The postseason

Game time change for Game 4

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

The Twins have announced that if they win today that the first pitch of Game 4 on Monday will be moved to 6:37 p.m., central time.

The Twins-Yankees and Rockies-Phillies would be the only Division Series in action. That has forced TBS to juggle its schedule.

Another Jeffrey Maier moment in the Bronx, but 17 runners on base?

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

I was in Yankee Stadium in 1996 when Derek Jeter sent a drive to right that Baltimore outfielder Tony Tarasco thought he had a chance to catch.

As he reached up at the wall, the glove of some kid named Jeffrey Maier reached down and caught the ball. Richie Garcia, the the umpire down the right field line that night, ruled  it a home run. I joked in the Kansas City Star the next day that Maier played a single into a homer (a slight exaggeration). 

Tarasco went nuts. But the call wasn’t changed. After the game, Garcia entered the media room and said, “Only I can get in trouble in right  field.”

Exactly 13 years later, Garcia isn’t alone. Another outfield ump has blown a call. I’ll give credit to Garcia for facing the music. But Phil Cuzzi was nowhere to be found last night to explain how he blundered the call on Joe Mauer’s liner down the left field line. Crew chief Tim Tschida, St. Paul’s own, appeared instead.

What’s the point in having six umps if they are going to make mistakes, especially on such an obvious call? And can instant replay be expanded?

But I’m done with that. Folks, the real culprits on Friday were the Twins, who had 17 runners on base but couldn’t score more than three runs. A.J. Burnett walked five and hit two batters himself and was set up for a big blow that never came.

And the 11th inning, in which the Twins loaded the bases with no outs, will go down as one of the worst moments in club history, Delmon Young lined one right at Mark Teixeira for the first out but the other two at-bats were awful. Where are the Midre Cummings or Jose Offermans to get a pinch hit when you need one? Food for thought as the Twins work on their 2010 roster.

What also can’t be overlooked is that Joe Nathan fell apart in the ninth. He opened with three sliders for balls to A-Rod, then when he had no choice but to come in with a fastball, he grooved one. That’s five earned runs in two appearances against the Yankees for Nathan, both of which ended in walk-offs.

The Twins said the right things after the game about playing in crucial games in September and knowing they can bounce back. That’s what they are embracing as they try not to get swept on Sunday.

But they don’t have the power, on the mound or the lineup, to compete with the Yankees. That means they can’t blow scoring chances and can’t fall behind 3-0 to A-Rod in the ninth inning.  

The Twins work out today at 10 am, followed by interview room sessions at around 11:30 that I’m pretty sure will be televised on the MLB Network. There should be updates on Matt Tolbert’s injury and Joe Mauer’s admission that he’s not feeling too good right now has to be a concern.

Carl Pavano will talk about facing the Yankees, the team he had four hugely unproductive years for.

It’s almost time for Game 2!

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Team Strib just arrived at Yankee Stadium. The tarp is coming off as I write this but there is rain in the forecast.

These modern stadiums usually handle rain well. So we expect to get nine innings in. But there’s nothing that gets a pressbox buzzing like the chances of travel plans blowing up because of a rained out game.

Twins will work out at the Dome tomorrow at 10 a.m. BTW.

Here’s the Twins lineup:

1. Denard Span, RF
2. O-Cab, SS
3. St. Joe, C
4. Ku-Boom, DH
5. Cuddy, 1B
6. Delmon Young, LF
7. Go-Go, CF
8. Matt Tolbert, 3B
9. Nick Punto, 2B

Pitching: Nick Blackburn, RHP

Check here from time to time for updates. And don’t forget our twitter pages!

Update: Just got done with Gardy. Jose Morales is not in the lineup tonight but the manager has no problems using him as a pinch hitter.

Morales look nervous at the plate in the last two games at the Dome, leading to Brendan Harris starting at DH in Game 1. Morales needs to get into a game and get hit so he can feel better about himself.

Jesse Crain told Gardy that he felt pretty good today. But Gardy will check with Crain and the rest of his team after warmups to make sure he can call on them if needed.

Gardy was Gardy when asked about getting Carlos Gomez in the starting lineup: “Go-Go brings speed, covers a lot of ground and…irritates people. Sometimes me.”

That got a chuckle out of the media horde.

From the huddle with Gardy

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Thanks to Mike Herman of the Twins baseball communications department, we were able to grab Twins manager Ron Gardenhire following his main press conference to get more details on Jesse Crain’s sore groin muscle.

But it led to some interesting stuff from the Twins manager about Game 1 and the state of his team.

Gardenhire could have said nothing about Crain just to keep the Yankees guessing, but didn’t.

 “I’m not hiding anything from them,” Gardenhire said. “I think I should let you guys know. That’s important. If he can’t pitch tomorrow night, you guys are going be going, `What happened to Crain? Well, he’s hurt.’ I don’t like that stuff. If you have something, just tell them.”

Crain was one of several players to get treatment on Thursday. Gardy was optimistic Crain would be available Friday.

“I didn’t throw,” Crain said. “I just did some cardio and some stretching and got in the hot tub. It felt better after all that stuff.” 

I asked Gardy if that affected his bullpen decisions. Nope. Francisco Liriano was 0-1 with a 3.18 ERA in two starts against the Yankees this season and has a career 2.77 ERA against him. My take on this is that Liriano has had such a poor season and was on the bubble to make an 11-man postseason staff before the Twins decided to go with 12 pitchers (although Liriano probably would have gotten the nod over Bobby Keppel because he’s a lefty).

“Keppel, really didn’t want to go  to him,” Gardenhire said. “He had thrown too many (on Tuesday). So you’re looking long (relief) more than anything else. We thought about trying to go inning-by-inning but those guys have thrown.”

Brian Duensing’s pitch to Alex Rodriguez was the moment that jumped out at him the most. He said pitching coach Rick Anderson told Duensing to be careful with the All-Star because the chances were good that he would chase something off the plate. But Duensing grooved a pitch.

“We gave  up A-Rod’s first (postseason) RBI in five years,” he said. “Chrysler.”

Joe Mauer also came in for treatment.

“Joe, he’s a little sore,” Gardenhire said. “Play all night and fly all night. You couldn’t tell by his swing but he’s a little more sore, so he came in and got some treatment. And I think this is going to be a beautiful day off for him, Get some treatment and relax.

“He’s the one guy you really worry about. He’s taken a beating. You play a marathon game then fly until 4:30 in the morning.”

And as Joe C. mentioned in his blog, I did get stuck in the elevator with six other scribes for 20 minutes today. And, yes, I texted Joe a question to ask Gardenhire. While other people in the nervous in the elevator, I was  cool. We were on the ground floor and just had to wait for someone to pry the door open. I might have felt differently if we had been a few floors up.

But the issue I have is with the Yankees and their $1.5 billion tribute to themselves? The elevator breaks down in the first year? Really?

This postseason reminds me of 2006

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

We are one win by the Rays away from having an unpredictable World Series matchup between Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. Wow.

Rays and Phils. The networks have gotta love that potential matchup. I must remind myself that the Red Sox could start downing shots of Jack at any moment and win the final two games of the ALCS. But I don’t think it’s going to happen. Big Papi isn’t hitting. The bloopers aren’t falling in for Jacoby Ellsbury. Mike Lowell needs hip surgery. Jason Varitek isn’t hitting.

So let’s just go ahead and pretend that the Rays have already won 9-5 tonight and are headed for the series.

It’s been a crazy postseason, hasn’t it?

But we have been here before. Let’s take a look back at the 2006 postseason.

ALDS: Twins vs Oakland and Yankees vs Detroit

The Twins were smoking hot entering the postseason, having won the AL Central  division on the final day of the regular season. Many experts picked the Twins to win the World Series. That ended against Oakland. Frank Thomas hit two homers in Game One. Mark Kotsay got an inside-the-park homer in Game Two when Torii Hunter re-enacted the Ray Durham play from the 2002 postseason. Then the skeletal remains of Brad Radke couldn’t keep the Twins in contention in game three. A couple Twins players admitted to me that, once they won the division, they exhaled – and by the time they took their next breath the ALDS was over.

ALCS: Yankees vs Tigers

Detroit put together a nice team, but the Yankees were the Yankees. With A-Rod, the Big Unit and Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano in contention for a batting title eventually won by Joe Mauer. I, like many, had the Yankees favored to win. But who saw a total offensive collapse by the guys in pinstripes? Joe Torre basically threw up his hands and batted A-Rod eighth in Game Four! The Tigers won the series.

So it’s Oakland-Tigers in the ALCS – and the Tigers sweep in four, finishing the series with a walk-off homer by Magglio Ordonez. So the team few picked to get out of the AL bracket that year was in the World Series.

NLDS: Mets vs Dodgers and Padres vs St. Louis

Most, `experts’ had the Mets and the Padres meeting for the pennant. The Mets stepped up and swept the Dodgers. The Cardinals, with 83 wins during the regular season, beat the Padres in four games as San Diego suddenly became allergic to hitting.

NLCS: Mets vs St. Louis

This was set up for the Mets to reach the World Series. But they fell behind 3-2 in the series before outlasting Chris Carpenter and getting to the bullpen to win Game 6. It’s Jeff Suppan vs Oiver Perez in Game 7. I was already stunned that the series lasted that long. Perez pitched well for six innings and Chad Bradford tossed a scoreless inning. Suppan went seven strong. Something called Randy Flores gets through the eighth for the Cardinals. “Who are these Cardinals pitchers?’’ I kept asking myself.

Ninth inning. Aaron Heilman is on the mound (Billy Wagner was injured, big surprise). In the shot that rocked baseball fans everywhere, Yadier Molina hit a two run homer. Adam Wainwright got through the ninth, and the Cardinals are in the World Series. The Mets were crushed  – a feeling they’ve had to get used to.

World Series: Cardinals vs Tigers

No one gave the Cardinals a chance.

“The National League Championship Series is a nice little event, but no matter what happens between the Mets and Cardinals, it’s not going to change this World Series prediction: Tigers in four.  And when it happens, when Detroit celebrates its first title since 1984, it will confirm what many talent evaluators whispered before October began: Any of the four American League playoff teams – yes, including the Twins – could take down the NL’s best in this year’s Fall Classic.’’ —- Joe Christensen, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Oct. 17, 2006.

He wasn’t alone. The Tigers, with a great lineup and impressive pitching staff, were supposed to chew up and spit out the Cardinals, and I would then turn my attention to watching the Bears roll to the Super Bowl. But Al Reyes won Game One. Tigers pitchers forget how to throw to bases. Detroit actually committed eight errors in the series. And the Cardinals pitchers – household names like Randy Flores, Josh Kinney, Braeden Looper and Tyler Johnson – put up zeroes. St. Louis won 105 games in 2004 but couldn’t win the title – but won 83 in 2006 and won it all. What a game. 

So let’s look at 2008.

The Cubs looked like a juggernaut heading into the postseason but lost to the Dodgers because of breakdowns in every facet of the game. The Dodgers, who got hot in September, look ready to return to the World Series for the first time since 1988 but that homer by Matt Stairs in Game Four was a killer. 

The Angels wrapped up their division early and backstroked into the postseason, and many felt they could go all the way. That was before the Red Sox spanked them in four. Boston had a shot for a third World Series win in five years - and the lead in the team of the decade race - but are getting worked over by the Rays. Frankly, I think the Twins would have been a better matchup for the Rays than the White Sox, who are allergic to playing in Domes and on FieldTurf. 

What an unpredictable sport. You really don’t know what’s going to happen when you get to the ballpark – which is why I love this game.