There was a carnival feel at the Metrodome tonight, as if the crowd was ready to erupt. That probably had something to do with it being student night and dollar dog day. But there was also a level of anticipation driven by the return of Scott Baker, the Twins' #1 pitcher.
That was the primary appeal of today's game. Baker has shown the ability dominate on occasion, including a couple of near no-hitters, as well as provide consistency to a young rotation. He also signed a long-term deal at the beginning of spring training. The only reason he wasn't the Opening Day starter is because of a short bout of "shoulder stiffness".
And that was the primary concern of today's game. After one week of rest and one minor league start, he had been declared ready. (Whether that was by himself of by the team, it isn't clear.) But there were additional red flags during spring training.
A week before his surprise trip to the disable list I asked "What was wrong with Baker?" based solely on the number of hits and home runs he had given up this spring. Then you had to wonder why his last start of the spring was against minor leaguers instead of during a regular spring training game. The skeptic might suggest because if he was put on the 15-day DL after a regular spring training game, he would have needed to be out for even more time. Which would mean that the Twins were aware of, or at least suspected, the shoulder stiffness before that last spring training start.
And then, finally, you have that long-term deal. I'm not suggesting that anyone is being less than honest for an ignoble reason. But you can understand that Baker might feel additional self-applied pressure to live up to his end of the bargain, labrum or no.
Which is why I started to make live blogging notes as the game started. The one's concerning Baker show a fan's journey into denial and then madness. And then just mad.
1st inning, 0 outs - Baker's first pitch is tagged to the opposite field warning track - by Marco Scutaro. Who is now hitless in his last 12 at-bats. Uh-oh.
1st inning, 1 out - After a single by Aaron Hill, and after shaking Mike Redmond off a number of times, Redmond and Baker and Nick Punto(?) have a conference on the mound before they throw a single pitch to the third batter of the game. What's going on? Whatever it is, it works. Punto starts a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
2nd inning, 1 out - Scott Rolen hits a two run home run to left field. It was pulled directly down the line and made it about five rows up. He got just enough of it, and put it in the right place.
3rd inning, 1 out - Aaron Hill hits a two run home run to left field. Denard Span mistimed his leap a little, but it looks like it would have still been just out of reach. Again, he just got enough of it.
3rd inning, 2 outs - Vernon Wells hits the third Blue Jays homer of the night. This one was NOT close. Um, mabye the wind is blowing out?
3rd inning, 3 outs - The last out of the inning is the hardest hit ball of the night. Hit to the deepest part of center field Carlos Gomez tracks it down at the wall. Must refrain fist of death....
4th inning, 2 outs - #42 hits his fourth home run of the night off of Baker. He’s really having a hell of a game. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the batter. So, uh, how's the FREAKING SHOULDER SCOTT?!?
I may or may not have been in the midst of a full blown anxiety attack by that last. The fact that the notes degenerate into ramblings about tasty jello would probably suggest as much to a professional. But I'm obviously not a professional.
My press pass doesn't extend into the locker room for postgame questions. That's unfortunately because I spend the last hour of the game steeling myself to ask some uncomfortably questions. Like:
- What was the diagnosis for the shoulder stiffness?
- How sure are we that it's better?
- How does Gardenhire handle a player that might be hiding an injury?
Or mabye it's not so unfortunate. Because if those questions are asked, tonight's carnival feel might very well extend into the locker room and postgame press conference.
It seems like such a waste to trash the rest of the notes just because the Baker story was so blatantly obvious, so let's see what else we had.....
While You're At It, Why Not Make Both Team Where Identical Dodgers Jersies Too?
Since Major League Baseball was honoring Jackie Robinson today, the had a pregame video with inspirational music that gave me goosebumps. I admit it. I’m a sucker for this sort of thing. It's really kind of pathetic.
And, as is tradition, all of the players were wearing number #42. Which was a great way to honor Jackie Robinson – provided you weren't Stew Thornley, whose job is to provide realtime updates on the game for MLB.com. He was screwed, and knew it.
And the game degenerating into garbage time made it all the worse. I was amazed that Stew noticed that Jose Morales replaced Mike Redmond in the ninth inning last night. We're about 30 rows up, and a right-handed catcher (in full gear) comes out to catch Luis Ayala and he picks up that it's Morales. Nice job Stew.
And It Didn't Cost Anyone a Timeout
The Twins second run of the game scored when a ball got away from catcher Michael Barrett, but it wasn't clear whether it was a wild pitch or a passed ball. The official scorer watched the replay, and still couldn't really tell, so he called it a wild pitch.
But the next inning he used the DVR in the pressbox to replay it over and over. Unfortunately, FSN hadn't broadcast a view that could give a definitive answer, and sicne that's all he had to work with, he and several others kept looking and looking. This went on whenever they had a break for the next two innings.
Finally, some guys in the box were able to find a slow-motion and much more definitive look at it (on a camera that hadn't been shown on FSN). They were able to broadcast it on the Metrodome TVs, which made it clear that it had actually been a passed ball. So the call was reversed and the Twins second run ended up being unearned.
Starting at Catcher - Inspector Clouseau (#42)
Speaking of Barrett, early in the game it was apparent that both the Twins and the Blue Jays were very aware of the Twins speed. When Casilla reached base in the first inning, the threw back to first three times before the first pitch. And then the first pitch was a high fastball which the catcher immediately rifled back to first base. And STILL Casilla kept inching out to the point where his foot was on the carpet.
A quick look at the Michael Barrett’s fielding stats shows why. He threw out just six of forty-nine base-stealers last year. Casilla didn't steal, and neither did Span a couple of innings later. By the middle of the game, the game was out of reach, and so the Twins didn't have a single stolen base despite the obvious intention of running wild.
I think the quality of the podcasts that Seth Stohs and I have tried have varied in quality, but I gotta say, I thought last night's was really fun. That might be because I called in halfway during the show out of the blue and neither Seth or Parker from Over The Baggy were prepared for that. But if you have a chance, check it out today at MNGameNight.com and let us know what you think.