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.
Count The Twins' clubhouse is full of boxes these days, boxes and dreariness. September has been brutal, and it's clear most of the team is looking forward to a break from the daily defeats. When Saturday's game ended, four players dressed and left the clubhouse less than 10 minutes after the finish.
From talking to the players, it's clear many of them are just as curious as everyone else about what's going to happen Monday with their manager and the coaching staff. It's a pretty loyal bunch, so much so that Ron Gardenhire said players have come to him to apologize for their, and the team's, poor play this month.
Saturday's game was another example of a pitcher throwing well, but not for long enough. Cole De Vries retired the first 11 hitters he faced, but then put seven of the next 11 on base, giving up five runs in five innings. On Friday, it was Liam Hendriks, pitching pretty well in relief, but only for 4 2/3 innings, and only after the Twins had fallen behind by seven runs.
One player who has made a good impression this month is spare catcher Eric Fryer, who walked twice and drove in Minnesota's only run on Saturday. "He's tough, a tough kid," Gardenhire said. "He's very professional."
Back tomorrow for the final Twins game of the year. One more chance for the Twins to prevent Cleveland from celebrating on their field, and to make a one-game improvement on last year's 96-loss season. Or to finish packing those boxes and just put this year behind them.
SECOND UPDATE: With light rain still falling, the Twins have moved first pitch back again, to 2:30 p.m.
UPDATE: The rain has lightened up, but not stopped, though radar shows it will shortly. The Twins have announced that the game will begin at 2:15 p.m.
There is virtually no chance that today's Twins-Indians game will be rained out, not with Cleveland being tied for the A.L. wild card lead. But a steady rain is falling at Target Field, so it won't start for awhile, either.
The Twins' forecasts show the rain passing within an hour or two, and there is hope that the game could begin around 1 p.m. Fans are already in the ballpark, and a choir even sang the National Anthem, as though the game was starting at its scheduled 12:05 first pitch.
When the game does start, Josmil Pinto will not be in the lineup, though manager Ron Gardenhire said Pinto's right hand, hit by a pitch last night, is merely bruised. He could pinch-hit today, and even catch tomorrow, should Gardenhire choose to use him. But Gardenhire said he wanted Eric Fryer, who the manager said has worked very hard since arriving in the big leagues, to catch today's game.
Speaking of minor injuries, Michael Bourn is back in Cleveland's lineup, after missing a couple of days with a mild sprain of his right wrist.
Here are today's lineups, for whenever the game begins (and check back; I'll post updates when we get them):
De Vries RHP
Except for five frigid April games, and the makeup game three weeks ago against the Angels, tonight's crowd of 24,074 was the smallest of the season at Target Field. Which strikes me as a pretty decent crowd; that's almost 5,000 more fans than the Indians average, and they're probably making the playoffs.
Too bad the Twins fans didn't get a better show for their money, but that's how things have been going lately. Pedro Hernandez put eight of the 12 hitters he faced on base, staked the Indians to a 7-0 lead, and left the paying customers hoping for a big comeback.
They should be used to it by now, because Minnesota's starting pitching, among the worst in the league even at the best of times this year, has really collapsed down the stretch. Hernandez's short start was the 12th time -- twelfth time! -- in September that the starter failed to pitch five innings. And it was the fifth time this month that the starter recorded six outs or fewer.
When you're getting far fewer quality starts (seven this month, three by Kevin Correia) than five-inning-or-less flameouts, there's not much the offense can do. Starting pitchers have a cumulative 6.49 ERA this month.
But there was one important statistical note -- a Twins pitcher finally struck out more than seven hitters. It was Liam Hendriks, in relief of Hernandez, so no starter has done it yet.
Quick turnaround tonight. Since tomorrow's game begins in less than 12 hours -- remember, it's been rescheduled for a 12:05 start for TV -- I'm cutting this short tonight. Back tomorrow to see if the second team in four days clinches a playoff spot on the Target Field turf.
Ron Gardenhire didn't even ask Oswaldo Arcia about his knee on Friday. He saw all he needed to see from Arcia on Thursday, even though the left-handed outfielder struck out to end the game.
"I just stuck him back in there," the Twins' manager said about his lineup tonight against Cleveland's Corey Kluber. "They said he swung good in the cage, felt good in [batting practice]. So I said absolutely, DH him."
Arcia will bat cleanup tonight as the Twins try once more to mess up the Indians' postseason plans. The Indians lead Texas by one game for the second wild-card spot, and trail Tampa Bay by one game for the first one. Remember, postseason berths must be won on the field, not by tiebreakers, so if there is a tie for the final spot, there will be a one-game playoff on Monday, in order to get into Tuesday's one-game playoff.
Arcia had a chance to deal Cleveland a setback last night, facing Bryan Shaw with two outs and two runners on base, down 6-5. But he swung and missed at strike three from the side-armer.
"He's been my best pinch-hitter, really. He was ready; just didn't get the guy," Gardenhire said. "He was definitely the guy I wanted up there. I wanted him to hit a double and win the game."
The Twins are taking what's likely to be their final session of batting practice of the season right now. Tomorrow's game starts at noon, and Sunday is the season finale, so they're not likely to hit either day. I wonder how many of the guys out there now will be on the field the next time the Twins take BP in Target Field.
Here are tonight's lineups:
There were a lot of texts exchanged between the Twins and Pirates clubhouses last night, after Justin Morneau and Francisco Liriano celebrated Pittsburgh's playoff-clinching victory in Chicago. Brian Duensing and Joe Mauer both said they had been in touch with their former teammates, and Ron Gardenhire, too.
"That was nice. [Morneau] was excited," the Twins manager said. "I'm happy for him, to say the least. That's kind of what Terry [Ryan] and I envisioned that day when we talked to him and Terry was telling him, [the trade] is an opportunity to get in the playoffs. We were hoping that would work out for him, and he's getting that chance now. Because he really deserves it."
Torii Hunter is another former Twin who will get to celebrate soon, but last night's Twins rally means it's not quite as certain that the clincher will come here at Target Field. The Tigers' magic number is two, so a Detroit win and Cleveland loss could wrap up the Tigers' third straight A.L. Central title tonight, or it could come tomorrow. It's Doug Fister on the mound for the Tigers today, with Scott Diamond facing him for the Twins.
Joe Mauer is on the field as the Twins take batting practice, the first time he's done that since going on the disabled list last month.
Oswaldo Arcia is limping around after bruising his knee on the outfield wall during batting practice yesterday, so he's out of the lineup. Gardenhire made it sound doubtful that he would be available to pinch-hit.
Justin Verlander hasn't lost to the Twins in his last 13 starts, and there wasn't much of a chance he was going to do so on Monday.
"Just filthy. He was unbelievable," manager Ron Gardenhire said of the Tigers' righthander, who is 4-0 with a 1.89 ERA in his six career starts at Target Field. "I thought there were going to be records set as the game started out. Eight strikeouts in three innings, and I'm going, 'Oh, Chrysler.' "
Actually, Verlander did set a record. His 12 whiffs were the most ever in Target Field history by a visitor, and the 46 he's recorded during his six career starts here are the most all-time by an opponent, too. He might not hold that one long, though; while Jake Peavy held the record with 42 whiffs, Max Scherzer (33) and Justin Masterson (35) are within striking distance, and both will face the Twins this week.
But Gardenhire had a point: Verlander actually struck out 10 batters among his first 11 outs, so finishing with just 12 in six innings wasn't a bad job by the Twins.
And once he was out of the game, having racked up 107 pitches, the Twins' chances improved considerably. They put together a walk and back-to-back doubles in the eighth innings -- yes, one of those elusive hits with runners in scoring position -- to close the gap to 3-2, and set up Dozier's game-tying homer in the ninth.
Lost in the late-inning heroics was the job done by Mike Pelfrey, who came down with the flu before the game but insisted on pitching anyway. He gave the Twins six good innings; only once did he retire the side in order, but he gave up just one run, and pitched out of a huge jam in the fifth inning. After giving up two singles and Torii Hunter's RBI ground-rule double, Pelfrey faced Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder with the game at stake. He struck out the Triple Crown winner, and got Fielder to tap back to the mound, holding Detroit to just one run.
With the six-inning stint, Pelfrey surpassed 150 innings on the season, triggering a $100,000 incentive clause in his contract. And at 152 2/3 innings on the season, Pelfrey needs 7 1/3 innings in his final start -- assuming he gets one; Gardenhire said that decision was up in the air, though general manager Terry Ryan said Pelfrey would likely start again -- to reach 160 innings and a $150,000 bonus. Of course, Pelfrey hasn't gone 7 1/3 innings yet this season, so that money might be out of reach.
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