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.
Tony Oliva cornered me in the Twins' clubhouse today, and had a clipping from today's paper in his hand. I knew what he was going to say before he even started.
He corrected my error, in no uncertain terms. But there's a 49-year-old error that he can't get fixed.
In searching for context for Oswaldo Arcia's 11th home run of the season on Tuesday night, I did a computer search for home runs by a Twin in his first season, which showed that Arcia ranked sixth -- or so I thought. But in searching for "first" season instead of "rookie" season, I slighted Tony O, Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek, Tom Brunanski, Justin Morneau, and every other Twin who spent a few days in the big leagues before their official "rookie" season.
Jimmie Hall, I wrote in Wednesday's Star Tribune, holds the Twins' rookie record for home runs with 33, with Marty Cordova second. In reality, Hall is the record holder, but Oliva's 32 in 1964 is second-most; my search credited Oliva with zero, since he had nine at-bats in 1962, his "first" season.
But Oliva had another tidbit: He should be tied with Hall for the Twins' rookie record. "They missed one in Anaheim," he told me of that 1964 season. "I hit a ball high, and it came down behind the fence, but [the umpires] said it bounced over it." He was awarded a ground-rule double, he said, and was robbed of what would have been his 33rd homer.
So for the record, Arcia's 11 homers puts him in a tie for 18th place among rookies in Twins' history. Here's the complete, and correct, top 10. And my apologies to Tony Oliva; I never meant to slight No. 6.
33 - Jimmie Hall, 1963
32 -- Tony Oliva, 1964
25 -- Gary Gaetti, 1982
24 -- Marty Cordova, 1995
23 -- Kent Hrbek, 1982
22 -- Bobby Darwin, 1972
20 -- Tom Brunansky, 1982
19 -- Justin Morneau, 2004
16 -- Rich Rolllins, 1962
15 -- Lew Ford, 2004
15 -- Dan Ford, 1975
On to tonight's game. The Twins' base stealers were on the field before batting practice, working with coaches Joe Vavra, Scott Ullger and Cedar Rapids hitting coach Tommy Watkins on taking good leadoffs and getting better jumps.
The Twins think Alex Presley seems a little hesitant about when to go, and they want their runners to be more aggressive. They rank 13th in stolen bases, and with some of the speed they have on the roster now, they'd like to be more successful at putting pressure on opposing pitchers. It's also a good message that, even with just 19 games remaining, they haven't stopped working.
Josh Willingham remains in the sixth spot in the lineup, where he homered twice last night. Eduardo Escobar is in the lineup for the first time since the All-Star break, playing third base. But manager Ron Gardenhire didn't want Trevor Plouffe's bat out of the lineup, so he's the designated hitter.
Here are tonight's lineups as the Twins try to win their third straight game:
Jarrod Parker never loses. Liam Hendriks never wins. So of course the Twins beat the A's on Tuesday.
The Parker-Hendriks matchup was instructive in how statistics can deceive, and how perceptions color what you see. Neither starting pitcher was involved in the decision, which isn't unusual for either one. It's the fourth no-decision in seven starts this year for Hendriks, and the 12th in 29 starts for Parker.
Their career paths could not be more different, however. Hendriks has started 27 career games and owns only two wins. Parker, only 10 weeks older than Hendriks, has 24 wins in 59 career starts. Though he started the season by going 1-5, Parker has not lost a game since May 22, a streak of starts that reached 19 tonight, just two shy of Lefty Grove's 21 straight for the 1931 A's. (One other amazing stat: Parker has never taken a loss in a game in which the A's scored three or more runs.)
The statistics say they had a pretty comparable night. Hendriks recorded 16 outs, Parker 18. Each allowed seven hits. Hendriks struck out six (a modest career-high) and walked none, though he hit two batters, and regretted both. Parker walked three, none to any effect, and struck out four. Parker allowed two solo home runs, Hendricks one homer and three runs.
Yet while Hendriks had only allowed two baserunners through the fourth inning, and Parker had given up four hits and a Josh Willingham homer, it always felt like the A's righthander was in control, and the Twins' was trying to hang on.
"It was labor. He really worked at it. A lot of fastballs -- he really didn't have much of a breaking ball. Some decent change-ups," manager Ron Gardenhire said of his starter. "The best you can say is, he hung in there, he never gave up the big inning. But the pace of the game wasn't very good. There were a lot of big counts. He hung in there, he didn't implode. He didn't put us deep in the hole, but it wasn't his best performance."
Parker, however, never seemed anything but in total control -- even if the stats say he was just so-so.
"He's a really good pitcher. You saw the great change-up -- that's the best changeup I've seen him have. We've heard he's gotten a lot better, well he definitely has," Gardenhire said. "Early in the game, lot of guys were rolling over balls. He had late movement with some good sink on it."
So doesn't Hendriks worry that the perception of his ability might be colored by his inability to record a win?
"It gets a little frustrating, but that's how it goes. Hopefully i can stay here long enough to let it swing the other way, and I go on a streak," he said. "I'm starting to feel good, and keeping the team in the game. ... I know the coaching staff, as long as I'm improving, it'll be good."
-- Yoenis Cespedes is a fast runner, but he has a reputation for being a mistake-prone baserunner, and he lived up to that with a critical error on Tuesday. The Cuban slugger was on first base, and Brandon Moss on second, with one out in the sixth inning, when Alberto Callaspo hit a fly ball to the warning track in center.
Alex Presley caught the ball, turned and fired it in. Moss tagged up and moved up to third -- and Cespedes decided to move up, too.
Big mistake. Presley nailed Cespedes at second, killing a good scoring opportunity. It was the Twins' 42nd outfield assist of the season, second by Presley, which is the fourth-most in Twins history.
"That was a big play," Gardenhire said, and not just by Presley. "[Pedro] Florimon, who was out [in the outfield], recognized it, came back and made a nice play himself on getting back to the bag and making the tag."
If won't be easy for the Twins to hide their jealousy this week. Over the next six days, they'll get a close-up look at two of the best young starting rotations in baseball, players who are getting outs now and are still early in their careers.
Jarrod Parker is the first example tonight, and he hasn't done much this season except get mentioned in the same sentence as Lefty Grove, perhaps the greatest pitcher in baseball history. Parker hasn't lost a game since May 22, and while the A's haven't always won his starts -- they're 16-12 when he pitches this season, and have blown three leads after he's left the game -- he's now gone 18 straight starts without taking a loss. That streak eclipsed Catfish Hunter's in his last outing, and he's only three away from Grove's club record, set with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1931.
Tomorrow comes Sonny Gray, the A's first-round pick in 2011 who has posted a 2.61 ERA in his first eight major-league appearances, and on Thursday it's A.J. Griffin, who has won 13 games including his last three in a row.
Over the weekend, the Rays will use Rookie of the Year candidate Chris Archer, then tough lefties Matt Moore and David Price. Yeah, there's some pitching on display at Target Field this week; the combined statistics of the six starters Minnesota will face totals a 3.46 ERA in nearly 800 innings, with a 57-35 record.
But the most amazing statistic may be this one: At 28, Price is the old man of this group. None of the other five starting pitchers is older than 25.
Both visitors need strong performances, too, as they remain locked into some great races for playoff spots. Oakland is two games ahead of Texas in the A.L. West, while Tampa Bay is holding on to the final wildcard spot, a game and a half ahead of Baltimore and Cleveland.
Of course, the Twins faced Jared Weaver last night and did OK, so maybe this week will be a confidence-builder.
Chris Parmelee is at first base in a big-league game for the first time since July, and slumping Josh Willingham will bat sixth for the first time since July 27, 2009, when he was with the Nationals. Willingham is batting .153 with two homers in 27 games since returning from knee surgery in August.
Here are tonight's lineups:
A couple of quick leftovers before heading home from Texas:
-- Josmil Pinto and Alex Presley continue to hit like veterans, not newcomers. Presley had two more hits Wednesday to raise his average to .389 in his first four games with the Twins, while Pinto came off the bench and laced a single to left, lifting his major-league totals to 7-for-10. Not bad.
Presley said he's not surprised by his production; it's always a matter of playing time for him, he said. He'll certainly get a long look this September, as the Twins prepare for next season. I'll be interested to see how much playing time Clete Thomas, who filled in admirably once the Twins send Aaron Hicks to Triple-A in July, gets with Presley here. It's funny, Presley is considered a kinda-sorta young guy, and Thomas a journeyman, yet Thomas is only one year older.
Pinto, too, is going to get a lot of playing time, especially if Joe Mauer doesn't catch again this season, as the Twins consider whether he can make the jump from Double-A that was so difficult for Hicks. He'll split time with Chris Herrmann behind the plate (and maybe Ryan Doumit occasionally), but he looks like Mauer's eventual successor, at least in the Twins' eyes.
-- It was nice to see Ryan Pressly finally get into a game here. He's a native of suburban Dallas, and has had family and friends in the stands for all six games in the state this week, but hadn't gotten into a game. He finally did on Wednesday, and pitched very well, allowing only two hits and no runs while recording 11 outs. It was his fifth outing of the season that went more than 3 innings without a run; that ties him with Josh Collmenter of Arizona for the most this year.
HOUSTON -- The Twins come home after this afternoon's game at Minute Maid Park, but you have to wonder why.
They're 4-1 on this trip so far, and yes, they probably wouldn't mind playing Houston a lot more often, but they spent the weekend in Arlington, too.
In fact, the Twins are 15-10 since the All-Star break away from Target Field, and just 7-13 in their home park. They've gone 4-3, 4-3, 3-3 and now 4-1 on their trips, so they haven't had a losing trip since early July.
Last season was the first time in this century that the Twins won more games on the road than at home, but they appear headed to a similar fate this year. They are 33-40 on the road heading into today's matinee finale (sorry, no TV), with one trip left to Chicago and Oakland, and 28-36 at home. They won 35 road games last season, and should improve on that this year.
Can't think of a reason why they've been better out of Target Field the past two seasons. Can you?
Ron Gardenhire can't, for the most part. "I've never been able to figure out those cycles of baseball," the manager said. "But guys get frustrated at Target Field. We hit a lot of long fly balls there. ... I just think right now, we're putting too much pressure on ourselves at home."
Here are the lineups, as the Twins try to sweep a season series for the first time since winning all seven games against Baltimore in 2007:
Ron Gardenhire said "a bunch of stuff happened" during Tuesday's 12-inning game, played before a tiny crowd -- the manager called it an "everybody-gets-a-foul-ball crowd" -- in Minute Maid Park. Here are just a couple of them:
Chris Colabello ran off the field like he had just shoplifted someone's glove in the seventh inning Tuesday, trying to play it like he had planned one of the game's most critical plays all along.
"I'm going, 'Yeah, I was setting him up,' " Colabello said of his fumble, recovery and perfect throw home to nail Brandon Barnes at the plate as he tried to score what would have been the tying run in a 4-3 game at the time. "They were saying, 'You fooled him.' "
But he came clean after the game. "I wouldn't say it was on purpose, no," Colabello confessed of the 1-4-3-2 putout. "I'm just glad it worked out."
There were two outs, with Marwin Gonzalez on first base and Barnes on third with the tying run, when pitcher Brian Duensing caught Gonzalez heading for second base. Gonzalez froze, Barnes edged a few steps closer to the plate, and Brian Dozier tried to decide what to do.
When it appeared Barnes would retreat toward third, Dozier ran Gonzalez toward first a couple of steps, then threw the ball to Colabello. That's when things slowed down for the first baseman.
"I was moving to take the ball out of my glove, and it was like slow motion. I felt it going off my hand, and I thought, 'This ball's going to fall out of my glove,' " Colabello said of his apparent error. But the ball merely dropped to the ground in front of him, only a couple of feet away. "As it was happeneing, I was processing it. I thought, if he tries to break on me, I've got a shot at getting him out."
Sure enough, Barnes decided Colabello couldn't recover, and broke for the plate. But the first baseman didn't panic.
"I knew when Doz threw the ball, he had taken a step back. He definitely didn't have momentum going home," Colabello said. "My first instinct was to turn toward home," and he made a good throw to Josmil Pinto at the plate, who easily tagged Barnes as he ran past.
"It's something you don't see too often, but I'm glad it worked out," Colabello said. "But it was definitely not on purpose."
Maybe it should be.
Josh Roenicke earned his first American League save on Wednesday. Maybe he should be credited with two.
The Twins' reliever jumped into action when called upon Tuesday, not by throwing strikes, but by taking off his belt.
"Good thing he was right there," Mastroianni said with a smile.
That's because, when Joe Altuve launched a deep drive to the left-field warning track leading off the fourth inning, Mastroianni had to dive to reach it, sliding on his stomach as he held up the ball. When he got to his feet, right in front of the Twins' bullpen, "I noticed my belt had broke in half," Mastroianni said. "Roenicke was right there, and he gave me his and we made a quick change. I didn't have much time, so I got it off and on in a hurry."
He should have seen this coming. Mastroianni forgot to pack his uniform belt for the road trip, "so I just took an old one from one of the cases," he said. "It was an old one, and it snapped on me."
The holes in the bullpen fence were just big enough to get the belt buckle through, Mastroianni said, but the outfield doesn't afford much privacy. "I was kind of hoping they weren't showing it," he said of his switch. "But then I saw it was up there [on the giant video board] the whole time."
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