oh, for the love of Mike…
Help us, Obi-wan Kenobi
Could it get any bigger than this?
The Twins go to Cleveland with a tenuous 3.5 game lead. It’s a three game series, and the first game is rained out. So: double-header time. There’s still a good number of games left, so everything doesn’t actually ride on this series. But it kind of feels like it does. The Twins have taken some blows lately, losing Pineda and Buxton. They’ve lost a few games, and the Spiders are breathing down their necks now, and here we are, playing in the Clevelander’s home park, the Spider Web. Play-off baseball. A doubleheader with the top two teams.
There is great potential for disaster.
But the boys come out and take the first one, 2-0, with shut-down pitching from the law firm of Smeltzer, Littell, Duffy, Romo, and Rogers. Polanco gets a two-run homer to win the game. And then the Twins actually sweep the doubleheader, coming back from a 5-2 deficit in game two. They tie it up in the 8th, 5-5, and with the bases loaded and one out Sano crushes the first pitch into the left field stands.
Twins win, 9-5.
They are up by 5.5 games. And the radio broadcast crew say the words: “magic number.”
And the Magic Number is
Pennant races are a lot of fun.
Gone are the days when the Twins were winning every game and building a 12-game lead in the Division. Looking at the sports pages this morning, what do we find? Those scuttling Spiders from Cleveland have come back up from the depths. With the Twins loss yesterday (5-1 vs the Pale Hose) and the Spider’s win (9-1 over the Royals. Do the Royals have a nick-name? Do they have the worst club name in baseball?) we find the home town boys at 63-41, and those Spiders at 62-42, just a game back. A single game. And August beckons. While the Twins have meandered to a 5-5 record over the last ten, the Spiders have gone 8-2. And over July, while the Twins compiled a lackadaisical 10-11 mark, the Spiders went, uh… 17-4. That’s right. 17-4.
That’s some good ball they’ve been playing over there in Cleveland. And some falling-out-of-first-place ball by the home town boys.
Pennant races are slow motion excitement. (Reminds me of the guy who said that baseball was 3 minutes of excitement crammed into 2 and a half hours.) Pennant races are methodical, clockwork, tumblers falling into place, day after day after day, incremental changes, subtle shifts. Home games vs. road games, off days, double headers, head-to-head play. Injuries and juggling rotations. Prospects up from the minors. Pitchers who are tired and laboring. Maybe a bit of a sore arm here and there. The late summer nights can be steamy. The darkness is approaching. The fans are growing surly and argumentative. Trades are made of promising youth, the organization’s future, for aging mercenaries of the bullpen who will maybe be able to help you today. Desperation is in the air. The pennant race is early playoff baseball. Every day is must win, and you can’t be lulled into thinking that there’s always tomorrow. That’s the peculiar danger of the pennant race. “Still plenty of time.” There’s only time if you win. Every loss kills you a bit. Every win by the other guys is a stab in the back. Tick tick tick tick tick. Time is suddenly gone. Time is ephemeral, fleeting, an illusion. Suddenly, there, the finish line! It’s right in front of you! Watch out!
That’s right. Welcome to the Twilight Zone of the baseball season.
Pennant races can be a little nerve-wracking.
Especially when your team has just gone 10-11, and the other guys don’t ever seem to lose.
Yesterday the Twins traded a promising young first baseman for some aging bullpen help, along with some prospects. Generally, fans here are considering this a win, though there is a lot of doubt expressed on the street about how much bullpen help Sergio Romo will provide. Which seems odd, given that he has 17 saves in 18 save attempts this season for the Marlins, and our bullpen has an ERA of about 4.41, which leaves a good deal of room for improvement. (Our bullpen has somehow created the illusion that it is better than 4.41. Maybe all the guys with 8 and 9 run ERAs have been sent down, and only guys with 2.72 ERAs are left?) I heard a few people say that Romo’s a “soft-thrower” who may very well have prospered over there in the Senior Circuit, where apparently the hitters can be fooled by that soft-throwing shit. That’s not gonna fly here in the American League, they say.
Well, we shall see, we shall see.
To acquire Mr. Romo, 36, and young pitching prospect Chris Vallimont, and a player to be named later, the Twins parted with young first baseman Lewin Diaz, who’s been pounding the ball in 90 games of A and AA ball: .294, 19 home runs, 27 doubles and 62 rbis. The story on him is that he’s having a “bounce-back” season this year, and the Twins would probably not protect him in the off-season by giving him a roster spot, given the Twin’s depth at first base. Given that detail, maybe this was an okay trade. Vallimont, 22, has speed and control and a 3.16 era in 22 starts in A ball.
Still, I hate to see Diaz leave. He’s having a heckuva season, and I have a feeling we’ll miss him in the future, when he’s pounding those soft-throwers over in the National League.
I wouldn’t be a very good baseball GM. I kind of hate trades. In my major leagues, you sign the best guys you can and then you develop them and then you play the game. Would I ever pull the trigger? Well, you can bet I would not trade Brunansky for Herr. That’s for sure.
Twins 11, White Sox 1
Royals 9, Spiders 6.
Good ol’ Royals.
They should have stuck with the Katz name. What were they thinking?
Kansas City Katz? Kansas City Royals?
You make the call.
The logical course of events:
Instead, the Twins have upset the narrative. (This almost never happens.) They win game two of the series, come back from a 3-1 deficit to take the game 5-3, with strong pitching by Berrios and a two run single by Rosario in the top of the 9th. And then they take game 3, 6-2, with Kyle Gibson’s solid pitching, and home runs by Marvelous Marwin Gonzalez and also by Mr. Buxton.
And then yesterday they take game four, with Mr. Odorizzi as the slab artist. Jake goes 6 innings, gives up 3 hits, strikes out 9, and his ERA sinks to 1.96 on the season. The Twins jump out to a 7-0 lead, but the bullpen gets into some trouble, giving up 5 in the 7th. Schoop-dog hits a two run homer in the 8th to make it 9-5, and the Rays come back with 2 in their half of the 8th, 9-7. which is where it ends, with Taylor Rogers pitching a door-slammer of a 9th, striking out three for the save. Case closed. See you later.
Twins get a day off before visiting Cleveland for what will doubtlessly be a hotly contested series.
And life is good in Twins Country. And new narratives arise.
There was something of a build-up to yesterday’s Twins – Rays game. A little bit of small-market buzz. Two of the hottest clubs in baseball, facing off. Yankees – Red Sox? Forget ’em! The Twins are playing the Rays! Hang onto your hats, sportsfans, this is going to be good!
Instead, the Twins were mercilessly pounded by the Rays, 14-3. Which brings to mind a couple of famous sayings, one by Catfish Hunter, “The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass every day,” and one by Joe Schultz, famous manager of the Seattle Pilots, which readers of Ball Four will likely recall.
Martin Perez started, and he gave up 6 (runs) in two and two thirds. 6-0. Zack Littell came in, and gave up 8 (runs) in four and a third. Just one of those games, I guess. Even the best team in baseball is going to lose a lot of games during the course of the long season. This was one of those. Goodbye. Game over. Round two tonight.
On a brighter note, I also finished reading my latest baseball book last night. But before I can talk about that, I need to talk about this one, that I read last year, and never got on the blog. Odd, that, because it was really a really good book. But I remember it got buried on the book stack on the desk, and then later it was moved back into the baseball library, and was just plain forgotten. Until now.
I was never much of a Keith Hernandez fan. Probably mostly because he was over there in the senior circuit, and I just didn’t see much of him. Plus, -10 points for being a Cardinal at one point in his career.
But I always new that he was a good ball player. Excellent fielder, excellent hitter. Maybe not a big threat to steal. But big deal. I’d have him on my club.
I noted a reference to Hernandez baseball smarts somewhere. Perhaps it was in the book I read with all the World Series stories. Anyway, it made me curious, and so I picked up a copy of Pure Baseball. And I learned a lot from Mr. Hernandez about the game. Turns out, I wasn’t such an advanced fan after all. There was (is) a lot I don’t know about the game. I suspected that was the case. As my friend Ghost once told me, “It’s a goddamn chess match out there!”
Reading this book is a lot like sitting in your man-cave, in your man-chair, having a few man-beers and watching baseball on your man-TV with Hernandez sitting next to you and with him explaining everything that’s happening. Except that would be pretty annoying, sitting with Mr. Know-it-all, listening to him pontificate on every play. So reading this book is actually better than having him there in person. And, in the book, he is actually sitting in his palatial NY penthouse apartment, watching baseball on his huge projection TV, and analyzing what’s going on. He watches two games, one in each league, and he covers them inning by inning, sometimes pitch by pitch, when it matters. And he’s got a lot of good stories and insights that he shares with you, and he’s annoying hardly at all.
For example, I learned about the intricacies of deciding who covers second base when you think a runner might go. If you’ve got a left-handed batter up and a guy on first, but the batter often takes the ball to left field, would it be smart to have the second baseman move to cover second? It’s a bit risky, Hernandez says – with the first baseman holding the runner and the second baseman moving to cover, it leaves a big hole on the right side of the field.
Hernandez, it turns out, was a student of the game, always watching and learning. Some players struggle with the game, the pitching part or the hitting part, and they need to focus on the inner game, the strategy and smarts, in order to keep up and stay in the show. I guess Hernandez was one of those other guys, though. He didn’t need to worry quite so much about the hitting and fielding, and was just naturally curious and attentive. He was so game-smart that his managers would sometimes let him set the defense when he was out there on the field.
Readers who are not serious baseball fans may possibly be bored (and annoyed) by this book. Maybe you’d rather not see baseball as a kind of chess match. Maybe you hate chess. Maybe you are writing a book that explains baseball as sort of like a game of checkers.
The serious baseball fan, though, the curious and attentive student of the game, is probably going to learn a few things from this book. And will probably end up thinking better of Keith Hernandez for having written it. Even if he did have to play for the Cardinals for awhile. He was really mostly a Met.
Good game, Keith.