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.
It was amusing to watch the postgame session with Gardy for FSN after Monday's Twins victory when he talked about the game and ended one of his thoughts by noting that some people have been writing that his team has been struggling. I took it as a cheerful chirp, although one of the FSN guys afterward called it "a shot."
Every now and again, people ask why I don't write more about the announcers, with the implication that any two people on a sofa in Edina or a bar stool at B-Dubbs could do a better job, which is pretty silly. We all have our stuff to do. TV and radio guys talk for hours on end, even when they might not have hours of great material. Beat writers and columnists offer up analysis that has the benefit of more perspective, more independence and more access than the rest of us have. Bloggers can sleep on stuff if they want and decide whether or not they have anything to add.
If anyone thinks the Dick 'n' Bert roles (or the studio or the radio jobs) are easy, you're wrong. That's one of the reasons I've become especially fond of Dan Gladden over the years as he's combined his rough-hewn honesty about the game with a radio presence that improves every year. Try talking your way through a game some time, staying on point and fresh, even on your sofa or at the bar.
(Now, for one of my favorite transitions: That being said...)
That being said, it was interesting to take a night off -- for the most part -- from the home team view in favor of watching the ESPN crew. Yes, one of the guys stumbled over Ryan Doumit's name and there was some naive-sounding stuff more geared to those who don't see the Twins as often as we do.
It was an interesting contrast to the local call.
This one could go on and on. But here's what i was struck by: As the ESPN guys were parsing Carl Pavano's performance, increasing their praise as the night went on and he found his groove, they went back and wondered whether Pavano gave up home runs to the first two Yankees batters -- Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson -- because he wasn't totally ready to pitch. One of them (and I apologize for not keeping track of whether it was Aaron Boone or Rick Sutcliffe) said it could have been because of the long first inning.
And they could have been totally wrong.
On the FSN postgame, Ron Coomer dismissed the home run pitches as one that Jeter "inside-outed" over the wall in right and Granderson's as a low and inside pitch that some left-handed batters are just bound to hit deep.
And Coomer could have been totally right.
They were two hugely different perspectives.
We all bring different perspectives to the ballpark or the sofa. Some of us will go to Target Field whether the Twins are 20 games under .500 or 20 games over. Others will become much more occasional followers, or claim to be, anyway. Some will really go away until things get better. And, again, all of those are appropriate.
I keep reminding myself that Dick 'n' Bert, and Cory 'n' Dan, and Anthony 'n' Robbie 'n' Marney 'n' Coomer 'n' Roy 'n' Kevin 'n' Tim Laudner are talking to a wide audience while representing a narrow perspective -- their employers. I understand that (even if I'm totally at a loss to explain the "Fox Sports North Girls," but that's for another day) and I'm not going to jump them for doing what they're paid to do.
That being said: Yes, Gardy, your team has been struggling. I know that you know it, too.
Yeah, it would have been fun to watch Jim Thome hit home run No. 600 at Target Field.
But for the Twins and their fans, Monday's excitement came at precisely the right time. We all know how badly the season has gone, and it was nice for a night not to have to think about that. If the struggles ruined your excitement about Thome's milestone, get help.
It kind of caught us by surprise. Thome hasn't exactly been thumping homer after homer in the way that he did when he joined the Twins in 2010, and his health has been an ongoing thread -- which shouldn't come as a surprise given he turns 41 later this month -- that kept him from reaching 600 sooner.
While they weren't moon shots at the Target Field flagpole, both of Monday's homers were healthy opposite-field blasts that spoke to Thome's prowess as one of baseball's greatest all-time sluggers. He became the eighth player ever to reach 600, and I know that many of us keep lists in our heads in which he ranks higher, owing to the drug taint that surrounds three of the guys ahead of him on the list.
The only thing that sullied the achievement was in the lead-up on Monday, with the sarcastic yammering in the TV booth about Derek Jeter and his 3,000th hit earlier this season. Someone explain where that came from. I hope our mindset isn't such that we need to denigrate the attention paid to another future Hall of Famer's achievements in order to feel better about the local guy. Somehow, I don't imagine the Yankees broadcast crew making mock of Thome's achievement because it came during such a disappointing season or by a guy who hasn't played the field since 2007.
A friend emailed this morning wondering whether the right thing for the Twins to do now would be to trade Thome to a team that has a chance at the World Series. You know, put him on the plane with the Yankees at the end of the weekend or send him to Texas or whatever.
I'm against it.
I'd feel differently if Thome had never played in the postseason, but he's made it often enough to have been in 67 games in nine different seasons. You'll remember that he propelled the White Sox into the 2008 playoffs at Twins' expense by hitting the home run in that 1-0 victory in Game 163.
Just because Thome's 600th didn't happen at Target Field doesn't mean we shouldn't have chances to celebrate his achievement and his entire body of work. I want Thome to stay healthy enough and Gardy to give him enough at-bats that he can take serious aim at the nine home runs needed to catch Sammy Sosa for seventh place on the home run list.
Given the state of the season, that would be an excellent quest.
Here's an excellent blog post about Thome by Joe Posnanski. It's worth another five minutes of your day.
The 1990 Twins were a bad team. They won 74 games and finished in the bottom half of just about any statistical category you could name -- at bat and on the pitcher's mound. A couple of guys who were better suited to reserve roles were in the lineup as regulars and some of the veterans had poor seasons.
Changes needed to be made -- and changes were made. The 1991 World Series winners were a pretty extreme makeover of the 1990 team, and that's why we're celebrating the 20th anniversary of a Twins' World Series championship this weekend.
Here's the shorthand version of what was done:
The pitcher who threw the most innings in 1990 was Allan Anderson, a one-tine ERA title winner whose record slipped to 7-18 in 1990. There was nothing hard-luck about that record. In his place at the top of the rotation was Jack Morris, signed as a free agent to a one-year deal. And Scott Erickson, in his first full major-league season, got off to a spectacular start and won 20 games. Anderson became the fourth starter behind Morris, Erickson and Kevin Tapani, who was part of the haul the Twins received by sending Frank Viola to the Mets.
Popular third baseman Gary Gaetti, a hero of 1987, batted .229 in 1990 with a .274 on-base percentage and 18 errors at third base. In 1991, he was playing for the Angels and replaced by Mike Pagliarulo, a veteran who had played for the Yankees and caused the Twins all kinds of grief when he played against them.
Gene Larkin was the primary DH in 1990. He was a switch-hitter who had OK numbers -- five home runs and a .392 slugging percentage. Numbers like that don't win titles, no matter how many little things are done right. The Twins went out and picked up Chili Davis, who hit 29 home runs and was a fearsome presence in the middle of the lineup. Larkin still appeared in 98 regular-season games in 1991 and got the Game 7 hit that you'll likely see more than once over the next few days.
Playing second base most of the time in 1990 was Al Newman, a wonderful and valuable utility player. In 1991, he was replaced by rookie Chuck Knoblauch, who brought the Twins more offense and more speed without losing anything on defense. Newman resumed his valuable role as a utility player, appearing in 118 games, mostly as a middle infielder but at one time or another playing every infield spot and left field. Newer fans know Newman as a cheerful presence; older fans know him as tough.
The 1987 Twins were the weakest of the four division winners and took advantage of the Metrodome and an injury-depleted St. Louis roster to win the World Series -- advantages that mattered not one bit to the local celebrants but that played in the background when the season's outcome was discussed more globally. (It should be noted there was nothing fluky about the thumping those '87 Twins gave much-favored Detroit in the Championship Series that year.)
The 1991 Twins were solidly constructed and played with a surly confidence that doesn't exist among the current Twins. If there were any lingering doubts about the soft, immature and inconsistent nature of the current club, they were put on display yet again for those who suffered through Thursday night's game. You could hear the frustration in Bert's voice when he was talking about Francisco Liriano's lack of maturity and Danny Valencia's soft slide into home in the eighth inning. (Did anyone hear how Gladden described that play -- and would care to share?)
The '91 group had to be that tough to successfully battle Atlanta through one of the best weeks of baseball ever played. I wasn't covering the Twins by then, but I was asked to write stories for the front page of the Star Tribune -- an assignment described as "writing about the game for people who don't want to read the sports section"
OK, a little vanity here:
Here's my Game 6 story.
And here's Game 7.
I was lucky to be there.
Back to today. Yes, we're all disappointed in the current Twins -- some more than others. But the roadmap that was used by general manager Andy MacPhail and his baseball staff back then is one that Bill Smith should take quite seriously. It's history well worth studying.
A few years back, a guy I knew who worked at the racetrack told me about his cousin, who'd been hired as a minor-league umpire. I went out to upstate New York and hung out with Jeff and his partner for the first two games of their professional umpiring careers. Those two New York-Penn League games were a lot like what I watched Thursday night -- except that the umpiring was better in the minors.
The umps didn't beat the Twins. Joe West flubbed two calls against the Twins at second base and Rob Drake blew one at first. The home plate ump, Dan Bellino, tried to even things out when he appeared to miss three straight strikes on pitches thrown by Detroit's closer in the 11th -- when the Twins tied the score one last time before Gerald Laird's golf-swing homer in the 13th.
Wait a second. Those New York-Penn League teams I saw would have been able to turn a few of the half-dozen or so double plays that both teams fouled up Thursday night. That was more like the American Legion team in northwestern Minnesota I wrote about many, many years ago. (You guys know who you are.)
It was that ugly -- and the second time in three games that the Twins performed like a team 23 1/2 games out of first place instead of a team with a 3 1/2-game lead. That's troublesome.
There's no sense doing much dissection. The bullpen spit up a four-run lead on a night when the two end relievers were unavailable -- and the relieving started earlier than expected because Scott Baker left after two innings with a sore elbow. Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young "tried" grounding into game-ending double plays in the 11th, but the Tigers fumbled both of those chances away.
(La Velle's blog has an excellent post-game update on the state of the pitching staff and what might happen today. Given their fragile health -- and Gardy's preference for managing batter/pitcher match-ups -- I'm surprised there weren't more bodies called up when the roster limit expanded on Wednesday.)
There was no reason to watch this game if you didn't care about the Twins.
That's all. I've got to refocus and get ready for today's trip to the State Fair, where I'll be at the Star Tribune booth from 11:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
If my hour at the State Fair goes like this game, the following will happen: I'll spill a beer on my shirt. I'll drop the cheese curds that someone brings me as an offering. I'll smack my head against the Star Tribune booth overhang. Somebody's toddler will barf on my shoes. I'll knock someone's drink from their hand when I turn to say "Hello" to someone else. I'll stab myself with a Pronto Pup stick. I'll accidently drop an F-bomb. I'll spill someone else's beer. And then the hour will be over.
But we're going to be better than that. Much better. Today's schedule: A State Fair appearance and then tickets in Section 219.
That's a double play I won't mess up.
Just about the first thing I did when we got home from Target Field after the game was check to see how many guys Phil Coke has hit this year and during his pro baseball career.
Before he smoked Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel in consecutive at-bats, Coke had hit two of the 225 batters he'd faced this season. The others were Robinson Cano and Travis Hafner.
In his major league career before last night, Coke had hit three of the 515 batters he'd faced.
In Class AA and AAA, Coke threw 137 2/3 innings. He never hit a batter.
On the Twins side of the hit-batter stats: Mauer has been hit by two pitches, Kubel by three and the Twins by 30, which is third-lowest in the majors. Comparisons? Carlos Quentin and Juan Pierre, the White Sox' diving team, have been hit by 35 combined. Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder in Milwaukee have been hit by 44 combined.
Putting Mauer on base with a runner on second base and two out -- even though Mauer was the go-ahead run -- wasn't out of the realm of reasonable strategy. Mauer has a .395 batting average this season with two outs and runners in scoring position and a .519 on-base percentage in 54 such plate appearances. He is among the extraordinary sliver of ballplayers to treat with extreme caution.
Kubel's numbers in those situations are very good, but not that gaudy.
Michael Cuddyer's two out/RISP numbers are the weakest of the three.
Yes, there is enough circumstantial evidence to convict Coke of crimes against the Twins, and double the people's penalty if Kubel has to miss any games after getting hit in the hand during the winning rally. He had to leave the game in the eighth, which forced the Twins to lose their DH.
But I'm not buying that Coke was throwing at Kubel.
Coke was tough on himself after the game: "That's not baseball," he said in a postgame interview. "That was me sucking. I was ineffectively wild, and I cost us the game and a chance to close the gap."
If the Twins have feelings one way or another, I suspect they'll keep them closely held -- given how Gardy last week deflected his thoughts on the ninth-inning plunking of Jim Thome in Texas. That's wise. If anyone had lashed out Tuesday, it would probably be in frustration as the result of a night in which three players -- Kubel, Brian Fuentes and Orlando Hudson -- joined the too-long list of the banged-up.
If you're a Twins fan, though, it makes perfect sense to work through the issue as you think back on the game. The numbers force you to wonder.
Here's where I'm at:
Detroit came here 10 games down and absolutely needing a three-game sweep to think it had even the remotest chance of getting back into the title race -- and even that was a stretch-and-a-half. So moving the go-ahead run into scoring position -- and sacrificing the favorable Kubel vs. Coke match-up -- just wasn't logical.
I'm settling for the sweet payback of Ryan Perry walking Cuddyer on four pitches to tie the game and Delmon Young coming through with a single to give the Twins a 4-3 lead -- and victory on a night filled with lousy play by the home team.
Now down by 11 games with 30 to play, Tuesday sealed that the Tigers can be relevant only as a spoiler in the season's final month. Root for them against the White Sox next week and the weekend after in the same way you rooted for the White Sox to handle Detroit in the final weekend of last season.
Back to Coke. During his time with the Yankees, and again this season, he was one of those pitchers I didn't like to see come out of the bullpen. He is excellent against lefties and awfully good no matter who's at the plate. It didn't make me happy to see him go to Detroit as part of the Curtis Granderson deal because that meant more chances for him to face the Twins.
If Kubel, the guy who was the team's top RBI guy in August, is sidelined for any length of time -- on top of all the other current injuries and aches -- then Coke will be the rightful subject of Minnesota wrath. (As much wrath as Twins fans can work up for anyone other than A.J. Pierzynski, anyway.) If a Twins player takes Coke deep this week or in Detroit later in the month, the home run trot might be a bit slower than normal. (Don't hold your breath, though. Coke's given up one homer in 54 2/3 innings this season.)
If Coke trots in from the bullpen today or Thursday, he should be booed like a heel wrestler.
But, really, the best revenge for the Twins and their fans is seeing Detroit sitting so far south of the Twins in the standings.
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