Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"Flip of a Coin"

That's what my friend David said as the game ended and we watched the White Sox celebrating on their home turf.

He was referring to the home field advantage the White Sox had, but he might as well have been referring to half a dozen more figurative coin flips. Like the result of a one-run game between fairly even teams. Or the chance that AJ Pierzynski drops a ball as he is barrelled into by Michael Cuddyer. Or any of another dozen game this season that the Twins lost (or won) because of something as trivial and chancy as the flip of a coin.

By the way, you can include that last win against the White Sox at the Metrodome in that last example. That's why I grew increasingly squeamish as the players and media portrayed it as a litmus test of character. Well, how about now? Do the Twins lack character for losing the coin flip, maybe literally and figuratively, last night?

Nick Blackburn doesn't get the loss for that game because he lacked character. He got the loss because he threw a changeup high in the zone and across the heart of the plate twice in a row. And the Twns didn't fail to score runs because they lacked character. They failed to score runs because Joe Mauer had a couple of borderline strikes not go his way, and because Justin Morneau fell into his worst slump of the season at exactly the wrong time.

Oh, and because they were once again timid on the basepaths. If there is a bad taste in my mouth after this game, that's where it comes from. I understand that John Danks is left-handed and was especially interested in keeping the Twins from running. And I understand that this was a priority after the Tigers stole four bases last night. But that's because the Tigers stole four bases last night. And one of those was by Gary Sheffield. Using his walker.

But other than that (and it's not a minor quibble), credit the Twins for being creative and taking some risks. Sending Cuddyer with two outs on Brendan Harris' short fly ball was a no-brainer, because there is a 70% chance that either Ken Griffey's throw is not perfect or Pierzynski drops that ball. There is only a 30% chance (at best) that the next batter, Nick Punto, drives Cuddyer in. You send him every time on that play, and you need to credit Griffey and especially AJ for making the play.

The Twins also batted Jason Kubel againt Jenks to lead off the ninth, which is a nice little substitution. I also liked pinch-running Matt Tolbert. And I liked Mauer's attempt to get off the snide with the bunt in that long US Cellular grass. It was just a bad bunt.

On the opposite side, my biggest fear entering the game was that manager Ron Gardenhire would underuse the key assets in his bullpen. Instead he did exactly the opposite, bringing in his two best relievers, Jose Mijares and Joe Nathan, earlier than might have been anticipated and rode them to 1 and 2/3 scoreless innings. And prior to Jim Thome hitting the moonshot (and it was an absolute moonshot), there wasn't much of an indication that Blackburn was tiring. It was just a really bad pitch. Especially because it followed a duplicate really bad pitch.

So give credit to the White Sox, who are at least as good a story as the Twins this year. I picked them for fourth after last year's implosion, so they exceeded my expectations at least as much as the Twins did. They also won this division despite more critical injuries that the Twins faced. And tonight they came up with a key hit, a key defensive play, and even a key defensive substitution to win the game. Make no mistake, I hate that team, but that's because they're worthy of hate.

Meanwhile, the Twins have nothing significant to hang their heads about after this game or this season. They reached their preseason goal of 162+, even if it's not necessarily what they had in mind. They had a very solid young core of players that succesfully navigated a pennant race and got a taste, albeit small, or what fall baseball can be like.

And they found out that fall baseball can come down to a hit. A throw. A catch. Or maybe just a flip of a coin.

The Offseason
I suspect you'll see a lot of stories today that wrap up the season in a nice little bow today for the Twins. Tomorrow you'll see a lot of speculation about what might happen in the offseason, and TwinsGeek.com will be no exception. Check in tomorrow or maybe even later today, after the requisite mourning period.


Anonymous said...

They did run, in the first inning. Didn't work out very well. Maybe they were gun shy after that.

Or maybe they never had anyone on base.

Anonymous said...

I hated the Kubel substitution. Save him for Casilla. The leadoff situation was begging for Go-Go to lay one down and do what Go-Go does. Bad decision there.

And Mauer. He was absolutely clueless last night. Somebody needs to say it.

Anonymous said...

it just looked like mauer wasn't ready to play. they kept showing the stats of how he absolutely owned danks all year, but every at bat he looked like he had never seen him pitch before. danks was ready, he looked good, but we really let him off the hook (denny green patent). he had like 50 or 60 pitches after 3 innings. i don't care what harold reynolds thinks, when you have a guy on 3 days rest throw that many pitches early in the game and not give up any runs, you need to work him and try and get him out of there. the twins weren't touching him, so why go up there and pop out on the first pitch. i could see one of the hotter hitters swinging at the first pitch, but no one has been hot lately. take a pitch until you get a strike and danks will be done by the end of the 6th. there's no way in hell he should have been able to pitch 8 innings. he was who we thought he was and we let him off the hook.

Anonymous said...

I too thought using Kubel to lead off the 9th was a puzzling idea. See if Gomez and Span can get on base and manufacture a run, if they can't, then bring in Kubel to try to tie the game with one swing of the bat.