September 29, 2008

One more day... or maybe two

So the Twins just finished their 162-game season with a record of 88-74, far exceeding anyone's expectations.

Justin Morneau (who is painfully stuck at 129 RBIs) pointed out a number of times in the past month, when the Twins found themselves back in first place, that it didn't matter that they were in first place then; it only mattered who was in first place on September 28. For the record, that's the Twins (by a half game), but September 28 is no longer the operative date. Thanks to that rain out on the weekend of the 13th, the White Sox get a chance to make up their game at home against the Tigers and climb back into a tie for first place.

Strangely (and this has been the case all weekend), both teams control their own destiny. It would take two wins for the Sox, and just one for the Twins should there be a one-game playoff on Tuesday night.

Go Tigers. And way to go Twins... what a remarkable year of overachieving baseball.

September 23, 2008

Once again on baseball...

It has been a couple of weeks... which seems to reflect my--and the general fan base's--interest in the Twins since they embarked on their streak of generally sub-par baseball. The high-water mark of the season was 20 games above .500 at 74-54 after they beat the Angels in the first two games of the long road trip. But they followed that with a 9-18 streak, and Sunday's win has them at 84-72 with 6 games remaining. A winning season is assured. The rest is being decided.

As everyone predicted and hoped, the hopes for the season come down (more or less) to the series with the White Sox, which begins in about 15 minutes. The Twins are 2 1/2 games back, certainly still within striking distance. A sweep over Chicago would have them in control of their own destiny. But here's what pisses me off--the media's insistence that they must sweep. It's as if they can't--or won't--do the math. No, they don't need to sweep. Taking 2 of 3 would shave a game off the lead. Then they could even take only 2 of 3 against Kansas City and if the White Sox went 1-2 in their final series, it would come down to their make-up game against Detroit. That all said, realistically a sweep may be necessary, at least for the mental outlook. And winning 5 of the next 6 is probably a must.

But will they? That's the question. At least Baker is going tonight; he seems like the veteran. But it's Blackburn and Slowey after that, and Blackburn is coming off of two bad outings. Methinks there'll only be about 30,000 at the Dome tonight, again reflecting the general disinterest of the Twins' faithful over the last couple of weeks... and the start of football season. But if they win tonight....

September 10, 2008

Some enchanted evening

It being difficult to put a rosy spin on baseball ugliness, I had no comments about the disastrous losses to the Tigers on Saturday and Sunday. Up 4-2 in each game... then Detroit came storming back behind the long ball--mostly from the Twin killer Ordonez. So after failing to win a series at the Metrodome for the first time since late May, the Twins were 2 1/2 games back of Chicago at weekend's end, and it seemed even worse, like the beginning of a free fall.

Then came last night's enchanting developments. First, a White Sox loss to the streaking Blue Jays in the first game of a doubleheader, then a 7-2 Twins win over the Royals coupled with another Jays win in the nightcap--their 10th victory in a row!

So what had been a 2 1/2-game deficit had become just a single game in the span of hours. Unbelievable.

Morneau hit another home run--a two-run rocket that accounted for the final score--and raised his RBI total to 119, second in the league and closing in fast on Josh Hamilton (124?). Morneau's been on an RBI tear. Seems like he was just hitting 100 about two weeks ago.

The silent RBI machine this year is Buscher. He now has 45 RBI in 59 games, I believe, which would be a 120-plus pace for a full season. And his three hits put him back over .300. He and Span each collected three and are each hitting .306. What a fun team to watch.

September 3, 2008

Still in first

The new title for this blog should be "My baseball diary, 2008" since no one else is reading it. Or if they are, they're not commenting. But then again, there's been absolutely nothing controversial; nothing even edgy. Fortunately, the season's not over yet.

For the Twins, far from it. It is now September 3 and they still have a share of first place. Better still, while the extended road trip is not yet complete, they've now caught up in road games versus home, with 69 in the bag for each. The home record is a gaudy 46-23 (which I think is the same percentage as the '87 Twins wound up at) while the road record is a respectable 31-38. I say respectable because everyone has sucked on the road this year; it's been a year for the home teams.

Twenty-four games remaining--12 at home and 12 on the road. Down to the wire. Another blown lead in last night's game; that 5-1 cushion in the fourth when I tuned in turned into a 7-5 loss. And while the blown leads have been the story as of late, there have been more than enough come-from-behind wins to make up for it. The key is what happens down the road, after getting off the road.

I'm sticking with my assessment that this is the best starting pitching staff the Twins have ever had. The quality starts keep coming, last night notwithstanding (but Perkins was due to have a sub-par outing), which is especially amazing given that everyone is a youngster. Who's the oldest--Baker at 26? Any thoughts that the young arms would crack under pressure should be put to rest. At least as of today.

September 2, 2008

Palin and baseball

Sarah Palin is a self-described hockey mom, so I'm guessing she doesn't have many connections with baseball, but in the interest of bipartisanship, it seemed fair to give her a share of a title.

Speaking of shares, it is now September 2 and the Twins are tied for first place. That's right, we're in baseball's final month and the Twins are dead even with the White Sox, both at 77-60 after the Sox lost 5-0 yesterday while the Twins were idle. Thank you Cliff Lee.

The home team is in Toronto tonight for the first game of the final series of the 14-game road trip that, by all accounts, would define the season. So far, 5-6 (about the same percentage as the rest of the year), and have gained a game on Chicago during that span! Amazing. Tonight, Perkins is pitching. Was up 5-1 but just gave up a two-run home run and now it's 5-3.

More later....

Make that 5-4. Back to back home runs.

August 23, 2008

Biden and baseball

Alright, I picked the title figuring there might be a strong connection between Joseph Biden, Obama's pick as the next vice president, and baseball, but alas, not much luck. He's apparently a Nats fan and worked to pass a bill outlawing certain steroids, including one commonly used by baseball players. Good man on the last count. And Nats fans are pretty harmless since the team they support is the same.

What another incredible week it's been for the Twins. Heading into the dreaded 14-game road trip they were 72-54 and a game in back of the Sox. Two days into it, they're 74-54 and a game up over the White Sox after the latter's loss this afternoon to the Rays. Unbelievable. At the very least, everyone expected the Twins to struggle with the Angels, who had the best record in the American League. But Thursday the Twins won 2-1 in 12 innings, and last night they blasted the Angels 9-0. A four-hitter by Baker on Thursday to get them to the ninth inning, and a five-hit shutout through eight innings by Perkins. So the Angels have had only 11 hits in 21 innings, which is a bit scary heading into the last two games, but still.

It's not only this road trip, but the one that follows (adding up to 24 out of 30 games on the road), that will help form the Twins' fate. If the young arms, and their corresponding minds, hold up, anything can happen.

I'd have never thought the Twins would be 20 games over .500 at this point of the year. I still can barely fathom it. The parallels to 2006 are incredible (which I'll get to later), but an exact duplicate isn't likely to occur. The Twins would have to go 22-12 over the last 34 games to finish with 96 wins. That'd be a helluva stretch.

And it would mean they're still playing baseball within about a month of the election that could put Biden in the White House with Obama. Wonder how they'd look throwing out first pitches?

August 16, 2008

Viva viagra

Seventh-inning stretch time during the Twins game, and that most comical of viagra commercials just aired--the one with the guys in a band sitting in a circle singing along to their very upbeat viagra hoedown song. It's what guys do. They routinely get together with their... ahem, instruments, and smile and laugh and sing about their favorite erectile dysfunction treatment.

Meanwhile, this game with Seattle has taken a dreadful turn. When I turned off the TV after the second inning the Twins were up 5-0. Five runs on eight hits compared to none and two for Seattle. And now, just like a couple weeks ago against the Ms, they've frittered away the lead; Seattle has it now at 6-5. On that Monday evening 12 days ago the Twins were up 6-0 and lost 11-6. This looks eerily similar.

And that's what makes baseball so beautiful. It's never over till it's over, and the next round of drama is just around the corner.

Although there was little drama at the game I went to last night. The Twins won 9-3, and were leading 9-2 after a seven-run fourth inning. I left during the middle of the home half of the fourth, invoking my clause that lets me leave a baseball game early--or not go at all--if it's beautiful outside and the game is indoors.

Did get to see Liriano pitch in game number 3 of his second comeback this season. He looked great, except for the top of the fourth when he walked two and needed 30 pitches to get out of the inning. He gave up two runs, but they were both unearned on an error by Buscher. Speaking of my man Busch, he stayed about the .300 mark (.303) by going 1 for 3. My other man, Jason Kubel, hit a two-run jack to give the Twins the lead again at 4-2 in the bottom of the fourth, then had an RBI single later in the inning.

Liriano won his third straight game, and as with the last two, his win vaulted the Twins into first place. This time, for the first time since they've been going back and forth, the Twins and the White Sox have identical records at 68-53; the Sox made up the game they had in hand this week. So with five weeks or so left to go in the season, it most certainly is a race.

Get this. Twins are now 42-22 at home, which is impressive enough. But heading into last night they were 24-6 in their last 30 at home, and had won 9 straight series!

The other most impressive thing? They're hitting an amazing .314 with runners in scoring position. Unheard of. Well, almost. The last time a team hit that high was in 1974.

August 4, 2008

First place

First place for the hometown 9 in August? Who'uda thunk it.

Finally, after looking up at Chicago for 82 days, and after coming within a half game of first about a dozen times, the Twins finally took over sole possession of first place in the Central. They beat Cleveland 6-2 on only six hits, while the Sox fell unexpectedly and hard again to K.C. 14-3. A.J. took a punch to the noggin during the brawl in the loss, which a colleague says was justified based on the horrible dye job. Fair enough.

Francisco Liriano led the way in his comeback after the first aborted comeback, "as if the Twins couldn't do it without him," PP reporter Phil Miller suggests, which might well be true. Liriano pitched six, gave up only three hits, struck out five and walked three. Seriously unspectacular, but brilliant nonetheless. As all the writers pointed out, he was nowhere near as dominant as his 2006 form, but that's not the pertinent point. What's more important is what Bremer and Blyleven pointed out: he should be compared not to Liriano 2006 but to Livan 2008, since that's who his is replacing, and I'll tell you this much. Hernandez would have exactly zero chance of pitching six innings yesterday and allowing no runs on three hits.

So through 111 games the Twins are 62-49 while Chicago is 61-49. Supposedly, between the two, the schedule favors the Twins. But there is that nasty road trip when the GOP takes over the town. Anything can happen, yes, but I like the Twins' chances with the current rotation. Perkins tonight in Seattle. Stay tuned....

August 2, 2008

Baseball again

6 p.m. on 8/2/08 and, for the time being, the Twins are in first place in the AL Central, tied with Chicago, which just lost 9-7 to surging K.C. The Twins begin in just a few moments with a chance to take over first all alone.

The beauty of last night (other than Harris's 2 doubles and Mauer's 2-run jack): Randy Ruiz made his major league debut and went 1 for 3 with a run scored. Ordinary enough, right? Not exactly. He's been floating around in the minors since 1999, never higher than in AA until this year. And he managed to accumulate 1,101 hits in that time without even a cup of coffee. Amazing. Coming around third base last night he looked a bit like Prince Fielder. He looks to be faster than Mike Redmond, at least.

August 1, 2008

And this one's on baseball

I've been thinking of doing a blog on all things baseball, but especially Twins baseball and amateur baseball, since the middle of 2006, that magical summer in which the Minnesota Twins came out of nowhere in the last two-thirds of a season to steal a Central Division title from Detroit on the last day of the season. That glorious run of baseball--from 25-33 to 96-66--is the finest I've seen in my life, and it defied all odds.

Two years later, there are many similarities. The Twins put together a tremendous streak before the All-Star break, and after a 5-game skid, have turned things around again, taking 3 of 4 from the White Sox to move to within 1/2 game of first place... yet again. Exactly two-thirds of the way through the season, we're 60-48, and very much in contention with two months to play.

But here's what has me excited. For the past month I've been saying that this Twins starting rotation might be--no, probably is--the best they've ever had in my lifetime. And that was with Livan Hernandez giving up his 1.5 hits per inning for the past four months. But Livan is no longer selling cartoon balloons in town. Today, the Twins released him and called up Liriano, and the young, talented rotation I've been dreaming about (post-Santana) has materialized: Baker, Liriano, Slowey, Blackburn, and Perkins. This is the best starting rotation in my lifetime, or at least since about the early '70s. And even though the offense is something less than vaunted, it should be an extremely interesting August and September.

This one is about bridges

One year ago, pretty much to the minute (6:14 p.m.), I hit gridlock on Interstate 35W northbound, just south of the Washington Avenue/3rd Street exit. Cars were turning around on the freeway, jumping the curb, and hastily taking that exit. It didn't take long to figure out something was horribly wrong, and a quick cell phone call brought the sketchy details. Part of a bridge had collapsed--the bridge I was intending to cross.

The bottom line for me: Had I been about 9 minutes earlier, I'd have been on that bridge. And maybe in the water. And maybe dead.

I drove first to the 5th Street pedestrian bridge, then the old No. 9 railroad bridge, to take pictures of the chaos. It never occurred to me to race to the water and try to offer my assistance, like it did to the many heroes that evening. To them I offer my admiration; I think many more lives would have been lost without their help.

I just attended the ceremony at Gold Medal Park prior to the procession to the Stone Arch Bridge for the memorial at 6:00 and the moment of silence at 6:05. That scene from a year ago sticks in my mind, clearer than the pictures I took that evening and the next day. And I imagine the images are intense beyond my imagination for those who survived and those who helped them. My thoughts and prayers go out to you. God bless.