May 2010

More Than Just Baseball Today

memorial_day.jpgSometime in between cannonballs, waterskii marathons, grill-outs, and sporting events today, please take the time to remember all the Veterans who have served (and continue to serve) our great nation.

 

Whether you know someone who died defending this country, someone (like my grandfather) who lived to tell about it, or someone who is currently serving, please take a bit of time out of your day today to keep them in your thoughts and prayers:

I watched the flag pass by one day, 
 
It fluttered in the breeze. 
A young Marine saluted it, 
And then he stood at ease.. 

I looked at him in uniform 
So young, so tall, so proud, 
With hair cut square and eyes alert 
He’d stand out in any crowd .
I thought how many men like him 
Had fallen through the years. 
How many died on foreign soil 
How many mothers’ tears?
How many pilots’ planes shot down? 
How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers’ graves ? 
No, freedom isn’t free.
I heard the sound of Taps one night, 
When everything was still, 
I listened to the bugler play 
And felt a sudden chill. 
I wondered just how many times 
that Taps had meant ‘Amen,’
When a flag had draped a coffin. 
Of a brother or a friend. 
I thought of all the children, 
Of the mothers and the wives, 
Of fathers, sons and husbands 
With interrupted lives. 
I Thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea
Of unmarked graves in Arlington . 
No, freedom isn’t free . 

 

Best Of The West?

Rangers_Twins_Baseball_sff_173980_game.jpgBefore this weekend series, the Texas Rangers were battling for first place in the AL West.  They still are, but now do so just two games over .500 thanks to a three-game sweep by the Twins.

Boy, so far this season is shaping up pretty much like last year (with one key difference):

-Twins beat up on the AL Central (same as ’09)

-Twins cannot touch the AL East (same as ’09)

-Twins beat up on the AL West (different from ’09 and the reason why we are considered a much better team this season).

This bodes well for the start of a rather lengthy west coast road swing starting on Monday in Seattle.

Notes:

-Scary moment at the end of Sunday night’s contest when Denard Span collided with Orlando Hudson on the final play of the game.  Both were a bit slow to get up, with Hudson taking a really long time to get to his feet and likely not playing for a day or so.  Don’t have any official word yet, but the loss of Hudson for any prolonged period would be a big blow to our infield configuration (Casilla playing every day is NOT something I am comfortable with).

Preview (30-20, 1st, 3.5 GA DET): Francisco Liriano (4-3, 3.17) vs. Doug Fister (3-2, 2.03)

Evolution of A Curse

Before 2004, the year in which a staggering chain of events (begun with this)…

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…released the Boston Red Sox from their Yankee-dominant purgatory, the Sox were seemingly “cursed” by the inability to: A. Win the big game; and B. Win ANY meaningful game against the arch-rival Yankees.

After watching (in person) the Twins fall twice to the Yanks in one day today at Target Field, I now have my own little theory as to where that curse went and where it is dwelling now…

In both 2003 and 2004…

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…the Yankees defeated the Twins in the ALDS.  From that point forward, we haven’t been able to touch them.  At home, we are something like 10 games under .500 against them in the Ron Gardenhire era.  On the road, we have won (literally) a handful of games in that same time period.  Plus, the 2009 playoffs brought another ALDS defeat at their hands, this time a clean sweep.

Could it be possible that the Red Sox, free from the “1918″ chants, somehow transferred the curse to us, seeing as it was us who allowed the epic 2003 and 2004 ALCS’ to transpire in the first place?

Today, the Yankee heroes were primarily three-fold:

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First, Derek Jeter provided the lone offense in the resumption game today, then proceeded to make a spectacular “jump-throw” (his trademark) to gun down a runner at first that, if safe, would have allowed the tying run to score.

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Then, Pettitte again basically shut us down for eight innings, only allowing two measly runs.

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Finally, the back-breaker came from Nick Swisher, who launched a bomb into the right field bleachers in the bottom of the eighth inning (with two outs, of course) off Jon Rauch to give the visitors a lead they would not relinquish.

Let’s just say this: Remember those old “whose your Daddy” chants that Yankees fans used to hurl at Pedro Martinez?  They now apply for a completely different reason.

Preview (26-20, 1st, 1.0 GA DET): Javier Vazquez (3-4, 6.69) vs. Nick Blackburn (5-1, 4.50)

My Thoughts On Target Field

Quick recap:

Since my last blog, the Twins got caught by two hot pitchers in Boston (Bucholz/Lester), then righted the ship by beating up on the Brew Crew over the weekend (taking two of three and coming within a big hit of sweeping).

About three weeks ago, though, I saw my first two games at Target Field…

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…and never really commented on the experience.  Although I loved the experience and thought that the new digs put the Metrodome to shame, there was just something about it where I couldn’t gush over our new home too much.  I think I may have finally figured it out.

In the old days, ballparks were built with all kinds of quirks that made them stand out.  Some examples:

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Polo Grounds: Almost 500 feet to center field (which featured a garage in the field of play!), and just 250 ft. down the lines (picture a giant horsehoe).

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Ebbets Field: A crazy little nook out in center field, a huge wall in right, with band-box dimension all around.

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Baker Bowl: ENORMOUS brick wall out in RF that puts even Boston’s Green Monster to shame!

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LA Coliseum: Just look at the picture!

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Old Yankee Stadium: Monuments and flagpoles IN PLAY; centerfield almost 500 feet deep.

Then, after going through the terrible cookie-cutter stadium movement of the 1980s (Veterans Stadium, Skydome, Astrodome, etc.), ballparks started to improve in fan amenities, but (for the most part) those little quirks/nuances had disappeared.  In the past few years, there are only a few stadiums I can recall that really spark my interest:

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Wrigley Field: Ivy, brick walls.

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Fenway Park: Green Monster, Pesky Pole

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Minute Maid Park (?; that’s the name I’ll always remember it as!): CF slope, neat LF architecture.

And, dare I say it…

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Metrodome: Vampire seats, Baggie

Basically, my point is this: I really like stadiums with distinct visual features, and I feel as if Target Field is a bit lacking in that area.  Besides the patches of Limestone and HD scoreboard (but that doesn’t really count), it feels like “any other great ballpark”.  Kind of a double standard, I know, but I guess I am more than a bit of a sentimentalist towards those “good old days” of quirky baseball stadiums.

Preview (26-18, 1st, 1.0 GA DET): AJ Burnett (4-2, 3.86) vs. Scott Baker (4-4, 4.88). Time to create a little bit of new history against the Yanks?  I hope so.

Blue Jay Beatdown

Twins_Blue_Jays_Baseball_sff_171543_game.jpgWell, I can say this about the Toronto Blue Jays: They sure do swing the bats with authority.  If the opposing pitcher (like Pavano today) isn’t on his game and leaves too many meatballs out over the plate, this team will make them pay for those transgressions.

It was just one of those days to forget for the Twins, as they were hammered by the Jays from start to finish.  Pavano (4 IP, 10 H, 6 ER) got rocked early, and the pen couldn’t stem the tide late.

Plus, the bats never got going against Shaun Marcum as he continued his dominance over AL batsmen.

Two victories would have been nice, but splitting a series (even a short one) on the road is at least not a disaster.  A split against Boston the next two days would also salvage a road trip that looked like disaster after those first two Yankee games.

Preview (24-15, 2.0 GA DET): Scott Baker (4-3, 4.93) vs. Clay Buchholz (4-3, 3.46)

Which One Is The Hot Corner Again?

Twins__Blue_Jays_Baseball_sff_171427_game.jpg

Usually, the “hot corner” of the infield is the third base position. Tonight, it was the other corner.

On one hand, it doesn’t go much “hotter” than Justin Morneau right now, after ripping two more homers tonight and upping his league-leading average to .374.  He is about as locked in as a hitter can be at this point, and Twins fans can only hope that he sustains even a fraction of this performance through September and (hopefully!) October, which has been a problem for him the last few years due to slumps and injuries.

Also, first base was the site of Toronto 1B Lyle Overbay’s meltdown in the fourth inning.  After already failing to snag a few hot shots in the earlier innings, Overbay committed another faux pas by dropping an easy third out of the inning, then proceeded to fire wildly to third (and missing the mark) and allow another run to scamper home.  It was a sequence straight out of Little League desperation, complete with the frazzled infielder, carousel-like baserunning, and frustrated fans chanting the name of Overbay’s potential replacement, Brett Wallace.

After the emotional win over the Yankees yesterday afternoon, it was nice to see the Twins coming out focused once again today and not have a dip in energy that seemed to happen so much last season.

Preview (24-14, 1st, 2 GA DET): Carl Pavano (4-3, 3.30) vs. Shaun Marcum (2-1, 2.78)

A Little Slap-Happy

For far too many years, Yankee closer Mariano “Mo” Rivera has done the baseball equivalent of this video to American League batters…

 

That video could also be a metaphor of the Yankees’ dominance over the Twins in the Bronx since the Ron Gardenhire Era.  The Twins may put up a fight, but it was always the Yankees who got the final “slap”.

Not today:

http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=8059633&c_id=min

Does this game signify a major shift in the rivalry?  Who can know.  Will the Yankees start another streak just as long the next time we come to the Big Apple?  Hopefully not, but perhaps.  For today, though, we finally got to celebrate in the nextdoor neighbor to the House That Ruth Built.  It feels good.

In not too long, the Yanks will have to come into our house:

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…where hopefully we can start our own little Yankee-killing streak in the heart of Twins Territory.

 

Preview (23-14, 1st, 1.5 GA DET): Kevin Slowey (4-3, 4.62) vs. Dana Eveland (3-2, 4.81).  Off to Toronto now, who have really had our number the past two seasons.

2001: A Twins Oddity

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Why the retro pics? Well, the last time the Twins defeated Andy Pettitte, the date was April 30, the year was 2001, Brad Radke pitched a complete game to run his record to 5-0, and Doug Mientkiewicz went 2-3 with a homer to up his average to .380 on the season.  Radke is now long since retired and Minty is a 35 year old glove/walk machine.  That should tell you all you need to know about today’s lopsided affair.

Basically, Pettitte shut us down once again, and while Liriano pitched well enough to keep us in the game, the bullpen finally imploded under the pressure in the late innings.  If old Andy can do this to us, I can only imagine what would have happened had we drew Sabathia in this series (would we even need to play the game?).

When will this miserable streak end?

Notes:

-Any thoughts as to why Jesse Crain still has a major league job?

Preview (22-14, 1.5 GB DET): Nick Blackburn (3-1, 4.76) vs. Sergio Mitre (0-1, 3.86).  Don’t so much care about the Yankee Curse in this one as just scraping out a win before the Tigers catch us again.

John Sterling Must Love The Twins

Seventh inning, bases loaded, one out, A-Rod at the dish, Matty Guerrier on the mound:

 

We’ll try again tomorrow.

Preview (22-13, 1st, 2.5 GB DET): Francisco Liriano (4-1, 2.36) vs. Andy Pettitte (4-0, 2.08).

Contemplating The Yanks

This weekend, the Twins will head to Yankee Stadium in New York for three games with their own particular version of kryptonite: the Yankees.

There is a particular amount of buzz about this series in the Twins Cities area right now (whether suffocating or stimulating is up for interpretation), primarily due to the Twins’ hot start and the potential to erase a few past demons.  Basically, we haven’t been able to do squat against the Yankees since, ironically enough, we started winning on a consitent basis back in 2002.  However, here is the reason why I finally see the Twins turning things around…starting tomorrow night:

 

baseball_back_1024.jpgTo me, the difference between the Twins and the Yankees has always been a deep bench.  Whether Joe Torre or Joe Girardi, in late-inning situations there’s also a big bat coming off the bench that can wreak havoc.  The best example of this was in the ’04 ALDS, when Ruben Sierra came off their bench as opposed to Michael Ryan off ours.  Ouch.

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The picture above more accurately represents our bench (in past years) in a time of need.  Gardy scans the length of the dugout and finds such guys as Brian Buscher, Ryan, Nick Punto, or Matt Tolbert to try and create runs off of Joba Chamberlain or Mariano Rivera.  Not likely.

However, this year we have both the lineup depth AND the pitching to keep pace with the mighty Yankees.  They may still outpace us in top-tier (Sabathia, Burnett, A-Rod, Jeter, etc.) talent, but we now have the bats to hang with them even into the late innings.

Plus, remember this…

In 2003, we took the first game at Yankee stadium before collapsing.  In ’04, we took the first and almost had the second if not for a Nathan blown save.  Last year, we played them toughed in nearly every regular season game (a lot of walk-off wins for them), and had a chance to win all three of those playoffs games if we could have gotten some clutch hits.

Could this be the start of a new era for the Twins (competing with the big boys)?  This weekend provides the first test.

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