Thursday, April 05, 2007

Counting Strengths

See if you can find the pattern in these numbers: 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 31, 31, 35.

Give up? It’s the ages of the Twins lineup, the same lineup that many pundits are predicting will come back to earth this year. The problem with that prediction is that there’s only one guy who remembers the bicentennial. Most of them are still in their peak years.

Plus, the entire starting lineup is returning, and the Twins added to their bench with the signing of Jeff Cirillo. Cirillo isn’t Barry Bonds, but he fills some important roles. For starters, he provides insurance for the player most likely to come crashing to earth like Skylab (another event these guys don’t remember) – Nick Punto. His right-handed bat can also spell Jason Kubel against tough southpaws at designated hitter.

The American League’s best bullpen also returns every player. How good is it? This offseason the Twins brought in a number of left-handed relievers, determined to add one to the bullpen. One of the veterans they brought in, Mike Venafro, pitched ten innings and didn’t give up a single run. And they STILL couldn’t find a place for him in this bullpen.

All that’s left to cover is the starting rotation that has drawn more attention locally than the “Who Shot JR?” episode. (Yes, that makes three historical references the lineup doesn’t remember. I’m going for four before this is over. I think I can do it.) Before we start rending our garments about the loss of Brad Radke and Francisco Liriano, let’s not forget that Radke was terrible for the first two months and hurt for the last one. And that Liriano didn’t really pitch after July.

Last summer’s stretch run depended heavily on Johan Santana, Boof Bonser, Carlos Silva, Matt Garza, and Scott Baker, and all of them are either back or available. Now, at least, the Twins have a couple of veterans and some other promising arms in Rochester to turn to as necessary. They may not have the quality, but they have an abundance of quantity, and they’ve proved adept at untangling knots like this as the season progresses.

If this looks a bit familiar, it's because it was published earlier this week in the Dugout Splinters of GameDay. If it doesn't, then you should really start getting the best magazine since Dynamite (Four!) You can buy GameDay before every Twins game across the street from the Metrodome from the guys in the red vests.
That's it for this week. Monday we'll have previw of the Twins/Yankees series, and I hope to see all of you at the blogger even on Saturday at BW3.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Phoning It In: Für Elise

I'll be honest - I got nothing tonight. I've thrown away a half dozen ideas, I've written several paragraphs of dry baseball crap, and I got a million other things to do for GameDay as the Yankees series approaches. So in honor of the spanking brand new human Riley Nathan, I'm republishing something that I wrote four and a half years ago, the morning The Chatty Chatty Princess(TM) went to her first day of kindergarten. Back to baseball tomorrow.

Für Elise

He didn't feel the gush that everyone said he would feel the first time he held her in his arms. He frowned. "I've never been especially good about feeling emotions."

There was excitement to be sure. And a feeling of amazement. But mostly the infant seemed like an infinite puzzle to be pieced together. They had a job to do. She needed to eat. Sleep. Learn she was a part of a family.

She would cry from the moment he came home from work, and he would walk around the house with her, showing her the curtains, the flowers, the Kirby Pucket face-on-a-stick; anything to distract her from her exhaustion or hunger for five minutes and then five minutes more. "She was happy before you came home, honest."

Shortly after the colic passed, they watched her roll onto her back. Six eyes grew wide and looked at each other. She immediately began working on rolling the other way. And then crawling. And walking. And talking. Definitely talking.

And with each victory, came more self-assuredness.

Now they had a new job to do. Limits needed to be set and erased. Challenges needed to made and met. Illusions needed to be poked. Usually, the toughest part of the job was knowing when to hold a hand and when to turn away. When to watch out for her without watching her.

It was one of these times that he realized he felt the gush. He hadn't loved her at the hospital. He had fallen in love with her at home. And that was infinitely better.

Yesterday, his wife held her hand until she delivered her to her first kindergarten class - and then she turned away, and walked home.

He hadn't gone. He had gone to work, like he did everyday. It was no big deal. It certainly wasn't for his daughter. Just new friends to play with. A new adult to charm. New toys and art projects and songs to sing. Not so very different than another activity hour at the community rec center.
But as he drove to work, he realized he knew better.

It was not so long ago. He remembers his kindergarten and Mrs. Manfred. First grade and Miss Oeschlager. His hurry to clear the next hurdle, face the next challenge, race to adulthood.

He sees it in her. She can't grow up fast enough. The blessed quandary about when to hold a hand or turn away will be less frequent now. And he wasn't there this morning because it was a big deal.

So on I-94, he found himself struggling to wipe underneath his glasses, as too few memories triggered too many emotions for his eyes to hold. There was sadness. And pride. And the gush. But mostly there was life's intense taste when one is lucky enough to get a full dose.

And he sighed. "I've never been especially good about feeling emotions."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Crossed and Double-Crossed

Baseball - you just never know.

The Twins won last night, 3-2, which one might expect. But what one doesn't expect, especially when one studies the game, is how they won. The game was decided in the bottom of the seventh inning, when a bizarre string of decisions and events led to even more bizarre outcomes. Such as...

1. Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo sends Daniel Cabrera back to the mound to start the inning.
Cabrera had thrown somewhere in the vicinity of 90 pitches already, which is plenty for a pitcher this early in the season, especially for one as young as Cabrera. He's struck out the side in the sixth, but he also had walked Morneau, and he looked a little gassed. However, Cabrera is right-handed, and the Twins leadoff hitter was right-handed batter Rondell White.

So Perlozzo gambled a bit. He sent Cabrera out to face White, but had relievers Jamie Walker (LH) and Chad Bradford (RH) warming in the bullpen. I suspect the plan was for Cabrera to get White out, then have the left-handed Walker face the left-handed Jason Kubel, and then the right-handed Bradford face the right-handed Bartlett.

So what happens? Cabrera walks White on four pitches.

2. Perlozzo leaves Cabrera in to face the left-handed Kubel.
So the first batter didn't go as Perlozzo planned but he STILL leaves Cabrera out there to face Kubel? Even after a trip to the mound? Why?

Because the Twins had subbed Jason Tyner in for Rondell White, and Perlozzo expected Ron Gardenhire to instruct Kubel to bunt. That's why he ran out to the mound - to talk about the bunting defense. And that's why Melvin Mora played so far in at third base. And it's also why Cabrera kept holding the ball for so long prior to the pitch - to see if Kubel would square up to bunt.

So what happens? Kubel doesn't bunt.

3. Kubel strikes out.
The Twins have an ideal situation. Kubel is facing a young, tiring, right-handed and historically eratic pitcher. He's gonna make sure that Cabrera throws the ball over the plate.

Unfortunately, it's a young, tiring, right-handed and historically eratic pitcher who has a fastball that comes right at left-handed batters but tails back over the plate. And there's an umpire who has been calling that a strike all night. And Cabrera and his catcher are smart enough to only throw it to batter when they already have two strikes.

So what happens? Kubel takes that inside pitch for strike three. And Tyner is still on first.

4. Tyner falls down stealing second base.
Twins fans haven't seen that much of Tyner's speed. Sure, we know he's fast, but do you know he stole at least 40 bases each year from 1998-2001? So you don't expect to see him lying prone 10 feet short of second base and doing a seal walk into the base.

So what happens? He's safe, because the catcher doesn't even bother to get off his knees to throw the ball.

5. Bartlett bloops a hit to left field.
Cabrera is now over 100 pitches by the time he's allowed to face the right-handed Bartlett. artlett has about as bad a swing as he had when he popped out in the 5th inning with the tieing run on third base and one out. But this ball clears the infield. Unfortunately, it's still in short left-field, with outfielder Jay Gibbons charging it and fifty feet behind Tyner who is rounding third.

So what happens? Gibbons doesn't even throw the ball home. Several Orioles look look at Gibbons like he grew a second head. And the Twins score the winning run.

Oh, and Perlozzo finally takes Cabrera out of the game. The 25-year-old has thrown 110 pitches in his first outing of the season. Oh, and two relievers that the Orioles paid $21 million this offseason watched the winning run score while they warmed up, over and over again, from the bullpen.

Five things that probably shouldn't have happened, each of which led to another even that shouldn't have happaned.

Baseball - you just never know.

Twins Takes
Gotta mentions some things....
  • I'm going to be on FM 107 with Lori and Julia tomorrow at 4:30. We're going to talk about fun baseball stuff. Tune in and let me know what you think.

  • I will be at the Blogger event at BW3 on Saturday at 3:00. And I'm arranging to have free copies of the April issue of GameDay for anyone that can attend. I hope you can make it too. The Twins blogosphere has always been about bringing fans together. This is a great opportunity to do that in another forum.

  • Congrats to for their recognition by Michael Rand in yesterday's Strib. Blake has really put together one hell of a site there, something that is unique in MLB. I you haven't checked it out, you probably should.

  • A couple of years ago, I got to throw out the first pitch at a minor league game, and the best part was the catcher heckling me I walked to the mound. "OH! Are you going to embarass yourself! You won't even make it to the plate. I feel sorry for your kids? Are they watching this?"

    I'm proud to say I zipped it right to him. (The multiple beers I had beforhand might have helped).

    I assume that Eric Davis did not taunt Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory, but that didn't stop Mallory from making the worst first pitch ever. Oh, I feel sorry for his kids. Are they watching this?

    (Honestly, click on the link. My favorite part is the look of disgust that Eric Davis gives him. Like he takes that throw as a personal insult. Beautiful.)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Hyperbole's Whispers

There's so much anticipation tied to Opening Day, that it's hard not to project it. Tonight, I want to believe that Justin Morneau will be even better than last year, that Torii Hunter will have the career year everyone has always anticipated, and the Piranhas will be just as relentlessly dangerous as they were last year. Hyperbole whispers to me, and her voice is so tempting....

My grip on reality is that much more tenuous because this really was an impressive win. The Twins not only beat down a great pitcher tonight, they beat down a great left-handed pitcher - maybe second only to Johan right now in the American League. Erik Bedard turned a corner mid-year last year, posting a 3.10 ERA after the All-Star break with 83 strikeouts in 87 innings. He was just as hot in spring training, with a 0.95 ERA(!) and 21 K in 19 innnings. The boy can pitch.

And pitch he did tonight. The first home run against him was a 93 MPH fastball in the lower zone on the outer half of the plate to Justin Morneau. It was NOT a mistake. But Morneau sweated out the extra fraction of a second to wait and drive it to the opposite field, lifting it into the bleachers. It was a very good pitch undone by an unbelivable swing.

That wasn't all. The pitch to Hunter wasn't much worse. A little less fast, a little higher, but still outer half of the plate. However, Hunter did the same thing that Morneau did - driving it over the opposite field fence, showing patience and poise. The same thing happened when Luis Castillo ignited the three-run rally - fast ball, outer half, driven to the opposite field. And Hunter's double that drove Bedard from the game was another blast to the opposite field, made more impressive because he had to further wait on a breaking ball.

So the Twins faced one of the better left-handed starters in the AL tonight, who did not have an off night, and still managed to score six runs and drive him from the game in less than five innings with some exceptionally patient hitting. There are still plenty of questions left to answer about this team, and I'll wait on some of them. But tonight I think I'm going to let hyperbole whisper some of her sweet nothings in my ear. And believe.

Twins Takes
An Opening Night wouldn't be right without some random notes....

  • Culinary development 1: We didn't have tickets to the game, but we went to the plaza anyway. The Boy™ had developed a fondness for cheese curds, so we bought him a bowl at the booth outside the dome. Before I go any further, you need to understand - I know cheese curds. I have ordered cheese curds at just about every place that curds cheese. And I have to tell you those may have been the best cheese curds I have ever had. Ever. I'm willing to accept the ruling of a nonpartial judge who would know a little about these things. If only Matty had made the 25-man roster.

  • It looked like some bad baserunning tonight, but all three of the glaring mistakes were caused by that rocket launcher that Nick Markakis has had grafted to his left shoulder. He was like a character from a Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodruguez production.

    A ground ball to right field should score a runner from second, but the play at home on Morneau wasn't even close (Mistake #1). Third base coach Scott Ullger learned his lesson and held Joe Mauer from scoring on Morneau's shot off the baggy (#2) and then Morneau was thrown out again by Markakis trying to make that a double (#3).

    I suppose this is where I'm supposed to savage someone, but sometimes you just gotta tip your hat. In the Metrodome, where right field is so short, the new rule is you think twice about playing anything more than station-to-station against Markakis. And I'm good with that.

  • The waitress comes over and asks if we would like anything else. The Chatty Chatty Princess™ replies "More root beer," and begins to down the rest of her 1919 vintage. The waitress look at us and says "Wow, she's really chugging that, huh?"

    I'm pretty sure I've lived that exact moment more than once about 15 years ago. Only TCCP was The Voice of Reason. And there was no "root".

  • The Twins did have one thing going for them tonight, and it might have played a pretty big factor in the win. Umpire Joe West looked like he was struggling tonight, and especially looked like he was struggling with calling Bedard's curve ball. It's a pretty nasty pitch, with a huge break, and umpires can have trouble picking up exactly where it is when it crosses the plate. It looked like Bedard didn't use it as much as he wanted to, relied more on fastballs, and that may have hurt him.

  • Immediately after watching the replay of (the incredibly fragile) Rondell White's fantastic catch...
    TCCP: Daddy, did he hurt himself?
    TG: I'm sure he did, dear. I'm sure he did.

  • Had the Twins not one, we would be taling about throwing a hanging breaking ball to Corey Patterson. Talk about a bone-headed pitch. Patterson is TERRIBLE against left-handed pithers, so just rock and fire. To screw around with that pitch with two out when you're almost out of a jam is almost unforgivable.

  • Culinary Development #2 - Tonight, not one, but BOTH kids became fans of the cinnamon roasted almonds. Which means I now have clearance to buy them and shove them down my maw until I am physically nauseous. Which I did anyway. But now I have clearance.

  • Things have definitely become a little less fun since Bert's suspension. Last year, would Dick Bremer have gotten away with this quote without a verbal jab from Bert?

    "One of the great hookers of all time is here analyzing the game - Rick Sutcliffe."

    ("I didn't know Heidi Fleiss was in the state.")

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Game

“You wanna listen to The Game?”, she asked.

It was another long, boring summer afternoon. With no kids of comparable age in the neighborhood, I was driving my mom insane with requests to play Candyland for the 42nd consecutive day.

This day, however, she came into the playroom with something new – an AM radio. She turned it to the Twins game and for each of us, a miracle occurred. Her miracle was that I sat in front of the radio, listening intently, for three glorious non-Candyland-playing hours. My miracle was that a whole new world opened.

Without a doubt, my guide in that world was Herb Carneal, and I wasn’t alone. Looking back it’s a wonder we weren’t all bored stiff in the 70’s. There were no blogs. No email lists. No bulletin boards. There was no Bill James. Nobody had heard of SABR. There were no national newspapers or baseball weeklies. If there were baseball magazines, they sure weren’t widely distributed. No ESPN, or sports channel of any kind, or even cable TV. Having any Twins game televised was a rare treat.

But there was always The Game. Three blessed hours of Herb Carneal, nearly each and every day, talking about baseball as he portrayed the game on the field with a mix of excitement and dignity. He shared his joy for the game by bringing us up to date on what was happening on other teams, who was making noise in the playoff race, what was going on in the farm system, and what had happened yesteryear. Those were the best. I bet I’ve heard the story about Halsey Hall accidentally igniting his quote-unquote blazer a half dozen times.

Each generation has a player that they identify as their own, and each generation will.
But I think it’s safe to say that the Twins will never have an announcer to whom Twins fans connect the way we did with Herb. The world is too different. There are too many other sources of information. Herb oversaw an era in which we needed him. He was the world of baseball, shaping our understanding, appreciation and love of the game for several generations.

So from me - and my mom - thank you Herb. For 50 years, you’ve been more than a voice, and even more than my babysitter. You’ve been "The Game".