade class.  My exact recollection of the event is understandably a bit hazy, but the Twins were facing Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox.  The game went into extra innings, the Twins loaded the bases with no outs, but then two guys (one of which I’m positive was Terry Steinbach) struck out.  The next batter then singled to win the game (I want to say it was Pat Meares, but I could be wrong).

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-2002: Fifteen innings of baseball against the Atlanta Braves.  Bobby Cox got tossed in the first inning, the Twins roughed up Greg Maddux, and Christian Guzman’s double off the baggy scored Tom Prince (pictured above) to win it.  Once you do the fourteenth-inning stretch, you never forget it!

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-2002: With the Twins already having locked up the division title, they hosted the beaten White Sox to close out the season.  I was at the final two games, both won by dramatic, late-inning home runs from Bobby Kielty.

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-2008: With the Twins needing to sweep the White Sox in the final homestand to stay in the playoff race, they do just that.  I was at all three thrillers, but of course momst remember the final contest when the Twins fell behind early but clawed back into it thanks to a dramatic triple from Denard Span.  A walk-off hit from Alexi Casilla sealed it in extra innings.

So, those are my fondest, brightest memories of the Metrodome.  Though many malign it as a dump and unfit for the National Pastime, it is the only home turf I have ever seen the Twins play on, and no one can take that from me.  Though Target Field may prove to be a rousing success (or a miserable failure, whatever the case may be), it will always be the Dome that holds my childhood baseball nostalgia.

Boy, This Game Takes You Back Sometimes

ALCS15810260338.jpgAs I watched the Yankees record the final out of the ALCS tonight and advanced to the World Series to face the Philadelphia Phillies, I couldn’t help to be transported back a full decade (or even more) to my youth.

As a youngster in the late 1990s, my Twins were the scourge of the American League, so come playoff time I would always latch onto another team to root for.  This most often ended up being the team playing the Yankees at the time, as I despised their large-market spending and arrogant owner.  Plus, it was always that same core of guys (1996-2001) who were nearly impossible to beat.

A decade+ later, four of those same guys (well five, if you count former Yankee catcher Joe Girardi, now managing the club) are still doing their thing…Derek Jeter still gets all the clutch hits, Jorge Posada keeps chugging along, Andy Pettitte never loses a big game, and Mariano Rivera is absolutely incredible.

Thus, while I still cannot bring myself to actively root for the Yanks, I do have more than a grudging respect for those four players…guys who play the game the right way and deserve any more rings they can get on their fingers. 

Lookin’ Back…On The Memory Of…

Well, it’s been a little while since I last updated this blog, but I think perhaps (during that time) I have gained the proper perspective from which to evaluate the 2009 Minnesota Twins.

As Garth so poignantly sings:

I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I’d of had to miss the dance

That simple verse pretty much sums up my memories of the 2009 Twins baseball season.  Sure, it ended with a bitter taste in our collective mouths, but would we rather have just missed out on the postseason altogether?  Heck no!!

Much like in 2006, when I watched the Twins clinch the division on (until a few weeks ago) what many considered to be the most improbable streaks in team history, 2009 was somehow even more thrilling!  I’ll never forget the anticipation of each late-September contest, feeling the Dome rocking that final weekend against Kansas City, or watching game #163 (for the second year in a row!) that turned out to be the single most exciting baseball game I have ever watching in my entire life (I was a bit too young to be conscious for any of the ’91 World Series).

Thus, that is the way I will look back on the Twins when I recall 2009.  It was witnessing an incredible comeback (no outs, no one on) in game #2 of the season, watching Joe Mauer put together the greatest season in catching history, and seeing my team completely put a fork in its most hated rival (the Pale Hose) time and time again.

Another way to look at things is this: The Twins, a team that couldn’t pitch all season and couldn’t get clutch hits for a good part of it, managed to play 166 games…four more than 23 other teams counting both leagues.

Since the Twins began their “competitive” run in 2002 after nearly a decade of celler-dwelling and being the butt of countless jokes, there is one take-away memory I have of each season…

2002: Making the playoffs.

2003: Getting Shannon Stewart and overcoming a large first-half deficit.

2004: Dominating the division and having the Yankees on the ropes in the ALDS.

2005: Not being able to hit all season long and having even the always-stoic Brad Radke begin to grouse about it.

2006: The Comeback (Part I)

2007: Too much youth, too many bonehead plays.

2008: Sweeping the White Sox on the final homestand to stay in contention.

2009: The Comeback (Part II); especially that one-game playoff.

Though none of those season ended with the team hoisting a trophy or parading around a city, they still bring back some great memories that still make it all worthwhile.

Coming up next: A look at my favorite Metrodome moments

Why We Lost, Theory #2: We Were Overmatched From The Start

yankeesboard06.jpgIn the previous post, I made the point that the Twins have nobody to blame but themselves for the ALDS sweep at the hands of the Yankees. But is this really true?

This is kind of a touchy issue, at least for me, as it implies that the Twins (or any small-market “David” vs. a big-market “Goliath”) really never have much of a chance to compete against the “big boys” of the league.

Any competant baseball fan knows that the economic system of the game is messed up due to the fact that no salary cap is in place.  Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels (in the American League) have such a huge advantage over the Twins and Royals of the world that its a wonder any other team ever represents the league in the World Series (I guess that is the crapshoot of a playoff structure that features a 3-of-5 first round).  Sure, Bud Selig’s supposedly brilliant luxury tax system (where, much like Robin Hood, the league robs from the rich to give to the poor) helps a little bit, but in reality all it ends up doing is narrowing the free agent pool each year (as the middle-market teams are able to lock up a few key players to long-term deals).  It most definetly, however, does not prevent teams like the Yankees from nabbing the best free agents year after year (case in point: C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett brought in before the start of this season).  The Twins could never have dreamed of signing guys like that.

Of course, baseball will likely never changed (at least not with Selig at the helm), as the success of the Yanks, Sawx, and Halos fuels the revenue machine, especially in the World Series.  Though it might provide some sanctity back into the game, nobody wants to see the Twins and Athletics, to use two examples, duking it out in the ALCS.  If the MLB execs had it their way, it would be New York and Boston every single year.

The whole situation kind of reminds me of the infamous “You can’t handle the truth” speech from the movie A Few Good Men:

“My existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives…You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.”

While more parity would be great for baseball, it will never happen because admittedly it would weaken the short-term (until new rivalries are formed, at least) revenue stream of the league.

Thus, can the Twins even be expected to compete with the Yankees in any series?  They have Sabathia and Burnett, we have Baker and Blackburn.  They have the best middle of an order (Teixera, A-Rod, Matsui) since Ruth, Gehrig, and Lazzeri batted consecutively, while we have one stud (Mauer) and two others (Kubel, Cuddyer) that are by and large overmatched by quality pitching.  They have guys like Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano at the BOTTOM of the order, while we have Carlos Gomez, Nick Punto, and Jose Morales because they are all we can afford.  They can throw arms like Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes at us, while he have Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares.  No comparison.

So, those are the two theories as to why our beloved Twins were brutalized by the hated Yanks.  Which one is more valid?  I think it is a mixture of both.  The Twins would need to play a perfect series to even give themselves a chance to beat the Yankees, and instead we choked in every big opportunity.

Why We Lost, Theory #1: We Beat Ourselves

4767380f-27d8-4a7b-9fd8-d4d6a3153f25.jpgNow that a bit of time has passed and my initial reaction to the ALDS sweep has lessened a bit, I wanted to take a look back and see why the Twins got the broom. Here is one theory, with another to follow in a later post:

We beat ourselves. Plain and simple.  No B.S., no excuses.  Each and every game the Twins gave their all against a very tough Yankee ballclub, yet there was one key collapse and enough mistakes to go around that the only entity to blame for the sweep is staring us in the mirror.

Game 1: As expected, young starter Brian Duensing had trouble containing the big bats of the Yankees, and C.C. Sabathia was mowing us down like a shiny new Briggs & Stratton.  However, in the middle innings, the Twins were just down by a pair of runs and manager Ron Gardenhire decided to go to the bullpen in a key situation to retire Hideki Matsui.  Twins fans expected Ron Mahay, but instead Francisco Liriano trotted into the game.  My reaction: OMFG.  Matsui poked one into the seats and the Yanks never looked back.  Poor managing, plain and simple.

Game 2: Too many mistakes to count, really.  First was the now-infamous rounding of the base from Carlos Gomez (him being in the lineup in the first place could also be viewed as another Gardy Gaffe), where he allowed himself to be tagged out before Delmon Young could cross home plate and thus erasing a potential early lead and key run for the Twins.

Next, was the complete and utter implosion of closer Joe Nathan.  Way too many times down the stretch of the regular season (and in this game, obviously), Joe would come into games with no life on his fastball, the pitch that sets up his nasty breaking stuff.  Thus, he would be forced to throw the breaking stuff (which rarely gets over the plate) early and, when the patient Yankee hitters would lay off, he would then have to groove a fastball, exactly what happened to A-Rod.

The thing that sticks in my (and Gardy’s, I bet) craw the most, though, was the debacle when the Twins loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the eleventh inning.  Both Gomez and Delmon Young proceeded to swing at the first pitch of each at-bat (proving that they still just don’t “get it”, yet) and record outs en route to no runs coming in at all.  I bet that Gardy could have wrung their necks at that point.  Thus, the walk-off from Mark Teixera was all but imminent (if we can’t score with the bases loaded and no outs, when would we ever?).

Game Three: The Nick Punto baserunning blunder was the deflation-point of this game, as Punto got a little too excited when he heard the roar of the crowd and decided to round third with his head down at full speed, completely ignoring (well, not even seeing, actually) the “stop” sign that was clearly given from Scotty Ullger.  Jeter snagged Span’s bouncing up the middle and easily doubled Little Nicky off.  The Yankees then went on to dominate us (especially our bullpen once again) in the later innings.

Not only were those blunders quite apparent, but also present was the fact that the Twins left about a week’s worth of runners on base throughout the entire series.  Basically, we rarely got the big hit, and when we finally did we found some way to screw it up.  Kubel, Cuddyer, and Young (the hot hitters who propelled us to the AL Central crown) were downright atrocious in nearly every at-bat.

So, grouse all you want about a botched fair-foul call that went the Yanks’ way or the fact that their payroll triples ours, but the sad truth may be that we lost this one all by ourselves.

What Hurts The Most

The good news: The fact that Twins baseball is over hasn’t really sunk in yet.

The bad news: It will.

It’s too late to post an ALDS summary at this hour, so I’ll leave you with this video that pretty much sums up my feelings at this point…

 

We’ve Come Too Far (To Go Out Like This)…

After watching the Twins get beat 7-2 last night in Game One of the ALDS against the New York Yankees, it brought back up all the old memories from 2003 and 2004, both years in which the same city’s franchise laid the Smackdown on us.  Whereas they have All-Stars, we have young kids and unproven commodities.

Yet, I think all Twins fans would admit that, for the past month, this team has been a special ballclub.  I would hate to see all that washed away in a quick series against the Evil Empire.  I want to see some of that fight that this team exhibited for the past four weeks, and that starts tomorrow night.

Preview (ALDS; NYY 1, MN 0): Nick Blackburn vs. A.J. Burnett

Anticipation


c49be18a-1f93-4141-ae91-7b011a093d0d.jpgWell folks, here we go again. Just an hour and a half away from the game that we all have been waiting for.

Just like last year, before a game of this magnitude and improbability, I can’t help but think back on all that has transpired over the past 162 games.  All the opportunities we had to be in the playoffs outright right now, vs. all the times we came back when we probably shouldn’t have won.

However, all that is behind us now.  All either team has to do is take care of business…and we have “Dome turf”.

Preview (86-76, T-1st w/DET): Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.04) vs. Scott Baker (15-9, 4.36).

It All Comes Back To Yogi…

SB-Yogi-R.jpg“It Ain’t Over ‘Till It’s Over” (Yogi Berra)

One More Day


38753be7-9185-4c9c-a7bd-b65cc59b9ef9.jpgFor about the last 2-3 weeks, the sentiment around the Twins organization has been to just continue to play meaningful baseball for as long as possible.  Well, that plan was in serious jeopardy earlier this afternoon, as a loss against the Tigers would have eliminated the Twins from playoff contention.

Thankfully, the Twins were able to win a sloppy game (Baker only went five innings, and the defense committed four errors) thanks to the offense’s ability to pick away at Nate Robertson in the early innings and the bullpen shutting the door (besides two unearned runs) for the rest of the way for the 8-3 victory.

Of course, were not this essentially an elimination game for the Twins, the big story would have been the bad blood that permeated the atmosphere all day long between both clubs.

It all started when Scott Baker skidded a pitch right by the face of Marcus Thames…

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Thames glared out towards Baker, but then quietly took his base after being hit.  It didn’t look as if Baker had an intention of plunking him, especially in such an important game, and there really isn’t any history between the two.

The next batter then grounded a ball that looked like a double-play all the way, but Thames slid hard into Orlando Cabrera and wasn’t called out for interference…

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Was it a close play? Certainly, as the tip of Thames’ toes did touch the base. Yet, it was clear that his intentions were to get in O-Cab’s grill.  Borderline dirty, especially if Cabrera would have been injured on the play, but understandable if you are Thames and still feeling the wind of that fastball by your chin.

Things heated right back up again in the next inning, when Thames stepped back into the box.  A high hard one forced Thames to move out of the box a bit, and he took a long glare out at Baker before reconsidering a charge.  Again, I really couldn’t determine intention from the pitch, as it wasn’t thrown at his body and I don’t think Baker would ever purposely throw at a guy’s head.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of things either.  Who knows who (manager, player himself, etc.) instigates these things, but when Jose Mijares came into the game to relieve Matt Guerrier in the eighth, his first pitch sailed right behind Adam Everett.  This time, it was clear that retaliation was the name of the game, and both benches were warned, leading to the tossing of one manager (although not the one Twins fans would expect)…

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Described as the “Ron Gardenhire Memorial Ejection” by the TV announcers, Jim Leyland was booted by home plate ump Angel Hernandez.  It was clear that the Tigers were now miffed, and it didn’t take too long for the final straw to break.

In the top of the ninth, leadoff batter Delmon Young was quickly plunked in the calf by Jeremy Bonderman, who was promptly give the old heave-ho by Hernandez.  But then, one of the strangest sights I had ever seen transpired behind home plate…

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Young, in obvious pain after getting hit in what looked to be square on the calf muscle, hopped around for a bit until the pain had subsided, then starting having words with a member of his one team! No Tiger player was within ten feet of him, and Young was mouthing obscenities and pointing towards his home dugout. Both benches emptied at that point, but by the time the bullpens got into things nothing really had developed (no punches or kicks thrown).

Dick and Bert were at a bit of a loss in deciphering what had set Delmon Young off, but the only thing they could think of is that Young was angry at Mijares for instigating the beanball war the previous inning.  You know, were this not happening in a crucial point of the season, I think that Young would be a big story in the papers and media.  To have words with your own teammate who’s just trying to have your back is upsetting, especially coming from a guy who might still be best known in professional baseball for this unsavory incident…

Like I said, little will be made of this incident in the coming days due to the pennant chase, but if Go-Go is playing the outfield at the Dome tomorrow you’ll know why.

Preview (83-76, 2nd, 2.0 GB DET): Lenny DiNardo (0-2, 7.52) vs. Jeff Manship (0-1, 5.81). The Tigers draw Peavy tomorrow, while the pitchers in this game leave little to be desired or hoped for.  Could be a crazy one!

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