CHICAGO – The Twins highest-paid player got ejected from the most important game of the season for throwing a temper tantrum after hitting a home run and apparently a segment of fans thought Josh Donaldson’s dirt-kicking routine was both funny and a sign of competitive fire missing from previous teams.
Know what wasn’t funny? Watching Donaldson’s replacement, Ehire Adrianza, strike out on three pitches in the eighth inning with the Twins trailing by one run while Donaldson fumed in the clubhouse.
Yeah, his meltdown was a real hoot.
It was selfish. And completely unnecessary. And it hurt his team.
No, the Twins didn’t lose the series finale against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday because Donaldson got sent to the showers in the sixth inning, but it sure didn’t improve their chances. The team needed his bat and defense late, but he wasn’t available because he had to show up a bad umpire by kicking dirt on home plate after smashing a home run.
“It was a very unusual situation,” manager Rocco Baldelli said before Friday’s opener of the Cubs series. “This is not something that anyone, JD, myself, anyone in the clubhouse wanted to see play out like that. I think that’s obvious to everyone. How he addresses that, or if he addresses that with his teammates, I’m going to leave that up to JD.”
Donaldson was not made available to reporters on zoom after Thursday’s game or before Friday’s game, so his thoughts are unclear. One would assume he apologized in some manner to teammates because he picked a really bad time to lose control of his emotions.
This wasn’t a throwaway game in late July in a 162-game season. What he did still would have seemed like a silly overreaction in that situation, but it would be easier to dismiss as relatively harmless.
The importance of Thursday’s game compounded his antics. The Twins had a chance to keep alive their hopes of winning the division.
Instead, the loss left them three games back of the White Sox with eight games remaining.
Barring a crazy finish, the Twins seem destined to finish as either the No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the American League postseason with the New York Yankees their likely opponent in the first round.
So winning the division in this wacky, condensed season means something, contrary to one working theory among baseball folks.
Those who applauded Donaldson’s outburst believe his fire-in-the-gut competitiveness will give the Twins the necessary machoism to finally stand up to the Bronx bullies. That line of thinking is oversimplified.
The Twins are good enough to win a series and advance deep in the postseason because they have more talent on the roster than previous seasons. Their playoff failures against the Yankees were because of personnel, not personality. They just weren’t good enough.
Fans often equate emotion with competitiveness. If an athlete appears unemotional, well, he must not care enough. Conversely, if an athlete froths at mouth, he must really care about winning.
Don’t be mistaken, I love the bravado and feistiness that Donaldson and reliever Sergio Romo have injected into the clubhouse. They are fearless and won’t be intimidated by any opponent or situation.
But is that the missing ingredient? I tend to think their talent trumps everything else.
Having some bulldog personalities is a positive, a trait we haven’t seen a lot in recent Twins teams. But there is a line that can’t be crossed in the heat of the moment.
Romo has irritated opponents with his emotional displays after strikeouts and his jawing with Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor caused benches to empty and resulted in a one-game suspension for Romo.
“It’s not personal,” Romo said about his on-field intensity during an interview before this season.
“I’m not trying to show anyone up. I’m just showing the emotions that I feel inside. I’m very passionate.”
Nothing wrong with passion and emotion and competitive fight. The Twins need all of that. But when losing a grip hurts the team, there’s nothing funny or constructive about that.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org