What a way to end the regular season! A division championship that looked like a fantasy a few short weeks ago became a reality when Detroit choked their way to a sweep at the hands of one of the most inept teams in the league, and the Twins rode an unexpectedly strong performance from Carlos Silva to a fourth division title in five years. The enduring image of the afternoon has to be the entire team of Twins coming back onto the field after the game to watch the end of the 12-inning Royals-Tigers battle on the JumboTron with the tens of thousands of fans who stuck around to do the same. But it was a day full of highlights: Joe Mauer is your American League batting champ, Justin Morneau got his 130th RBI of the season (tying Larry Walker for the most ever by a Canadian,) and Minnesota wrapped up its best-in-the-majors home record at a tidy 54-27.
You probably know how the playoff schedule shakes out by now, but just in case you don’t, the division title gives the Twins home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs, and forces the Tigers to head to New York. (Yes, yes, we know some strong arguments have been made that the Twins would be better off facing the Yankees in a 5-game series than they would in the 7-game ALCS, but y’know, that Dome-field advantage is a doozy, so let’s count our blessings and cross the pinstriped bridge when we come to it.)
As we gear up for what should be a wildly entertaining October, Intern Sam thought it would be worth poking our head out of the Minnesota burrow to take a look at what writers in Oakland and New York are saying about what’s to come. (We’ll leave Detroit out of it, if you don’t mind. There’s just wayyyyy too much negativity going on over there at the moment, and it’s harshing our buzz.)
(By the way, Intern Sam happens to be in possession of two Upper Club seats to the Tuesday and Wednesday games at the MetroDome that he cannot use, because his employer does not recognize the Division Series as the official holiday that it obviously is. Furthermore, it’s too late to list them for sale on StubHub. So if anyone out there in Geekland wants to go to the game, and is willing to pay face value (or something approaching face value) for the tickets, click here to say so. First come, first served, and the tickets can be hand-delivered anywhere in the Twin Cities metro…)
Now, on to researching the enemy teams…
- Murray Chass offers New Yorkers a primer on the bizarre and exotic strategy of building a winning baseball team without spending $200 million, with the Twins and A’s serving as proof that such a thing can, in fact, be accomplished.
- Putting a serious dent in the notion that New York sports reporters are unaware of the existence of a world west of the Hudson River, Joel Sherman says that the Twins deserve to nearly sweep the postseason awards, even at the expense of minor deity Derek Jeter. The headline writers at the Post apparently aren’t real clear on the spelling of “Morneau,” but hey, at least they’ve heard of him.
- There’s been a tendency this September to ignore the Oakland A’s, as if they were just another edition of the same old Billy Beane squad that comes on like gangbusters in the second half only to fold like a pup tent every October. But Gwen Knapp says that there’s ample reason to believe that this fall could be different.
- The Twins have been feasting on weak bullpens of late, and the late-inning comeback has accounted for several key wins. But in Oakland, the piranhas could face a bullpen that is every bit as solid as theirs, and that will make scoring early runs essential.
- As ESPN and Fox gear up to once again force endless Subway Series storylines down everyone’s throats, Mike Vaccaro turns in a pretty good piece on why being a baseball fan in New York (or any city with more than one team) really is different than being a fan in, say, St. Louis.
- Hating Yankee fans has pretty much become America’s real national pastime over the last several decades, but Sarah Bunting, co-founder of the hilarious and informative Television Without Pity site, makes an excellent case that our national conception of what a Yankee fan even is has been irrevocably warped by ESPN, countless blowhard sports talk hosts, and some idiot from Sports Illustrated.
- Before we get too warm and fuzzy about the Big Apple, though, one of the city’s crustiest writers is right there to remind us that New York just about has a corner on the known world’s supply of smug. “Minnesota, Detroit and Oakland, are finishing the best kind of seasons they could have expected. But a spot in the World Series? Nope, that's too much to ask.” This, of course, is exactly what everyone in New York said about the ’02 Angels, the ’04 Red Sox, and the ’05 White Sox.
- Contrary to much of what’s been reported around these parts lately, the Yankees haven’t actually given up on the notion of Randy Johnson pitching a game in the first round of the playoffs…
- …but they have officially thrown caution to the wind and installed Gary Sheffield as their starting first baseman. Sheffield plays first the way Matt LeCroy plays catcher, so this should just be entertaining all the way around.
- Finally, in a story that threatens to dominate the postseason, Jason Grimsley, the retired pitcher who admitted to using human growth hormone and agreed to cooperate with the feds in a wide-ranging investigation, has reportedly named Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Miguel Tejada, and three other players who he knows to have used performance-enhancing drugs. Make no mistake – this is huge, and not only because the Rocket is on the list. (Just imagine the furor had Houston managed to overtake St. Louis for the last NL playoff spot!) Grimsley himself is complaining that investigators put words in his mouth, but it’s a little tough to buy his line that he wouldn’t throw a teammate under a bus when he’s admitted to wearing an FBI wire in the clubhouse earlier this season.