Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
After nearly five weeks spent looking for a manager, the Twins appear to have settled on the first candidate they interviewed.
Paul Molitor, a Twins coach and a Hall of Fame player who interviewed for the job just two days after Ron Gardenhire was fired last month, appears to be the team's choice. Sources with knowledge of the Twins' managerial search indicate to Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse that Molitor could be hired early next week, barring a last-minute change of mind by the team's owner and front office.
Torey Lovullo, Red Sox bench coach under John Farrell, was the other finalist, and Twins owner Jim Pohlad flew to Lovullo's home in Los Angeles last week to meet him. But all indications are that Pohlad continues to prefer Molitor, a St. Paul native, as the team's third manager in 29 seasons. General manager Terry Ryan, who fired Gardenhire after 13 seasons as manager, could make the hiring official as soon as Monday.
Fort Myers manager Doug Mientkiewicz has been informed he will not be Gardenhire's successor, though the former first baseman is expected to be promoted to one of the Twins' top two farm clubs. Mientkiewicz became a finalist after leading the Miracle to the Florida State League championship in September.
Byron Buxton's broken finger required surgery to repair, but the procedure to insert a pin to reinforce the bone went without a problem and the Twins' top prospect is expected to be ready for spring training next February.
Buxton fractured the middle finger on his left hand on Monday while diving for a ball during an Arizona Fall League game. The injury was originally diagnosed as a dislocation, but a hand specialist discovered the fracture.
Buxton and the Twins had hoped the fracture would heal without operating, but after additional consultation, Twins' minor-league director Brad Steil confirmed Friday, the decision was made to place the pin inside the finger, a procedure which took place Thursday morning in Arizona.
The damage wasn't as bad as doctors feared, which could speed up his return. Buxton has been told to rest his left hand while it heals, which will limit his ability to swing a bat this winter. But doctors expect him to be able to resume training for the 2015 season by January, well before Twins' camp opens in February.
The 20-year-old center fielder appeared in 13 AFL games with the Salt River Rafters, hoping to salvage some playing time after an injury-plagued 2014 season. He was batting .263 with five stolen bases when he was injured.
It's the third injury that Buxton has sustained while diving for fly balls this season. He severely sprained his left wrist on a similar play during the end of training camp last March, costing him nearly three months, and he suffered a concussion during a collision with another outfielder while playing for Class AA New Britain in August.
Buxton, rated the No. 1 prospect in baseball by Baseball America before the season, also suffered a sore shoulder, bruised toe and bruised right wrist during the season, limiting him to just 31 games.
Terry Steinbach won one World Series during his 14-year major-league playing career, and while that remains the pinnacle of his ball-playing days, he admits that the circumstances of that championship leave him with conflicting feelings about it.
"The best way for me to describe it is, it's a package deal. It was celebratory for us, for having achieved something that we worked, all of us as a group, literally years for," the Twins' bench coach said. "But at the same time, the humanitarian in you remembers that a lot of people lost their lives, their property, all the damage, so it was hard to feel that a game, a series, was important, with all that was going on around us."
That's because, 25 years ago today, Steinbach and the Oakland A's were at Candlestick Park, getting ready for Game 3 of the Bay Bridge Series, when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit. "It seems like it was a just a couple years ago," Steinbach said. "I remember it like it was."
The A's were a determined bunch that fall, intent upon not letting the previous year's disappointment against Kirk Gibson and the Dodgers repeat itself. Steinbach had been the hero of Game 2, belting a three-run homer off Rick Reuschel, but with Bob Welch scheduled to pitch Game 3 for the A's, Steinbach was told by manager Tony La Russa that he wouldn't be in the lineup that day.
"It was kind of a nice break, because when you're catching, you're always grinding. You're mind's constantly going," he said. "So this was a chance for me to relax for a little while. I thought, 'Yeah, I'll see what this World Series stuff is all about.' "
He was in the A's dugout, chatting with Oakland reliever Todd Burns, about a half-hour before first pitch, when a huge roar interrupted them. Steinbach figured it was a jet, perhaps part of the pregame ceremonies, "but I didn't think they would let planes fly so low. It was really loud," he said. "I looked up for the plane, and noticed that the concrete overhang above the upper deck was shaking, almost pulsating, like it was made of tin. But I knew, hey, that's concrete, and it's moving like you were flipping a jump rope."
By then, the bench he was sitting on had begun jerking violently, and it kept getting worse, "for a good 8 to 10 seconds," Steinbach remembered. Burns, a southern Californian who had felt quakes before, jumped up and shouted, "Earthquake!" He and Steinbach hurried up the stairs to the field as the shaking subsided, and the crowd cheered. "He said, 'Wow, that was a good one,' " Steinbach said. "I think everyone felt like, 'Hey, we survived, no damage. That was really memorable. Now let's go play ball."
Within a minute, however, the scoreboards and sound system suddenly shut off as power was lost in the ballpark. Rumors about damage around the city began spreading, but since cell phones were not yet commonplace and information was hard to come by, reports of a road collapse on the Bay Bridge, for instance, left the players wondering "Is the bridge knocked over into the water? I mean, you just don't know."
It became apparent within about 20 minutes that the game would not be played, and players began signaling for their relatives to come out of the stands so they could leave. That's when a TV station recorded a famous video of Steinbach comforting his wife Mary, who was sobbing on his shoulder.
The moment is often interpreted as being overwhelmed by the danger of being in an earthquake, but Steinbach said that's not correct. "The reason she was upset was, our daughter Jill was 2 years old, and she was across the bay in our apartment in Oakland, with a nanny," he said. "Well, all the phones were out and we had no way to call and find out if she was safe. Today, you could just call and you'd know in a minute, but then -- you start to hear about buildings falling and people getting killed, and just not knowing was kind of frightening."
The fear wouldn't dissipate for four more hours, either; traffic was at a standstill on most Bay Area freeways, virtually every bridge had been closed until they could be inspected, and the A's team bus had to drive down the San Francisco peninsula to San Jose, then back north to Oakland, an excruciating journey, Steinbach said. "But Jill was safe, everyone was fine," Steinbach said. "And that's when you really start to understand how many people weren't so lucky."
The series finally resumed 10 days later, after a pregame ceremony that Steinbach says tops any other he's ever seen. Rescue workers and other heroes of that day, more than a dozen of them, gathered on the field to throw out the first pitch en masse, and Steinbach says he got a little emotional at the scene. "The thing I was most proud of was that we -- both teams -- got to be part of the healing process," he said. "What better way to show the world that, yes, a major catastrophe happened, but we are recovering. The Bay Area is resilient, and we're going to get through this."
The Twins began their off-season roster maintenance on Monday by outrighting two veterans who spent most of 2014 in Class AAA.
Infielder Doug Bernier and righthander Yohan Pino were removed from the Twins' roster, freeing up spots for minor-leaguers who must be added to the roster this winter or be exposed to the Rule 5 draft in December.
Bernier elected to become a free agent rather than accept assignment to Class AAA Rochester, though he could be signed again later this winter. Pino is eligible for free agency as well, as a six-year minor-league veteran.
Pino, a 30-year-old righthander from Venezuela, made his major-league debut in June, and started 11 games for the Twins, going 2-5 with a 5.07 ERA. The Venezuelan, originally a Twins signee in 2005, signed as a free agent from the Reds organization last winter and enjoyed one of the strongest seasons of his career at Rochester. Pino went 10-2 with a 2.47 ERA in 16 games, including nine starts, to earn the major-league opportunity.
Bernier, 34, also had a good season at Rochester, batting .280 as the Red Wings' starting shortstop and earning praise from Twins officials as one of the team's clubhouse leaders. For the second straight year, he finished the season in Minnesota, though he made only nine plate appearances in September, going 2-for-7.
With the removal of Bernier and Pino, the Twins now have 37 players on their roster; Rule 5-eligible players like Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer must be added to the roster over the next month.
Twins officials are in Fort Myers, Fla., this week to hold their annual organization meetings, evaluating players and staff and planning for the 2015 season.
DETROIT -- There's an all-business air of anticipation around Comerica Park, everywhere but in the Twins' clubhouse. There, it's the last day of school, with players discarding old equipment and preparing to head home. About half the team won't even go back to Minnesota tonight, once the season ends.
But while the Twins contemplated the finish, the Tigers were on the field, taking batting practice, which is rare on Sundays. Things are about to get intense for Detroit, starting with today's game. The Tigers must win one game over the next three days in order to advance to the division series against Baltimore -- beat the Twins today (or benefit from a Royals loss in Chicago), and they win the division. If not, they'll play a Game No. 163 here Monday against Kansas City, with the winner claiming the division title. If the Tigers haven't won by then, they'll advance to Tuesday's wild-card game with either Oakland or Seattle.
So today isn't win-or-else for Detroit, but the Tigers would surely love to avoid all those complications with a win. That's why David Price is on the mound, and the Tigers can't rest their regulars.
Kyle Gibson makes the start for the Twins, hoping to win his third game in a row, a nice way to head into the offseason. With three runs, the Twins can set a new record for runs scored against the Tigers, and also double their scoring total against Detroit from last year (61).
Here are the lineups for the 2014 season finale:
J.D. Martinez LF
For a 70-win team, the Twins sure had a lot to talk about on Saturday. Here are some leftovers on the eve of the season finale:
TWO BASERUNNING MISTAKES: The Twins scored a dozen runs and won easily, so Ron Gardenhire didn't get too upset about a baserunning mistake that cost the Twins at least one run on Saturday. In the sixth inning, after the Twins had already put six runs on the scoreboard, Chris Herrmann lined a single to center with runners on first and second. Oswaldo Arcia rounded third and headed for home, while Eduardo Escobar got to second and just kept going. The throw from Ezequiel Carrera was to third, and Escobar was tagged out to end the inning. Not only did Escobar violate baseball prudence -- never make the final out at third -- but Arcia's run didn't count because the out was recorded before he touched home plate. The manager was not happy.
"Arcia slowed up knowing they didn't have a play on him, and Esco's running in behind him. Esco probably needs to stay on second base, and Arcia needs to run hard all the way," Gardenhire said. "We talked to them about it in the dugout. Luckily, we won the ballgame and you can joke around a little bit. But when those games are tight and everything's on the line, you've got to do better than that."
SANTANA SCARE: The Twins got a scare in the seventh inning, when Danny Santana appeared to be injured on a play that was eerily similar to the one that resulted in a concussion to Justin Morneau four years ago. While taking a throw to record a force out at second base, Santana's right knee struck baserunner Kevin Romine's helmet as he slid into the base. Santana fell awkwardly, then laid on the ground for a couple of minutes, grabbing his knee. But he finally got up and walked around, then decided to stay in the game. "It's uncomfortable for a little bit, but as soon as Dr. Arcia came in there and called him some names, he was fine," Gardenhire joked. Romine apparently was OK, too, with no sign of a concussion from the blow.
GET THE SURE OUT: Ricky Nolasco pitched out of bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the sixth inning, partly because of a spectacular diving stop by Brian Dozier, and a nice stretch by Joe Mauer at first base to catch Dozier's hurried throw while keeping a toe on the bag. One run scored in the inning, though, on the play just before Dozier's gem, a tapper up the first-base line. Nolasco grabbed the ball in a hurry, but chose to concede the run and throw to first base rather than home. The 6-1 score at the time was part of the reason, he said. "I had my back to home plate. I'm not going to turn around and force anything with a 6-1 lead. I'd rather take the out and take my chances with the next guy," he said. "The last thing I want to do is spin around and launch the ball to the backstop or something, and then they get a huge rally."
He's been victimized by rallies before. Nolasco has lost two victories in the past month due to the bullpen's failure to hold his leads, but there was litle chance of that Saturday. Nolasco, 6-12 in his first season with the Twins, recorded his first win since July 1, and admitted it felt good. "Absoutely. I've always been a firm believer in that," he said. "The main goal is team wins, but it's nice to have those W's next to your name."
HE'S TROLLING YOU: Gardenhire had another message for his critics on Saturday. "I get [complaints] all the time," he said. "I can throw it back every once in awhile."
The Twins' manager did just that on Friday, first by ordering Eduardo Escobar to sacrifice with two runners on base and no outs while holding a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning, then by taunting those who disagree with the strategy after the game.
"I know people hate it when we bunt. Everybody says the stats and numbers tell you not to do it," he said. "But you know what, when you put pressure on the defense, they've got to make a perfect play. It didn't happen, we scored runs, so ha-ha!"
He doesn't enjoy the criticism, Gardenhire said, but he long ago realized it was part of the job that he can't change. With the rise of social media and the increasing number of articles written about his team, he hears a lot more "suggestions" about how to do his job.
"There's a lot of opinions out there. I mean, if I bunt, I hear about it. Why would you bunt, give up an out?" he said. "Well, bunting's been in baseball as long as I've been in, [and] we're going to bunt when I think we should bunt."
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