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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bitter Thoughts About Baseball

I was at game 163 on Tuesday. You can say what you want about the fact that it's just two 86 win teams fighting for the chance to be swept by the Yankees. In my opinion, it was awesome!

It was so crazy that I think you could do a 12 episode miniseries breaking down each inning. It would be riveting. I never knew watching other people play sports could be so exhausting.

I was so excited after the game I promised myself not to let the upcoming loss to the Yankees in the post season ruin my memory of that game. Well, after Friday night's Game 2 against the Yankees, my promise was broken.

I know, I know, the series isn't over. But the Twins must now win three in a row and let's face it, Sunday is a classic Dead Man Walking game.

I can handle watching the Twins lose to the Yankees. Frankly, the Yankees are better than the Twins in every facet of the game (hitting, fielding, base running, pitching, etc.). But to lose a game when holding a 3-1 lead in the 9th is just too painful. Add to that all the other chances the Twins had to score and sprinkle in a brutal call by an umpire and this game goes down as one of my worst Twins memory.

First of all, let's knock out all the secondary reasons they lost the game. Carlos Gomez's base running blunder cost the Twins a run. It's unacceptable and he has looked in-over-his-head all year. He needs to be in the minors and the Twins organization need to swallow their pride and admit they got nothing in return Johan Santana. Beyond the base running error by Gomez, the Twins left 17 runners on base. You can't do that against any team, especially the Yankees.

Yes, the double by Mauer that was called a foul ball was unacceptable. I just don't see how an umpire 10 feet from the play misses it. It's just...mind boggling. But, like the missed hit by pitch on Brandon Inge in game 163 and as I've said many times before, if you let one bad call cost you the game you didn't play it well enough.

However, Mauer did single after the blown call and the Twins ended up with the bases loaded and nobody out. The Twins should score at least one there, plain and simple. Instead Delmon Young had a line drive caught by Texeira, a little bit of bad luck. Then Gomez does what he does and softly grounds to first to get a force out at home followed by a Brendan Harris fly out and the inning is over. The sad part is while the Twins should have scored there, it didn't matter. There's not a pitcher in the bullpen who could have shut down the middle of the Yankees' order. Mijares proved that by immediately giving up a home run to Texeira.

So this game combined most of my least favorite things in baseball when they happen against the Twins, walk off losses, base running blunders, not scoring with the bases loaded and nobody out, bad umping and a blown save. Note the last part. When you look at what went wrong in this game, it was the blown save that truly cost the Twins the win and it's the most concerning part for me.

Joe Nathan's blown save in the ninth is what caused me to break my promise and let this post season ruin my happiness of winning the division. The reason it was so devastating is because after that I lost hope. Not just hope for this post season, but hope for the Twins future in general.

Joe Nathan has been a great closer for the Twins. He'll blow a few saves and some fans get on him but I've always defended Nathan. Overall, he saves a lot more games than he blows. But this game solidified some fears about Joe Nathan.

1.) Joe Nathan can't get it done against the Yankees.

2.) Joe Nathan can't get it done in the post season.

3.) Joe Nathan CERTAINLY can't get it done in the post season against the Yankees.

There's no excuse for what happened. You can talk about payrolls and talent and Yankee magic all you want but the Twins were in the position they wanted to be in. They have always relied on the singular fact that if they take a lead into the 9th inning they are going to win. Beyond that, this wasn't even a tentative lead for Nathan. The Twins had an extra run to play with. So if Nathan gets Texeira out, the Alex Rodriguez home run is relatively meaningless. Likewise, if Texeira homers and A-Rod singles things could still be OK. Joe Nathan did the one thing he couldn't afford to do, allow a home run with a man on base.

(As an aside, people need to stop with the "A-Rod is now clutch" talk. Alex Rodriguez has eaten the Twins alive his entire career, including the postseason in 2004 when he supposedly "earned his pinstripes" once before by winning a game via an RBI double in extra innings. So until A-Rod does it against a team other than the Twins in the post season, I wouldn't get too excited.)

Anyway, my question is, if a closer is great in the regular season but can't close games against the Yankees or in the post season, what good is he really? The only hope is that the Twins either blow teams out in the post season (not going to happen) or you just hope Nathan can get it done in the post season not against non-Yankees teams. (Which is unlikely since the World Series almost always goes through New York.)

There are moves the Twins could do in the off-season to improve the starting pitching, bullpen, and infield. (We all know they won't make those moves, but I can dare to dream.) But what are the Twins going to do about the closer? If they keep Joe Nathan then even if the Twins surprise me and do well next year I know deep in my heart that it'll just end in post season disappointment. I say trade Joe Nathan and get some help back. But then you’re left with a big question mark at closer. So, in the end, I have no idea what the Twins should do.

That's why this game has ruined things for me. Unless the Twins can find a new, dominate closer, there's no reason to think the Twins will ever make waves in the post season. That's a bitter pill to swallow. That ruins the memory of game 163.

4 comments:

  1. I was also at the game on Tuesday and it was easily the best live sports event I have ever been to and it is darn close for best sports event I have seen period. I however have no intention of letting the Twin's inability to do anything in the post season sully that though. It was still a kick ass game.

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  2. Per usual, you've managed to take the same reaction I had ("the -expletive deleted- Twins -expletive deleted- suck!") and analytically break it down into exactly WHY we had that reaction.

    My only saving grace is that I had to work Friday night so I only experienced the games through snippets heard on the radio in the back room and updates from people coming off breaks. Thus I only heard about the blown save, and didn't have to experience it live.

    What really grinds my gears about the whole thing is the fact that before the the Twins handed a 3-1 lead to Nathan in the bottom of the ninth, I was fully accepting of the fact that the Twins were going to get swept out of the postseason (again...). I wasn't being negative or defensively realistic or anything, I just knew with our record against the Yankees and the fact that the Yankees ARE a really good team this year, it wasn't going to happen.

    But when I heard we were handing a 3-1 lead over to Nathan, I dared to question my assertion. I thought "hey, we can win this game. Then maybe we can win one in the Dome. And if we one in the dome, maybe we can win one more. Or pull out a miracle and take it from the Yankees in New York." I dared to dream, to hope, again.

    And then Nathan blew the save, and I was most mad at the Twins for destroying my Zen-like acceptance of their fate for no good reason. And then we loaded the bases and couldn't score a freakin' run, and that made me mad because that's just bad baseball (as Dan Gladden later said, if a team loads the bases with no outs and fails to score, that's a team that just doesn't want to win that game), but like you said, it wouldn't have mattered if we had scored: Nathan was the pitcher who had the best chance of holding a lead against the Yankees, and he had already failed to do so, so what did it matter if we scored?

    (And I missed the ump's blown call on the Mauer double, so I only heard about it after the fact. I'm sure I'd be more livid if I experienced it live and if I thought it would have made a bigger difference in the game, but I will say that blown call along with several more throughout the entire LDS this year has me more irate than ever at the general apathy towards bad umpiring amongst the people that can do something about it).

    Incidentally, did you see that Reusse's column in the Strib today is basically saying the same thing you are, to trade Nathan (as well as seven other things the Twins should do this off-season)?

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