Editor’s note: We were supposed to be sitting in the stands later today watching baseball. The Twins were to play six games over seven days at home. We won’t have that, but we still need baseball. We’ve asked Patrick Reusse to bring us baseball each morning. This is Patrick’s (Target) Field of Dreams.
The windup: Action resumed Saturday with Game 2 of the Twins’ six-game opening homestand. The starters were two righthanders, 27-year-old journeyman Steve Luebber for the Twins and 20-year-old rookie Tommy Boggs for the Texas Rangers.
The ceremonial first pitch was tossed by Joe Driscoll, townball legend for his hometown of Le Sueur and points … well, choose a direction.
The game: The Twins unveiled a hitting attack of great potential in Florida exhibitions, with Rod Carew, Lyman Bostock, Disco Dan Ford and Larry Hisle being joined by rookie catcher Butch Wynegar, yet the complaining about ownership not adding to thin starting pitching has carried its own hashtag on Twitter:
This was the conversation as Luebber took the hill to face Texas on Saturday. He had been in the Twins rotation for 12 starts five years earlier, compiling an ERA over 5.00, and spent almost all of the next four years in the minors.
Certainly, this start for Luebber was another sign of new manager Gene Mauch’s desperation.
Luebber was long past the hot prospect days, when he went 17-11 with a 1.78 ERA and pitched 237 innings for the Twins’ Class A team in the Florida State League. And even Luebber’s previous start — a 3-0 shutout of Oakland — came with this caution:
The A’s had eight hits and drew six walks, making it almost a mathematical impossibility for them to fail to get a run (or five). Yet, that constant traffic on the bases did nothing to lessen a renewed confidence for Luebber.
“Our pitching coach, Don McMahon, showed me if I kept my arms farther away in my motion, I could get more body into the pitch and increase my velocity,” Luebber said after the eight-hit shutout. “That’s what has happened.”
Modern analytics, folks. They have fixed many a pitcher. And maybe Luebber will be next, considering this:
On Saturday, facing the Rangers with a smallish crowd and a Minnesota zephyr howling straight in from center to the right-field corner, Stephen Lee Luebber of Joplin, Mo., came within one strike of throwing a no-hitter.
When the drama was over, Luebber wondered if his parents back in Joplin had been listening.
“They usually get the game on the Twins network on a station out of Des Moines,” he said. “My mother had a kitten or two if she heard that.”
Mom would have been spared that anxiety if not for a fielding play by Twins first baseman Rod Carew in the second inning. Mike Hargrove scorched a ball targeted for the right-field corner, and Carew turned it into an out with a diving stop.
“That was a double, except for Mr. Carew,” Mauch said.
Luebber was perfect through six innings, then his longtime bugaboo — control — got to him in the seventh, with a pair of walks. A throwing error by second baseman Bobby Randall loaded the bases, before a Luebber fastball earned a pop-up from Toby Harrah.
Into the ninth, one out and then two, with the Target Field crowd standing throughout. Luebber went to a full count on lefthanded-hitting Roy Howell, and then came three foul balls.
“Those foul balls … there was nothing left for me to do but challenge Howell with a fastball,” Luebber said.
Howell drilled that pitch over Luebber’s head into center field. Bostock allowed the ball to skip past him, a single and a two-base error. When Hargrove singled home the unearned run, Mauch brought in Bill Campbell for the final out in Luebber’s 3-1 victory.
“Well, I guess I answered a lot of questions about, ‘Who’s Steve Luebber?’ ” the winning pitcher said later, satisfied with the effort, while being stopped one strike from glory.
Luebber’s near no-hitter was pitched on Aug. 7, 1976, on a Saturday night with the temperature in the 90s at Texas’ Arlington Stadium. The wind was howling toward home plate, helping Luebber to 17 flyouts.
Now 70, Luebber is in his 11th year as pitching coach for Class A Wilmington in the Royals organization, where it’s doubtful his starters are being asked to work 237 innings, as Luebber did for the FSL’s Orlando Twins in 1970.
Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing email@example.com and including his name in the subject line.