June 22, 2004

Starting to Come Around

The Twins lost last night and their bullpen basically imploded, but that's not totally unexpected playing against the suddenly healthy Red Sox, at Fenway. The good news from the game is that the Twins got another solid effort from a starting pitcher, as Kyle Lohse went six innings and gave up three runs. Nothing great, obviously, but I'll take a "quality start" against Boston any time.

Lohse's start continues a pretty impressive run of starting pitching for the Twins this month. Ignoring their Seth Greisinger/Matt Guerrier fifth starter combo, Minnesota's front four have come up with the following performances in June ...

OPP    STARTER             IP     ER     SO     BB

TAM Carlos Silva 7.0 2 1 2
TAM Brad Radke 7.0 3 3 1
TAM Johan Santana 7.2 4 7 4
DET Kyle Lohse 6.0 2 5 2
DET Carlos Silva 7.2 3 2 1
NYM Brad Radke 7.0 1 7 2
NYM Johan Santana 7.0 1 10 0
NYM Kyle Lohse 7.0 2 3 1
PHI Carlos Silva 7.0 1 8 0
PHI Brad Radke 7.0 1 7 1
MON Johan Santana 8.0 2 7 0
MON Kyle Lohse 6.0 4 3 0
MIL Carlos Silva 4.0 3 1 2
MIL Brad Radke 6.2 2 5 0
MIL Johan Santana 8.0 2 12 2
BOS Kyle Lohse 6.0 3 3 1

Pretty impressive. That's a total of 16 starts. Fifteen of them were at least six innings. They haven't had a starter throw shutout baseball, but no one has allowed more than four earned runs, either. A starter has walked more than two batters in game just once, which is remarkable to me.

Overall, the Twins have a 3.00 ERA in those 16 starts and they have gone an average of 6.75 innings per game. Perhaps the most impressive thing, to me at least, is that they have combined for 84 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 108 innings.

The most encouraging thing is that the solid performances have come from all four of the Twins' regular starters; this isn't just a case of one or two guys getting hot for three weeks.

PITCHER             GS       IP      ERA     SO     BB

Brad Radke 4 27.2 2.28 22 4
Johan Santana 4 30.2 2.64 36 6
Carlos Silva 4 25.2 3.16 12 5
Kyle Lohse 4 25.0 3.81 14 4

Now, if only the team could remember how to hit, we'd be on to something. After scoring 6.05 runs per game in April, the Twins have scored just 4.15 runs per game since. After averaging over six runs per game for the entire first month of the season, they've scored more than six runs in a game exactly eight times since. Not pretty.

On a completely unrelated note (or not) ... Justin Morneau is now hitting .310/.388/.625 with 18 homers, 18 doubles and 52 RBIs in 56 games at Triple-A Rochester.

Mr. June, Luis Rivas, went 0-for-3 last night, dropping his average this month all the way down to .487. I got a really great e-mail regarding Luis' amazing hot streak yesterday from long-time reader Jim Mohl. It's so good that I'd just like to present it in its entirety, without comment ...

His performance post-injury is certainly remarkable. Using the binomial distribution, the chances of a .261 hitter suddenly going 19-for-36 (or better) is about 1-in-6,000. To put that in perspective, the chances of being dealt 4 of a kind in 5 Card Stud is roughly 1-in-4,000. Definitely a rarity. But given enough players and enough time, it's bound to happen to somebody. Rivas could be this year's Mr. Lucky.

To put what he's done in perspective, I went back to 2001, looking for players who hit .500 or better for an entire month, minimum 30 AB's. (Of course, Luis has another 8 games to go before he achieves that. But let's assume for now that he will.) Would you believe there were only two of them? Way back in April 2001, Moises Alou went 20-for-40. Nobody did it in 2002. And then, in May 2003, another Luis (Matos of the Orioles) turned in a 17-for-34 performance. That's it. Nobody has managed to hit OVER .500 for an entire month over the last 20 months, which is where the Twins Luis stands right now.

Of course, a requirement of just 30 AB's is very low for an entire month. In fact, Matos got his 34 AB's in just 8 games! Rivas has appeared in 11 games since coming off the DL. But as you pointed out, in one of them he never got to the plate. You should have also mentioned that he got only 1 AB each in 2 other games, and still managed to keep his hitting streak alive in both! So his 36 AB's came from 8 and a fraction games as well.

Figuring the average team plays about 27 games per month and allowing for 3 1/3 AB's per game, that works out to 90 AB's per month for a regular. But if the minimum requirement was set that high, I doubt that anyone would ever hit .500 for a month. Recalling that Rivas' chances of doing what he's done so far were 1-in-6,000, what do you think his odds are of going 45-for-90 (or better)? Write down your best guess. Answer #1 below.

Moises Alou is a lifetime .300 hitter, so his awesome April of 2001 is not nearly as amazing as Rivas' June 2004. (The odds against a .300 hitter going 20-for-40 or better are only 1-in-413.) Matos' May of 2003 is comparable though. In fact, it probably was an even a bigger surprise at the time. Prior to that, his career BA was a puny .212, albeit in just 311 AB's. (Rivas is 10 months YOUNGER than Matos. Yet he started 2004 with 1,412 AB's, 4 1/2 times as many as his fellow Luis had at the same age.) What are the odds of a .212 hitter suddenly going 17-for-34? See Answer #2 below.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think we can safely say that Matos was NOT a .212 hitter, despite the results of those initial 311 major league AB's. In 2003, he went on to hit .303 for the whole year, in 439 AB's. The chances of a true .212 hitter going 133-for-439 is only 1-in-331,000. It just doesn't happen.

Can Matos' performance provide a clue to Rivas' future, now that he has essentially duplicated the other's feat? Should we expect him to go on to hit .300? Probably not, for 2 reasons. First, in 2004 Matos has nearly reverted to his pre-2003 form, batting just .234 in 235 AB's. So we can be pretty sure he really isn't a .300 hitter either, despite his terrific 2003 season. That year has "fluke" written all over it. He entered this year with a career .265 BA, nearly identical to Rivas' .263. Maybe that is his true level, or maybe not. Time will tell.

In the case of "our" Luis, though, we have to give a lot more weight to the prior experience, just because of the huge number of AB's he has piled up over the years. Consequently, while we can't rule out the possibility his joyous June reflects a true breakout, we should regard it with suspicion until we've compiled a lot more data.

Answer #1: 1-in-2,737,000.

Answer #2: 1-in-21,400.

Folks, that is a great e-mail. I am notoriously awful at answering e-mail, in part due to the sheer volume of them I get each day. However, if you ever want to be assured that I'll read what you write and pay close attention to it, all you have to do is write something as good as what Jim just put together.

Of course, that's much easier said than done. I'd say the ratio of e-mails like Jim's that I get, compared to e-mails that are essentially asking me for advice on which middle reliever to start this week in fantasy baseball, is about 1-to-1,000.

See ya tomorrow ...

Today's picks:

Chicago (Buehrle) -140 over Cleveland (Lee)

Detroit (Knotts) +105 over Kansas City (May)

Total to date: -$2,670

W/L record: 107-144 (1-3 yesterday for -200.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

June 21, 2004

Pinto Talks Twins (and other ramblings after an off-day)

The other day I was thinking that my team, the Minnesota Twins, whom I rant and rave about in this space five times a week, don't get all that much attention in the blogging world. Now, don't get me wrong, there are a fair number of Twins blogs, such as Twins Geek, Seth Speaks, Twins Chatter, Bat-Girl and Will Young.

We actually have a good and growing group of Twins blogs, and I'm probably even leaving a couple out. Instead, I'm talking about outside of the guys (and girls) who are as obsessed with the team as I am; I'm talking about other blogs.

How many Twins-related posts have you read on non-Twins blogs this season? Perhaps I am just frequenting the wrong blogs or something, but I haven't see a whole lot. I'm not necessarily complaining, as much as wondering why it is. The more stuff about the Twins there is for me to read, the better.

So just a couple days after I started pondering that question, one of the original baseball bloggers, the guy whose innocent suggestion that his readers might have fun trying to start a blog of their own turned into 23 months and counting of me blogging every weekday, had some relatively lengthy thoughts on the Twins yesterday. Here's what David Pinto, of Baseball Musings, had to say about the AL Central leaders:

I find the Twins to be a very interesting team. Without the fanfare of the A's, they built a very strong farm system and developed a good team on the cheap. Like the A's, they were willing to let older players go (Ortiz, Pierzynski) to make room for younger talent. They are another nail in the coffin of the meme that you can't win without spending a lot of money.

They're in first place again this year, and they've gotten there the hard way. They've been outscored by their opponents 326-322. They really should have a .500 record. They have done well in 1-run games, going 13-8. But the Chicago White Sox have been as unlucky as the Twins have been lucky. The pale hose should be at .585 and have a 5 1/2 game lead over the Twins. Yet, the White Sox are also doing well in 1-run games, going 13-7. What is true is that the Twins have not done well in games decided by five runs or more; they are 7-11.

One of my rules of thumb in evaluating teams is that great teams win big. The Twins aren't a great team. But they are doing a good job of winning when they are able. And two hopeful signs; one is the return of Joe Mauer, who should take some pressure off Lew Ford, who has been the offense this year. The Twins are 10-6 since Joe's come off the DL. Mauer hasn't been getting on base, but he has supplied power, as 7 of his 10 hits have been for extra bases. The other sign of hope is Johan Santana, who has put together three great outings in a row.

The Twins have achieved a record in excess of their play in this first half. The Twins underperformed offensively. With the return of Mauer, and with the return of the rest of the Twins to their 2003 performance (especially Mientkiewicz, Koskie and Jones), the Twins have a good chance of building on a lucky first half to take them to a division title.

That's a solid post, especially from someone who doesn't follow the team all that closely on a regular basis. David actually talks about a topic -- the Twins "lucky" record -- that a lot of Twins fans I know have had on their minds of late.

Here's the thing though ... It's not just this season. The Twins have been just as "lucky" going on four years now, which is, not coincidentally, the same length of time they've been a good team again. Take a look ...

YEAR     PYTH W     REAL W     +/-

2001 81 85 +4
2002 86 94 +8
2003 85 90 +5
2004 34 38 +4

If the Twins continue to beat their pythagorean record at this same pace for the remainder of this season, they will have been "lucky" by 10 games this year and a total of 27 games over the past four seasons.

Meanwhile, check out the same table for the White Sox ...

YEAR     PYTH W     REAL W     +/-

2001 81 83 +2
2002 86 81 -5
2003 88 86 -2
2004 38 35 -3

The Sox actually managed to "beat" their pythagorean record back in 2001, but they've now been "unlucky" for three years in a row. The interesting thing, aside from their unluckiness coinciding with the Twins' luckiness, is that the White Sox have a new manager this season and are still underperforming just like they did in the past.

If both the White Sox and Twins stay at the same paces for real wins and pythagorean wins for the remainder of this season, the Twins will be +23 over the past three years, while the White Sox will be -15. As I'm sure you've figured out by now, that's just huge -- a 38-game swing.

Meanwhile, the Twins beat the White Sox in real wins by 13.5 games in 2002 and 4.0 games last year, and if they keep the same winning percentages this season, the Twins will win the division by about 5.0 games. All of which adds up to a difference of "only" 22.5 games in the real standings over that same three-year period.

In trying to figure out how the Twins have out-performed their pythag. so far this year, David says, "One of my rules of thumb in evaluating teams is that great teams win big. The Twins aren't a great team. But they are doing a good job of winning when they are able."

I agree with that 100%. The Twins are not, by any stretch of the imagination, a great team. In fact, I've gone on record many teams saying that if they were not in the AL Central, they probably would yet to have made the playoffs since 1991.

I honestly believe that if the Twins had been in the AL's other two divisions, they would probably have been fighting for third and maybe even fourth-place for the past few years. That doesn't change the fact that they ARE in the AL Central, of course, or that they are currently on track to make the playoffs for the third year in a row.

Now that I've complimented David on his Twins thoughts, let me just point out one thing that I think he has wrong. It's very minor, but it's something worth noting. David says, "Like the A's, [the Twins] were willing to let older players go (Ortiz, Pierzynski) to make room for younger talent."

Now, this is true in some cases, like, as David points out, A.J. Pierzynski being sent to the Giants to clear room for Joe Mauer. However, his other example of David Ortiz is not a good one. Ortiz was arbitration-eligible following the 2002 season, at which point he was 26 years old. The Twins let him go, in part because they didn't want to pay him what he likely would have gotten in arbitration, but they certainly didn't replace him with a young player.

The two spots Ortiz manned while with the Twins were first base and designated hitter. The Twins' first baseman since he left has been Doug Mientkiewicz, who is just over a year older than Ortiz. The Twins haven't had an everyday DH since Ortiz left, but the guy who has played there the most, Matthew LeCroy, is exactly one month younger than Ortiz.

In reality (or at least my reality), the Twins have been completely unwilling to replace Ortiz at DH with a younger player. That player is, of course, Justin Morneau, who is now hitting .311/.381/.622 with 17 homers and 18 doubles in 55 games at Triple-A Rochester.

And then the other part of David's comment that I don't agree with completely is his statement that, "[The Twins] are another nail in the coffin of the meme that you can't win without spending a lot of money."

As I just said, one of the main reasons for Minnesota's playoff appearances is the division they are in. They simply have had to be better than the White Sox. The A's (who David mentions), meanwhile, have had to compete against the Angels and Mariners, who have been, at various points, as good and far better than Chicago.

If you stick the Twins in the AL West, the A's would beat them in the standings every year, and I think the Twins would have had a very tough time even finishing in second-place in any season, this current one included.

That's not to say the Twins aren't doing a very nice job on a limited budget, because they certainly are. Still, I don't think they are the perfect blueprint to follow. They play in baseball's worst division, against several other low budget teams. And, prior to starting to turn things around in 2001, they went eight straight seasons (1993-2000) without a record above .500.

The A's, meanwhile, play in a tougher division and yet will make the playoffs for the fifth year in a row this season and will have a winning record for the sixth season in a row. The Twins, if they can hold off the White Sox, will make the postseason for the third straight year and finish above .500 for the fourth straight year.

So what exactly am I saying? Basically, I think I'm saying the Twins and their management have done a nice job in the past few years, but they've also been lucky to play against weak competition. I'd say they aren't quite another "nail in the coffin of the meme that you can't win without spending a lot of money," but rather another nail in the coffin of the meme that you can't win IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL without spending a lot of money.

Because in the end, the Twins' ability to make the playoffs and to put those nails in that coffin, is only affected by their ability to finish with a better record than four teams: Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City.

There's no Boston or New York there, no Oakland or Anaheim, not even a Seattle (before they went in the tank). That's Chicago, a good-but-flawed team, and three other small-payroll clubs.

Here are the payrolls USA Today credits the teams I've been talking about with having in 2004 ...

Minnesota Twins          $53.6 million


Chicago White Sox $65.2 million
Kansas City Royals $47.6 million
Detroit Tigers $46.8 million
Cleveland Indians $34.3 million

Being a "small market" team with a small payroll only matters if the teams you're competing against for a playoff spot are in bigger markets or have bigger payrolls. I think really the only nail the Twins are driving into anything is that they can beat the Chicago White Sox and three teams with even smaller payrolls than they have, and even that is still in question this season.

Meanwhile, look at what Oakland is fighting this year ...

Oakland A's              $59.8 million


Anaheim Angels $100.5 million
Seattle Mariners $81.5 million
Texas Rangers $55.1 million

Now, that is a team putting some nails in some coffins.

And it was the same story last year ...

Minnesota Twins          $55.5 million


Chicago White Sox $51.0 million
Detroit Tigers $49.2 million
Cleveland Indians $48.6 million
Kansas City Royals $40.5 million

Who knew? The Twins were the Yankees of the AL Central last year!

And here's what Oakland overcame to win the AL West last season ...

Oakland A's              $50.3 million


Texas Rangers $103.5 million
Seattle Mariners $87.0 million
Anaheim Angels $79.0 million

I hate to say it, but this is why people like me praise Billy Beane so much. If you want to know why Beane is a favorite of statheads and you're willing to look at it in a reasonable manner, without reverting back to "they lose in the playoffs every year" when the discussion gets interesting, it's fairly easy to see.

The A's will make the playoffs for the fifth season in a row in 2004 (you heard it here first, I guess). In those five years, take a look at the average payrolls of the AL West teams:

Oakland A's              $43.2 million


Texas Rangers $84.7 million
Seattle Mariners $76.5 million
Anaheim Angels $68.0 million

In making what I believe will be five straight playoff appearances, the A's have been out-spent by an average of $24.8 million, $33.3 million and $41.5 million by the three other teams in their division, respectively.

I love that the Twins are winning, I think they have done a nice job and I really believe they have the players in place to continue to compete for playoff spots for the rest of this decade. But what the A's have done and are doing is on a completely different level.

You know, there's something special going on in Oakland. Someone really should write a book about it.

New article at The Hardball Times: Tale of Two Halves

Today's picks:

Pittsburgh (Benson) +190 over Houston (Oswalt)

Arizona (Sparks) +150 over San Diego (Eaton)

Minnesota (Lohse) +215 over Boston (Schilling)

New York (Mussina) -160 over Baltimore (Riley)

Total to date: -$2,470

W/L record: 106-141 (1-0 yesterday for +100.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

.299/.327/.476

That's what Luis Rivas is hitting. Seriously, .299/.327/.476. I don't know how to explain it either. And if you think that's amazing, consider that Rivas missed about three weeks with a groin injury and has the following before and after numbers ...

TIME PERIOD          AB      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS      GPA

Pre-Injury 111 .222 .259 .342 .601 .202
Post-Injury 36 .528 .541 .889 1.430 .466

To be honest, I just don't know what to say. Yes, it's only 36 at-bats and, yes, his season totals still aren't that great, but my god, the man is hitting .528 with an .889 slugging percentage this month! And not only that, his defense has been extremely impressive too.

Since coming back off the DL, Rivas has a four-hit game, two three-hit games, two two-hit games, and five one-hit games. And he's only played a total of 11 times! In fact, the only game this month in which he appeared but didn't get a hit was when he came into the June 11 game against the Phillies as a defensive replacement and never got to the plate.

It's as if ... you might want to sit down for this ... Luis Rivas is actually improving as a player. Imagine that, huh? A young player getting better the more he plays. This whole time I had been looking for gradual improvements that never came, but apparently Luis just wanted to save it all up for about five years and then surprise us with it some random month.

Here's what I said on Friday:

I have decided that, as long as Luis Rivas is hitting like he is right now, I won't say a negative word about him. I don't expect this to last very long, but I certainly wouldn't mind if he continued like this for, say, the next 10 years or so.

He's hitting .538/.538/.846 since coming off the disabled list and is up to a semi-respectable .279/.305/.434 on the year (the average MLB second baseman is hitting .271/.332/.402). Basically, if he hits, I shut up, because I have nothing against the man aside from his established levels of ineptitude from 2000 until about two weeks ago.

Well, I'm still giving Rivas the silent treatment, because he went 5-for-10 with a walk, a homer and two doubles in the weekend series against Milwaukee. The man is on fire, there's just no way around it. In 36 at-bats he has gone from horrible numbers, leap-frogged over "semi-respectable" and is now approaching a .300 batting average and .500 slugging percentage.

This is as good as Luis Rivas has ever played and this is as good as his numbers have ever been. I remain silent, hopeful and skeptical.

Meanwhile, Johan Santana is on a hot streak of his own. He had perhaps his best game of the season yesterday afternoon, going eight innings against the Brewers while allowing two runs. He had 12 strikeouts, gave up just four hits, and won his third game in a row. Check out what Santana has done so far this month ...

GS       IP      ERA     W     L     SO     BB     OAVG

4 30.2 2.64 3 1 36 6 .160

I know everyone is all excited about Rivas, and rightfully so, but those numbers just make me smile. In addition to his dominant pitching performance yesterday, Santana also went 2-for-4 with two singles and an RBI at the plate. He had a single and an RBI in his last start, too, so he's hitting .375 with two RBIs on the year and .313 in 16 career at-bats. I heard a rumor that he also sells popcorn and cotton candy between innings.

Finally, Twins play-by-play man Dick Bremer said something during yesterday's game that I wanted to comment on, before I forgot about it. During one of Lyle Overbay's plate appearances, Bremer said (roughly paraphrasing, since I was actually eating lunch at the time):

"It's not enough to just say that Lyle Overbay is someone who had good minor league numbers and is now putting up good numbers in the major leagues, because there are a lot of hitters who have good minor league numbers and never get it together like Overbay has in the majors. David McCarty had minor league numbers that were great, just like Overbay, and the Twins waited for him to hit and he never did."

I am someone who believes that, for the most part, minor league numbers can be used to accurately project major league numbers, at least if they are used correctly. Now, certainly there are plenty of examples of guys who do well in the minors and never do well in the majors, but I disagree with the assertion that David McCarty is one of those guys, and I vehemently disagree with the assertion that his minor league hitting was similar to Overbay's.

Lyle Overbay put up some huge minor league numbers over the years. Just take a look at his batting averages at various stops along the way, while in the Arizona organization ...

YEAR     LEVEL            G      AVG      OBP      SLG

1999 Rookie 75 .343 .418 .588
2000 Single-A 71 .332 .397 .498
2000 Double-A 62 .352 .420 .533
2001 Double-A 138 .352 .423 .528
2002 Triple-A 134 .343 .396 .528

Now, Overbay played in some nice parks for hitting, but that is still some serious batting averages and some great all-around offense. All of which is why it is not that surprising that he is among the NL leaders in batting average this season.

In fact, here's what I said about Overbay two years ago, when I ranked him as my #38 prospect in all of baseball:

He won't hit many homers, but he is a left-handed hitting first baseman in the Mark Grace mold -- lots of doubles, lots of singles and some walks ... Overbay is very capable of hitting about .315/.365/.500 as a full-time first baseman.

In case you're wondering, he is currently hitting .345/.408/.554 this season and .308/.381/.472 for his career. He leads all of baseball in doubles, with 29.

Anyway, compare Overbay's string of huge minor league batting averages to what David McCarty did in the minor leagues while a member of the Twins' organization ...

YEAR     LEVEL            G      AVG      OBP      SLG

1991 Single-A 15 .380 .530 .620
1991 Double-A 28 .261 .350 .409
1992 Double-A 129 .272 .356 .434
1993 Triple-A 40 .385 .477 .629
1994 Triple-A 55 .253 .379 .382

I think it's pretty apparent that the comparison is not a good one at all. Lyle Overbay hit over .330 in each of his first five minor league stops, including hitting .352 in a full season of Double-A and .343 in a full season of Triple-A.

Meanwhile, David McCarty's "good minor league numbers" consist of one 15-game stretch in 1991 and one 40-game stretch in 1993. Surrounding those 55 total games of good hitting were about 200 games of sub par offense, including a .272/.356/.434 performance in a full season at Double-A.

If you're not a big believer in minor league numbers foreshadowing major league numbers, that's perfectly fine. But David McCarty is not someone you want to use to prove your point, especially when you pair him up with Lyle Overbay who, as of right now, looks like the poster-child for minor league performances translating to major league performances. Overbay was a hitting-machine everywhere he went; McCarty was a bust before he made it to the majors.

New article at The Hardball Times: My All-Stars

Today's picks:

Cleveland (Sabathia) -110 over Chicago (Schoeneweis)

Total to date: -$2,570

W/L record: 105-141 (1-1 on Friday for +50.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

June 17, 2004

Loving Rivas (and shutting up about it)

I have decided that, as long as Luis Rivas is hitting like he is right now, I won't say a negative word about him. I don't expect this to last very long, but I certainly wouldn't mind if he continued like this for, say, the next 10 years or so.

He's hitting .538/.538/.846 since coming off the disabled list and is up to a semi-respectable .279/.305/.434 on the year (the average MLB second baseman is hitting .271/.332/.402). Basically, if he hits, I shut up, because I have nothing against the man aside from his established levels of ineptitude from 2000 until about two weeks ago.

While we wait for Rivas to cool off, please head over to The Hardball Times to read my column for today. It deals with a wide range of topics, including ...

- Richard Hidalgo

- Belly buttons

- Bobby Crosby

- Joe Mauer

- Brad Pitt

- Richard Pryor

- SABR

- The new King of ESPN.com

- The old King of ESPN.com

- Superman

- Johan Santana

- Golf, sort of

And I might be missing a few things. As you can tell, I had a lot on my mind. Go check it out ...

The Hardball Times: News, Notes and Quotes (June 18, 2004)

See ya Monday ...

Today's picks:

New York (Vazquez) -160 over Los Angeles (Weaver)

Tampa Bay (Halama) +210 over Arizona (Johnson)

Total to date: -$2,620

W/L record: 104-140 (3-2 yesterday for +125.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

June 16, 2004

It'll look like a hit in the boxscore (and a win in the standings)

As if the Expos didn't have enough things going against them, they dropped a game to the Twins last night that they definitely deserved to win.

In front of about three dozen loyal fans in Montreal, the Expos took a 4-2 lead into the top of the 9th inning. Their new closer, Chad Cordero, had already come in to record the last out of the 8th inning, so he was back on the mound for the 9th.

What happened next was very strange. For the first eight innings of the game, the homeplate umpire, Phil Cuzzi, seemed entirely reasonable to me. The six Montreal pitchers who preceded Cordero didn't walk a single batter, and Minnesota pitchers handed out just three walks.

Then, all of a sudden, with one out in the 9th, Cuzzi's strike zone vanished. Cordero threw pitch after pitch -- over the outside corner, over the inside corner, up in the zone, down in the zone -- and Cuzzi just wouldn't call strikes.

After falling behind Jacque Jones 3-0, Cordero got an "automatic" strike over, got Jones to swing and miss at a pitch, and then gave up a solo homer. Suddenly it was 4-3 Montreal.

The next five batters Cordero faced went like this ...

Walk

Double

Walk

Ground Out

Walk

He eventually got out of the inning, but not before it was 4-4, and not before he had thrown 36 pitches. 36 pitches. And only 15 of them were strikes, of which Phil Cuzzi was responsible for calling just eight.

While all of this was going on, the Montreal dugout, and specifically Frank Robinson, was going crazy. Cuzzi stopped at one point, took off his mask, and yelled back at them. If the Expos thought Cordero being squeezed was bad, they were in for a real shocker a little later on.

After the Expos failed to score in the bottom of the 9th, the game went into extra innings. Neither team scored in the 10th and then Luis Rivas, who had pinch-run for Joe Mauer in the 9th (after Mauer walked, of course), led off the 11th with a line drive deep down the left field line.

The ball was scorched and it traveled right down the foul line. I couldn't tell, at first glance, whether it had stayed fair or hooked foul at the last moment. Neither could Rivas, because he sprinted to first, sort of stopped, started to run again, and then looked around. He eventually crossed home plate with the go-ahead run, while Frank Robinson came charging out of the dugout.

Montreal's leftfielder, Brad Wilkerson, came sprinting to the infield to voice his opinion, and the pitcher, Jeremy Fikac, also had some words for the umpires. Meanwhile, it looked to me like none of the umps were quite sure what happened. None of them made anything even remotely like a forceful gesture. They just sort of ambled around, huddled up, talked to Robinson, and walked around some more. In the end, the homer counted.

Upon further review, the ball was foul. Not by much, but it was definitely foul. Rivas had simply hit a long foul ball, but somehow the Twins had a 5-4 lead. Frank Robinson was understandably upset. First his closer had been pinched in the top of 9th and his team blew a two-run lead, and now the umpires had just ruled that a foul ball was a homer, not because any of them emphatically thought it was one, but more like they sort of thought it probably was and no one had a strong opinion otherwise.

Robinson talked and the umps listened. Then he yelled and the umps listened. Then he made his way back to the dugout, but stayed there for about 20 seconds, before storming back onto the field. The first guy he got to was the first base ump, who presumably had the least to do with ruling on a homer down the left field line.

Frank then yelled some more but couldn't get thrown out of the ballgame, no matter what he did. At least as far as I could see. He then decided he'd had enough. He was no longer interested in simply yelling in the faces of these umps. He began walking back to his dugout and stopped on the way to wrap his hands around his neck. Several times. One time he even jerked his head back repeatedly. Frank Robinson was choking himself.

I really wish I had a picture to show you, but I couldn't find one online. If you'd like to re-enact it to see what it looked like, simply place both hands tightly around your neck and then nod your head repeatedly, up and down. Throw in a few choice words and you've basically got the Frank Robinson-choking-himself look down.

I'm not sure if Frank was choking himself to show that the umps were basically "killing" the Expos or if he was saying that the umps "choked" by making the wrong call in an important situation. Whatever he was saying, it was funny and it was entirely warranted.

I never did see Frank Robinson get the old "heave ho" last night, but after he was done choking himself he did leave the scene, fleeing to the Montreal clubhouse for what was almost certainly an altercation with a folding chair or a cooler full of Gatorade.

The Expos should have won last night, their 21st victory of the season. Chad Cordero should have gotten the save, his 2nd of the season. The game should have ended in nine innings. Luis Rivas should never have come to the plate and should never have hit a foul ball, let alone a home run.

But guess what? I'll take it.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL


W L WIN% GB
Minnesota 36 28 .563 ---
Chicago 34 27 .557 0.5

Today's picks:

Texas (Drese) -100 over Cincinnati (Van Poppel)

Seattle (Franklin) +110 over Milwaukee (Capuano)

Boston (Lowe) -150 over Colorado (Cook)

Chicago (Loaiza) +115 over Florida (Beckett)

San Francisco (Hermanson) +115 over Toronto (Halladay)

Total to date: -$2,745

W/L record: 101-138 (2-2 yesterday for +90, with one rainout.)

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