La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.
REPORTERS DISCLAIMER: The story in the dead tree edition of Friday's Star Tribune is about the success of he bullpen this season. That story was written well before the bullpen faltered against the A's on Thursday. We try to write an, `early,' to avoid the West Coast deadline crunch.
The following is a report about the game.
La VELLE E. NEAL III
OAKLAND -- It initially looked like two teams were playing out the string on Thursday.
Less than 12,000 fans were in attendance. There was dead grass in center field and a threat of sewage backup in the home dugout. Yet the Overstock.com Coliseum is home to the A.L. West leading Athletics, who entered play with a magic number of five to clinch the division title.
And as the game went on, you began to see why Oakland is in the top spot in the division.
Down 3-2, the A's stormed back to take a lead. When the Twins' youngsters responded, the A's had something for them too.
Coco Crisp then put the Twins away with a two-run homer in the ninth, completing Oakland's 6-4 victory.
``We kept coming back and finally we got a lead and they jumped us right away again,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. ``Not only did they jump us, they hit them in the seats If we kept them in the ballpark we might have had a better opportunity to win it. I was proud of the guys' effort out there.''
The Twins led 3-2 in the sixth. Reliever Brian Duensing retired the first two batters of the inning but Oakland sent Alberto Callaspo up to pinch hit, and the infielder homered to tie the game at 3-3.
This is nothing new from Callaspo, who has been a pest to the Twins from his days as a Royal and Angel. He's a career .295 hitter against them, but his seven homers against the Twins tie for the most against any opponent.
Crisp singled, and Duensing was lifted for Anthony Swarzak. Josh Donaldson singled to put two runners on first and second. Then Jed Lowrie blasted a three-run homer to right-center on a 1-2 pitch to put Oakland ahead 6-3.
But the Twins didn't roll over.
Oswaldo Arcia hit an opposite-field home run off of Brett Anderson in the seventh to make it 6-4. In the eighth, the Twins got a run off of a fielder's choice and another on Brian Dozier's single off of Lawrie.
Shairon Martis was pitching for the Twins at the time. If they had taken the lead, Casey Fien was warmed up and ready to enter the game. Since it was tied, Gardenhire sat down Fien, who had pitched in three for the past four games. Martis looked good in getting through the seventh. He didn't want to burn Fien. So Gardy took the chance.
And Crisp made the Twins pay.
Trevor Plouffe left the game after striking out in the seventh inning. He's been battling a sore left wrist that goes back to when he was at Class AAA Rochester in May on a rehab assignment.
``I don't think it's anything bad, just a bad swing,'' Plouffe said. ``We iced it and I have full range of motion. Hopefully I come in tomorrow and be able to play. That's what I expect.''
What's really bruised is his pride. Plouffe chased a ball into the expansive foul territory here earlier in the game. He reached the mound in the bullpen, stumbled over it and crashed. The fans roared in delight.
``I looked at the replay,'' he said. ``It looked pretty bad. It could have been a lot worse. I know I'm not the first one and know I won't be the last.''
We'll finish this early-morning report with a stat attack:
Well, I was supposed to wake up in San Francisco this morning but storms in Chicago last night delayed my flight three hours. My connecting flight was at MSP, remarkably. So when I did arrive there, it was after midnight. So I went home, slept a few hours, returned to the airport and caught a re-booked flight to SFO.
After a nap (it's been a long season) I now present the postgame blog from 36,005 feet and 505 mph.. For some reason, I could not post this from Midway airport in Chicago.
By the way, you should have been there when a flash flood warning went off on every smartphone at the airport. It was a scene from iRobot as everyone froze then reached for their phones.
Three quick thoughts following the Twins' win over the White Sox
1. QUEST FOR 1,000: If the Twins had lost today (yesterday), I was going to predict that Ron Gardenhire finishes the season stuck on 999 career wins. Today's (yesterday's) win was important in his quest for that milestone All the Twins have to do now is win one game in each of their next three series for him to reach that milestone. Goodness, this has become a grind. I was told that Gardy was extremely happy after the game. Can't blame him for looking forward to No. 1,000.
2. FRYER IMPRESSES: The first pitch Scott Diamond threw on Wednesday was called a strike - and dropped by catcher Eric Fryer. `Probably nerves,'' Gardy said. Fryer dropped a couple more pitches but still earned praise for how he handled Diamond and the other Twins pitchers. He drove in a run too. Don't forget catchers like Fryer. They stick around and eventually land in the right situation. It happened with Eli Whiteside, who was in Twins camp one year but eventually landed a backup job with the Giants and caught Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter in 2009.
3. ROOKIE HAZING: Oswaldo Arcia wore a tight black dress with stockings and a black wig. Josmil Pinto wore a pink wig that matched his dress. Chris Herrmann got off easy. He had to wear an old wrestling singlet. It was annual rookie hazing. Since there are 17 rookies - plus one rookie bullpen catcher - there were a lot of strange outfits in the clubhouse after the victory over the White Sox. I'm sure the persons behind the outfits purchased as many plus sizes as possible, but it just didn't look....right. I'm going to re-tell a hazing story. Several years ago, a certain rookie had to wear a dress on hazing day. He then spent most of the next season in the minors. He was called up for September and had to go through the hazing ritual again. I went up to him and said. ``Man, tough break you had to do this two straight years,'' He replied, ``that's O.K. La Velle. I do this for my wife all the time.'' And with that, I'll be on my way.....
Several players reported to camp on Tuesday, including someone old (Jacque Jones) and someone new (Jim Thome).
Jose Mijares also reported after missing the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers. He had a big smile on his face as he hugged teammates and set up his clubhouse stall. He remained in good spirits even after visiting manager Ron Gardenhire, who was disappointed yesterday that Mijares didn't show up on time.
It's the belief of the media corps - and a couple of the uniformed folk - that Mijares looked about the same size as he was at the end of last season.
Thome, Jones, Jason Kubel, Chris Parmelee and Danny Valencia reported to camp this morning. I think only six or seven players haven't reported yet. Jones has Torii Hunter's old spot in the clubhouse.
Justin Morneau and Alexi Casilla are among the big names not in camp yet. Among the rookies, I'm waiting to see Ben Revere and Estarlin (Starling) De Los Santos get on the field the most. Revere is a top prospect and De Los Santos is supposed to be pretty good.