Thursday, August 12, 2010

Magic (Part 18)

"Life's like a movie, write your own ending."
- The Magic Store from The Muppet Movie

It started with a decision in the spring of 1990. He asked her if their first date should be an afternoon at the Art Institute or a double-header at Wrigley Field.

"How is that even a call?" she replied.

The sun gleamed, the grass glowed underneath the ballplayers and the magical afternoon was made more so because he thought it was probably their last date as well; neither was from Chicago.

But he was wrong. Both traveled enough to occasionally gain discounted tickets and the 1000 miles between Minneapolis and Philadelphia wasn't as isolating as they both thought it would be. Or at least not initially.


Two years later, it was. So with $1000 shoved into his pocket and all his worldly possessions crammed in an '84 Honda Prelude, he moved to Philadelphia to court her. The courtship was fun, but not especially easy. First he had to find work during a recession, then she was assigned to a project out of town. And when the business world stopped conspiring to keep them apart, the tougher questions began. "Will he ever marry me? What's he waiting for?" "Is she really the one? How do I know?" The questions were more destructive than geographic distance ever had a chance to be.

On a summer trip out west, his questions were answered in the Black Hills. And on August 13th, when they were supposed to go to a Phillies game, he showed up with flowers, acted all goofy and suggested they go for a walk. And she knew her questions were about to be answered too.

Unaccustomed to being nervous, the proposal was awkward but genuine, and the response was delayed but jubilant. Standing together in the park, their future felt too large. Neither knew what to do, where to go, who to see.

"So do you still want to go the Phillies game?", he asked.

"How is that even a call?"

It wasn't a call, because the one place in Philadelphia where they both knew there was some magic that year was at the Vet. The '93 Phils, lead by blue-collar rejects like John Kruk, "Dutch" Daulton, "Nails" Dykstra and closer Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams had somehow claimed 1st place in the NL East. They'd won games at Veteran's Stadium in every conceivable manner, including one in which Williams got the winning hit in the bottom of the 10th - at 4:30 AM. Tonight they were playing the hated Mets and it seemed like as good a place as any to look for magic.

The electricity they felt made the game a secondary concern. She'll readily admit that she spent most of the game looking at the back of her hand. But the game slowly became the focal point when the Phillies lost their early lead in the top of the eighth. They scratched in a run in the bottom half, but were still down 5-4 heading into the bottom of the ninth.

But there was a reason this hard-nosed city loved this team. They used a crucial error by the Mets to score one run and loaded the bases with two outs. Kim Batiste, a light-hitting 25-year-old utility infielder who seemed to have a special gift for striking out, came to the plate, and.......

Grand Slam.




Tonight they'll go to a game, like they have every August 13th for the last 18 years. But for the first time since that first one, tonight's will be at a home outdoor ballpark. They've waited years for this opportunity - and the weatherman says oppressive heat and rain will be tonight's reward.

So be it. After 20 years together, they understand all too well what comes with the commitment. It isn't always fair and sunny. They've weathered quick-forming storms and stifling pressure, clinging to each other and to the magic, even when they weren't sure why.

(Check that - especially when they weren't sure why.)

The storms pass. The pressure breaks. The magic endures. Tonight they'll celebrate that, and see if they can't find it, in the place where they both know there is plenty to be found.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bitter Aftertaste


The Twins rolled into Chicago with a favorable pitching matchup in two of the three games, with last night’s being the one they would most likely lose. Sure enough, they did. It isn’t going to be much fun to talk about, but maybe spitting about it for a few paragraphs will help get its taste out of my mouth.

We can start with the lineup, which include Jason Repko. I understand wanting to keep players fresh, and I understand that White Sox pitcher John Danks is left-handed. But Repko replaces Jim Thome instead of Jason Kubel or Denard Span? I can’t be too critical about it, but that move – along with Perkins being given a spot start – seems like the Twins as an organization and coaching staff decided they would be happy just taking two of three in Chicago. That’s probably not fair, but….

But boy, the guys sure played like they were going through the motions in this one. The fifth inning was nauseating. Three runs scored, pushing the lead from 3-0 for the White Sox to 6-0 – and none of those runs should have scored. First, Perkins hesitated on a bunt where he had the lead runner dead to rights. Then, the Twins had Juan Pierre picked off of first base but a poor throw by Michael Cuddyer along with missed tag by Orlando Hudson cost them that out. And the third run scored when JJ Hardy short-armed an easy throw to Cuddyer for the final out. It was a mess.

They looked sloppy at the plate too, but not any sloppier than home plate umpire Mike DiMuro, who gave John Danks a few extra inches on both sides of the plate which he did not give to Glen Perkins. Don’t believe me? Check out the Pitch Fx charts, courtesy of Erik Thompson and Brooks Baseball. Here were Danks pitches, and you’ll see several pitches (I count 11) outside both sides of the strike zone that were strikes. Now look at Perkins’. Nothing.

So I don’t face ridicule, I’m supposed to say something right now like, “I’m sure that wasn’t the difference in the game.” But you know what? I’m not sure of that at all. Danks has at least two called strikeouts on two of those outside pitches, and he got a third one when third base umpire Bill Welke called a ridiculous check swing strikeout on Jason Kubel. (Give credit to AJ Pierzynski on that, though. He did a great job of selling it. Weak minds are helpless against AJ’s Jedi mind tricks.)

And, like a lot of times when players are going through the motions, some injuries were the result. Jose Mijares strained his knee on a bizarre play near first base, was on crutches after the game, and looks headed to the DL. JJ Hardy also hurt his left wrist enough so that he was lifted for a pinch-hitter late. He thinks he can avoid the DL, but the Twins will likely be pretty aggressive about putting him on it given how that same injury lingered last time. Finally, Jon Rauch wasn’t available because his toe is black and blue. I wouldn’t be shocked if that’s addressed by tomorrow too.

So let’s wrap this one up: Twins were ready to concede before the game began, players followed suit, and umpires helped the cause. As a result, the Twins are now tied with the Sox, get to face a rested Sox bullpen tomorrow, and now need to deal with several injuries. The whole night was the baseball equivalent of a swift kick in the teeth.

Which explains the taste I still have in my mouth. Yuck.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


Yesterday's Twins 5-4 win over the Indians ended up being one of the more satisfying of the year. It had all the ingredients: a starting pitcher who ended up going deep, clutch hitting and a lock down bullpen. And the results - pulling within a half-game of the White Sox just prior to a midweek series with them, was icing on the cake.

The heroes are pretty obvious. Orlando Hudson had the biggest hit of the game, a two-run double that tied the game and put himself (and the winning run) into scoring position. Jim Thome's 2-run home run earlier in the inning made all those hits relevant. Brian Duensing bounced back from two miserable earlier innings to last into the eighth, and looked like he could have lasted longer.

Sure enough, Win Probability Added scores (available here) confirm those heroes. Hudson's double (which increased the Twins chances of winning by over 16%) was the biggest impact hit of the day, and Hudson finished with the lineup's highest WPA of .167. Thome was second with a WPA of .141. And Duensing finished with a WPA of .104.

But none of those was the highest WPA. That belonged to Matt Capps with .205, for protecting that one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth against Jordan Brown, Trevor Crowe and Jason Donald. It hardly seem fair that he gets credit for 20% of the win for getting past those three stooges. But WPA doesn't really know who is batting in the bottom of the ninth. It only knows that 20% of the time the home team ends up coming back and winning those one-run games in the bottom of the ninth. (Worth remembering given Wed's game against the Rays.)

As satisfying a win as it was for the Twins, it must have been pretty frustrating for those among the Tribe faithful who haven't had the life sucked out of them. As Duensing struggled (again) in the fourth inning, the Indians had a 92% chance of winning that game (according to the game log.)

Remember that Saturday afternoon game versus the Brewers at Target Field when the Twins grabbed an early lead against - I think it was Gallardo - and then blew the game and almost lost it, but finally won it in extra innings? And how we were all apoplectic, even though the Twins won? Imagine if the boys had lost it. That's what this game was like.

So, for the third time in five games, all is well that ends well. It would be nice if Duensing could try to not give up early runs Radke-style. It would be nice if the Twins could piece together more than six hits against the David Huff and the Indians. And it would be nice if Matt Guerrier's effectiveness wasn't decided by a flip of a coin, ala Two-Face.

But mostly it's nice heading into The Cell knowing that the pressure is squarely on the White Sox to show that their 3-6 record against the Twins is an anomaly.