Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
As a friend of mine posted on his Facebook page: "And all these years I blamed Joe Nathan."
The Twins have now been swept in consecutive postseason by the Yankees and, incredibly, they have lost 12 ALDS games in a row to the Yankees and Oakland. It's hard to be that bad.
And "bad" is the proper word.
Yes, it's great to win division titles and I've been in the camp that I'd rather have all of those titles than go the White Sox way of winning one World Series (2005) and disappointing in most other recent seasons. I'm still there, although I acknowledge the bias may come from the thrill of being that old, so I remember pretty vividly what it was like in 1987 and '91.
If I was an under-35 Twins fan, and most of what I know of those magical seasons came from reading and oral history, maybe I'd be more inclined to the White Sox view because I'd need to experience what the older folks did.
But damn, I feel like I'm seeing the Timberwolves here, with Joe Mauer as Kevin Garnett and Ron Gardenhire as Flip Saunders.
So, yeah, it's frustrating.
And from the look of the quick vent-here post I put up after the Game 3 loss, there's little but glum out there.
Looking back, there are three things I wish Gardy had done differently during the series. Yeah, I know these are backwards-looking second guesses -- and one of them will be a reversal of my previous point of view. It that troubles you, so be it.
1. The Yankees set a tone for the series when CC Sabathia knocked Jim Thome on his butt during Game 1 -- twice. The Twins went three games without pitching inside by design. The Twins should have sent that same message in Game 1. You think the crowd wouldn't have been a bit more fired up if Francisco Liriano had decked A-Rod or Mark Teixeira last Wednesday. The Yankees were so profoundly comfortable at the plate, and the Twins didn't do anything about it. Owning the plate is part of pitching.
2. This is a reversal of my previous position. Gardy should have brought in Brian Fuentes to replace Liriano and face Curtis Granderson in the sixth inning of Game 1. No, not Jose Mijares, the unreliable lefty in the bullpen who was warming up at the time. Gardy should have gone with the shutdown lefty and set a tone right then and there. Previously, I'd been in the only-the-sixth-inning-and-you-might-need-Fuentes-later camp, which is fine for July. I was wrong, but I'm not the manager. Granderson tripled off Liriano and the 3-2 lead became a 4-3 deficit and the Yankees had rallied a-friggin'-gain.
Sunday afternoon, with the Rays ahead of Texas 5-0, the Rangers opened the bottom of the sixth with a home run and a single and had left-handed David Murphy coming to bat. Joe Maddon brought in Randy Choate, his only lefty reliever, to face Murphy. Choate doesn't have Fuentes' ability, but is tough on lefties. Murphy doesn't struggle against lefties as much as Granderson, but it was still a better match-up for the Rays. Davis had thrown fewer pitches that Liriano.
Murphy hit a weak grounder for the first out, Maddon got Choate out of the game and the Rays went on to a 5-2 victory that's forcing a Game 5 on Tuesday.
Gardy (and many of us) missed another potentially tone-setting moment. You can manage one way against a dozen other American League teams during the regular season, but this was October and the Yankees. And, yes, I'm fine with drawing a distinction between me changing my mind and Gardy getting it wrong on the front end. He's the professional in the dugout. Same way that you can have higher standards for those of us who write the stories, columns and blogs than the people who comment on 'em. If you're down on us, throw a brick.
3. Gardy needed to make a change, however modest, in his Game 3 personnel. J.J. Hardy contributed little; Alexi Casilla, inconsistent as he may be, had added some fire during his limited appearances over the final weeks of the season. Hardy was coming off a 1-for-7 in the first two games and went hitless Saturday in three more at-bats. It would have been a small thing, but sending the same group onto the field at Yankee Stadium felt like it sent a tone of resignation before the first pitch was thrown.
Set a tone... Make a move... Don't look like you're giving up.
Maybe it wouldn't have made much difference, but baseball-as-usual didn't cut it.
Time to look ahead and figure out what's next, which will force us to revisit some of the recent unpleasantness. So there more to come. What do you think should be done?
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