Earlier this season, I wrote about how the good things that happen in baseball make me feel very good — and that while the bad things are annoying, the lowest of lows doesn’t come close to rivaling the highest of highs. The Twins can make you numb for a while with the performance they turned in during Game 2 against the Yankees, but I could make a list of a dozen things that happened this season — each of which would outweigh how that loss made me feel. OK, maybe only a half-dozen, but you get the idea.
Yeah, I’m still pretty incredulous that Nick Punto made his heads-down base-running blunder in the eighth inning — rounding third, heading toward home and getting thrown out trying to return on the single that Derek Jeter tracked down behind second base. And I’m even more incredulous that Punto — while being a stand-up guy for talking about the play — cited the crowd reaction to Denard Span’s grounder: “55,000 people screaming, the crowd got me.” We’ll make sure to whisper next time.
Nobody out, tie game, Scott Ullger (the third-base coach) giving the stop sign. It was as if Punto wanted to cement the folly of those who still talk about the Twins “doing the little things right” — and as if Carlos Gomez hadn’t driven home that point with his Game 2 gaffe at second base. Jerry White, the coach responsible for issues on the bases, needs to spend the winter revising his curriculum.
Yeah, I’m still trying to figure out what happened to Jason Kubel, who had one hit and nine strikeouts in the three games. And the whole Joe Nathan thing in Game 2 and the three walks-by-three relievers breakdown in the ninth that let the Yankees extend their lead from 2-1 to 4-1.
And I’m annoyed that it is the Twins who are contributing so mightily to the rehabilitation of A-Rod’s reputation as something other than an October choke artist. Good and annoyed.
So many parts went kablooey over these last three games that it’s a wonder two of them were as competitive as they turned out to be. Face it, kids. The Yankees are the best team in baseball. They won 103 games and pretty much ran off with the best division in baseball. Would they have won 123 if they played in the AL Central? That doesn’t excuse the Minnesota mistakes as much as make me wonder why the games weren’t tennis-match scores — 6-0, 6-0, 6-0.
The best team doesn’t always win in October, but it’s kind of nice to have a No. 7 batter (Robinson Cano), who batted .320 and hit 25 homers, and a No. 8 (Nick Swisher) who had 29 homers and a .371 on-base percentage. How does that compare to Brendan Harris and Jose Morales, the Twins 7/8 guys in Game 3? After the game, a spent-sounding Gardy gave appropriate props to the Yankees while duly noting the breakdowns by Punto and the bullpen.
Some of the fun memories from Game 3 will come from the 54,000 or so people with whom Ms. Baseball and I shared the Metrodome for its last major-league baseball game. These things had little to do with the game. The stadium-wide laughter and “A-Rod” chant following the playing of that public service announcement with the crumbling statue: “Sports are good for a kid’s body. Steroids aren’t.”
The sign in left field my colleague Chris emailed me about about that I’m sure the TBS camera crew opted not to show: “These Baseball (announcers) Suck.”
And while I’m not normally a fan of chucklebrains who run on the field during games, I will cite the one Sunday night as the exception that proves the rule. The guy — wearing a powder-blue Blyleven jersey — jumped over the wall between home plate and first, and led more than a dozen security officers on a ninth-inning chase all the way out to the center field wall. He was finally tackled while trying to scale the wall, after one pursuer fell to the ground and several others showed they weren’t quite in chase-down form.
(Ethical disclaimer: Nothing here should be considered an endorsement of running on the field or any other form of game-delaying behavior by spectators. This was simply an epic run, and I am pretending that the motive was simply to get Mariano Rivera’s arm to stiffen during the delay, as opposed to anything that might have been fueled by stupidity borne of alcohol or the man’s parenting.)
So that’s it. The team that thrilled us during the final weeks of the season, and especially in the final days of the regular season, went three-and-out against a better team. The team that spent five months making us wonder about the depth of their heart and soul, got us all revved up for the stretch drive and teased us with thoughts of playing later into October. The team that has some flaws that need fixing for 2010 (more on that another time) gave us a 2009 to remember.
We were witness to a historic performance by a solid M-V-P candidate. (Sorry, Derek, you’re second) and a fifth division title in eight years. Yes, I want more than division titles in the future. But right now I’m feeling pretty good about the hometown team. I’m happy with the return on my investment of time and energy.
All the more knowing that the next time I see them play, it’ll be outdoors.
Have fun, Yankees. It’ll be interesting to hear you explain why you lost to the Angels.