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.
Without a dome here in Houston, we'd be in the fourth inning right now, after waiting out a long delay for a loud thunderstorm that sent thunder rumbling through the dome for a couple of innings. Instead, you get to read four late-night notes from the Twins' 4-2 victory:
EIGHT YEARS LATER: Longtime Twins fans remember the game of June 22, 2006, the day Francisco Liriano outdueled Roger Clemens and the defending National League champions 4-2 in Minute Maid Park and lifted the Twins above .500 for good that season. But here's an oddity about that game: Joe Mauer, who was batting .375 at the time en route to his first batting title, has not played under Houston's dome since. Until Monday, anyway, when he certainly didn't look like a guy who had not seen major-league pitching in almost six weeks. With thunder and lightning creating a distraction, Mauer drew a walk in his first plate appearance, then doubled off the top of the wall in left field his next time up, missing a home run by a couple of feet. "Here, I thought it had a chance. In some other parks, that's an out," he said. He flew to center field, then smashed a line drive that first baseman Jon Singleton speared and turned into a double play. And in the ninth, he took a fastball the opposite way for a game-winning hit. "He made a really nice catch at first base, too," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Welcome back, Joe."
A VOID IN THE CLUBHOUSE: Brian Dozier said Josh Willingham "is my best friend, basically," and his attitude sort of summed up the feeling in the Twins' clubhouse after the game. The Twins were happy with the win, but Willingham was one of the most popular teammates in Minnesota's clubhouse, and more than one player made it clear how much he will be missed. But all acknowledged, too, that the transaction makes sense; Willingham's contract runs out in October, he's 35, and the Twins got a decent back-end-starter pitching prospect for him in righthander Jason Adam. Still, Gardenhire said, "it was not fun. I'm happy for him. I'm excited for him to go get into a pennant race -- he hasn't had been able to enjoy that. But it was a tough moment in the clubhouse."
GREEN LIGHT: Gardenhire wasn't overlooking Jordan Schafer's stolen base in the ninth inning, too, his fifth without being caught this year -- and against a catcher, in Jason Castro, who had already thrown out Danny Santana in the game. Schafer walked in the ninth inning of a 2-2 game, and everybody knew he would take off for second. Didn't matter. Schafer is now 20-for-22 on the season. "He's unbelievable. He can fly. When he gets on base, it's not if he's going to run, it's when," Gardenhire said. "He has a green light unless I give him a red light, and I haven't given him one yet."
STAY OUT OF TROUBLE: Figured all along that today's story would be Tommy Milone. Those plans were changed by Josh Willingham and Joe Mauer, but Milone was still impressive in his Twins debut. He gave up eight hits and three walks -- "I don't usually walk three guys," Milone said, "but I was a little amped up out there tonight." -- but worked out of trouble each time. His mistakes were home runs, by Jose Altuve and Chris Carter, but both were solo blasts. He was helped by a great double play started by Brian Dozier's amazingly quick flip to shortstop Eduardo Escobar in the second inning, ending a bases-loaded situation with no runs. "I felt like that was a shift right there. It could easily turn into a bad inning, and to come out with nothing, it was a momentum shift," Milone said. Using his 88-mph fastball and a variety of breaking balls, Milone also struck out five batters, two of them looking. Gardenhire said he was impressed. "I don't think he located as well as he normally does, but he changed speeds really well," Gardenhire said. "I like him."
HOUSTON -- Josh Willingham, whose 61 home runs over the past three seasons are the most by any Twins player, has been traded to the Kansas City Royals two months before his contract was to expire, the team announced shortly before game time Monday.
In exchange for the 35-year-old outfielder, the Twins receive righthanded pitcher Jason Adam, a 23-year-old native of Overland Park, Kansas, who has been pitching this season for Class AAA Omaha. Adam, a fifth-round selection in the 2010 draft, has been a starter throughout his career until reaching Triple-A, where he has posted a 2.35 ERA in eight appearances as a reliever. Adam will be assigned to Class AA New Britain.
The Twins used Willingham's roster spot to activate Joe Mauer from the disabled list. Mauer is in the lineup tonight for the first time since suffering a strained oblique muscle on July 1.
Willingham smacked 35 home runs in 2012, his first season after signing a three-year, $21 million contract with the team. But like Kevin Correia, who was dealt to the Dodgers on Saturday, he was unlikely to remain with the Twins beyond this season, so he was traded to a contender. The Royals, who have won seven straight games, currently lead the race for the second AL wild-card spot.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Backup catcher Eric Fryer might end up in the outfield today, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, and he wasn't kidding. The Twins are shorthanded once more as they wrap up a four-game series in O.co Coliseum due to a couple of minor injuries.
Third baseman Trevor Plouffe fouled a pitch off his left ankle during his first at-bat on Saturday, then immediately lined an RBI single to give the Twins an early lead. (He said he was striking a blow for USC against A's starter Jeff Samardzija, a Notre Dame alum.) The foot hurt during the rest of the game, then swelled up overnight. It's too sore to play on today, he said, and the foot will x-rayed before the game.
Meanwhile, Oswaldo Arcia is still bothered by soreness in his lower back, although he said it's greatly improved today. He injured it while swinging at a pitch during his next-to-last at-bat on Friday night, and made it a little worse on his final at-bat. But he'll hit in the cage today, he said, and believes he'll be OK to play Monday in Houston.
Still, that leaves the Twins with a one-man bench today: Fryer. "He can play a lot of places if we need him to," the manager shrugged.
The Twins are expected to add one more healthy player to the roster after the game, as Joe Mauer wraps up his rehab stint in Cedar Rapids. Barring a setback, Mauer should meet the team in Houston for tomorrow's game. How the Twins make room for him remains to be seen; I thought perhaps a disabled-list move was ahead for one of the two injured players, but after talking to them, neither seemed to think they'll need more than a day or so. X-rays could change that, though.
The Twins are trying to snap a 12-game losing streak to the A's, and they'll have their best starting pitcher, Phil Hughes, facing Oakland's worst, Jason Hammel. Here are the lineups:
The Twins will save about $1.5 million of Kevin Correia's salary by sending him to the Dodgers, but that's not the most valuable thing they were looking to get from Saturday's trade. They wanted the roster spot, and even more important, the rotation spot. They want to see if Tommy Milone can pitch like he did with Oakland this year, where he won six games and posted a 3.55 ERA -- lower than anyone in the Twins' rotation. (He also now cannot reach six years of service time until after the 2018 season, giving the Twins an extra year of control before he reaches free agency.) They also have Ricky Nolasco coming back next week, presuming Sunday's rehab start in Cedar Rapids goes well, and they are committed to giving Trevor May his shot, too. So even with Correia gone, the Twins have six starters in their rotation for the moment. Yohan Pino is 30 years old, probably not part of the team's longterm future, and has been OK, but not great, since joining the Twins. It's entirely possible he's pitching for his job Tuesday in Houston, and it's also possible that it might not matter much.
As for Correia, he'll be remembered by the statistics he posted, which aren't particularly good, especially this season. But Ron Gardenhire said "he's been a pleasure, nothing but a pleasure," and that's a universal sentiment in the clubhouse. Correia's laid-back California demeanor made him all but impossible to fluster, a valuable trait in a clubhouse where the losing takes a toll. He also delivered exactly what the Twins were looking for when they signed him: Innings. He never lived up to the promise of his first month with the team, when he went at least seven innings in all five starts and posted a 2.23 ERA. But he rarely missed a turn, consumed 314 innings and while he was no ace, he did deliver 30 quality starts. "I know he had some ups and downs, but he always seemed to give us a chance," Gardenhire said.
Correia also had nice things to say about his team, between goodbye hugs. "I enjoyed every minute of it. The guys on the team and the coaching staff, everyone was great," he said. "I wish we had won more games, obviously. But besides that, I couldn't have enjoyed my time any more in Minnesota and with this organization."
The trade also had one other nice side effect: It served to deflect all of the postgame spotlight from Trevor May, who absolutely suffered through a nightmare debut. He walked seven batters, recorded only six outs and seemed to fall apart on the mound. But he stood up and answered questions after the game, which couldn't have been easy, either. "I missed a couple pitches to [Eric] Sogard there in the second [inning], and let things snowball a little bit," he said of his five-walk, three-run, 42-pitch inning. "When you're struggling to throw strikes, every pitch is a constant battle to get it back, and I didn't do a good job of that." He said he can learn from the experience, and he'll get a chance. Gardenhire made it clear that May will start when his turns comes up next, presumably Friday in Target Field against the Royals.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- After watching one newcomer make his first start, the Twins made room for another.
Tommy Milone, acquired from the A's at the trade deadline, will start for the Twins on Monday in Houston, replacing Kevin Correia, who was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers during Saturday's game, the team announced afterward.
The Twins will receive a player to be named later or cash in the transaction.
Corriea, signed to a two-year, $10 million contract in December 2012, gave the Twins 314 innings for their money, posting a 4.49 ERA and a 14-26 record in 54 starts for Minnesota. His 13 quality starts this season (after providing 16 more in 2013) were tied for the most on the Twins, despite a 5-13 record and 4.94 ERA.
"He's been a pleasure. He's very professional, a guy that's going to be missed out there," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Last year, he was our best pitcher, our most consistent pitcher. And this year, I know he had some ups and downs, but he always seemed to give us a chance."
For Correia, who turns 34 next month, it's a chance to go back home to California. The San Diego native has pitched for the Giants and Padres, so he knows the NL West well. But he said he wasn't looking to leave, though going to a first-place team is intriguing.
"It's always tough leaving guys you've played with for awhile, they've become good friends," he said. "But it will be nice to go somewhere and play some important baseball games at the end of the year. It's a place I'm familiar with, so it's exciting."
The move was made in order to add Milone to the rotation, joining Saturday's starter Trevor May in a revamped fivesome. Milone, a 27-year-old lefthander, allowed only one run in his debut for AAA Rochester last week, and considering he has a career 3.84 ERA in 80 major-league games, including a 6-3 record and 3.55 ERA this year for the Athletics, the Twins didn't want to wait to add him.
"We're going to get him up here. He pitched really well for his start in Triple-A. We did that to see where we're going, and we've made a spot now, and he's going to get the ball," Gardenhire said. "We're excited to have him. We know he can pitch in the big leagues."
The manager said he was happy for Correia, too, since the Dodgers have the best record in the National League. "He's going to a team in a pennant race, which is good. He deserves that," Gardenhire said. "And [to] California, where he can play a lot of golf. He likes that, too."
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The interest in Trevor May's major-league debut is startlingly high. Hundreds of fans were lined up at the O.co Coliseum gates five hours before first pitch, and there's a festive mood in the stands during batting practice.
OK, maybe the crowd thing has more to do with Tony LaRussa bobblehead night, but it's still going to be a fun atmosphere for May's first game. The A's may not draw the biggest crowds -- it's been 20,000 each of the first two nights -- but they do a good job of backing their team here, with soccer-style chants, flags and the swaying to the sax music of "Careless Whisper" when Josh Reddick bats.
Maybe the mellow music will keep May from getting too keyed up, because he knows nerves are his biggest obstacle tonight. Well, nerves and the highest-scoring offense in the majors. May will be pitching to his Rochester teammate Eric Fryer, with Kurt Suzuki getting a night off before tomorrow's day game.
Here are the lineups for tonight's game, as the Twins try to break an 11-game losing streak to Oakland:
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