October 6, 2002
Where do I start?
That was a great game and a great series, made even better by the fact that THE TWINS ARE STILL PLAYING BASEBALL!
As a sports fan, that is the most emotionally involved/nervous/excited I have ever been during a game.
But, I think I could get used to this sort of thing every year.
I was watching the game in my dorm room and taking a few "notes" so I could write a nice entry about the game for you folks.
In about the 6th inning, the notes stopped as my uncle (also a gigantic Twins fan) called me on the phone.
The phone called lasted until shortly after Ray Durham popped out to Denny Hocking in the bottom of the 9th inning.
There was apparently some sort of ladies/girls bookclub meeting at his house, so he was hidden away in a bunker somewhere, watching the game.
So, he called me up and we both watched the end of the game together, a couple of Twins fans too nervous to watch everything unfold in silence.
He told me that he tends to eat a lot of stuff when he is nervous (which is funny, cause he is about 135 pounds soaking wet) and I confessed that I had been tapping my foot on the ground about a hundred times per minute since the opening pitch.
Man, that was a lot of fun!
I don't know if my heart can take this type of thing more than once every ten years, but I sure would be willing to risk it.
Ron Gardenhire's lineup for this game played a big part in the outcome.
He chose to leadoff Jacque Jones, who hit .213/.259/.331 against lefties this season.
There is really no excuse for this, as Jones has always been a horrible hitter against lefties and the Twins have good options to replace him in left field.
But, nonetheless, Gardy stuck with Jones, who ended up going 0-5 with 3 strikeouts and 5 men left on base.
There was one place in the lineup where Gardenhire did make a major change, second base.
Luis Rivas is apparently "injured," which is probably good considering the way he has played this series.
Gardenhire went with utility man Denny Hocking in place of Rivas.
Whether Rivas was hurt or not, this was a great decision, as Hocking hit .342/.404/.434 against lefties this season and was 7-18 off of Mark Mulder in his career, prior to today.
Hocking ended up going 2-4 with a double, an RBI and some nice defensive plays.
Gardenhire also had Matthew Lecroy at DH and hitting cleanup, in place of David Ortiz.
This was also a good decision.
Lecroy hit .289/.347/.522 against lefties this season, while Ortiz hit only .203/.256/381.
Lecroy went 2-3 with an RBI and a run scored and having Ortiz on the bench proved extremely valuable in the late innings as he drove in the 5th (and winning) run of the game.
So, Gardy made 1 out of the 2 lineup changes that I have been suggesting for games against lefties.
And he also made a change that I am in favor of, although one I was not expecting, putting Hocking in for Rivas.
All in all, a pretty good job by the manager of putting his team in the best position to score runs.
The game started on sort of a bad note for the Twins, as the second hitter of the ballgame, Cristian Guzman, hit a ball into the right-centerfield gap and got thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple.
Jermaine Dye made a tremendous relay throw to Mark Ellis, who got it over to Eric Chavez in plenty of time for the tag.
Not the greatest way to start a ballgame, especially when you are in a situation where runs will probably be pretty hard to come by.
In the A's half of the 1st inning, Ray Durham singled to leadoff the game.
Scott Hattberg then hit a bullet to centefield that Torii Hunter came charging in on and grabbed for the out, in a play that was erily similar to Durham's inside-the-park-homerun in game 3.
It was a great catch and Torii deserves credit for not hesitating or playing it safe.
In the top of the second inning, Lecroy led off the inning with a chopper off of the plate that must have gone about 100 feet in the air.
By the time it landed, Lecroy was already at first with a single, and with Matthew's speed (or lack of) you get a pretty good idea of how high the ball went.
The next batter, Torii Hunter ripped a double to left field and all of a sudden, the Twins had runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs.
Doug Mientkiewicz came up with a chance to drive them in and instead hit a hot shot up the middle that was caught in the air by Tejada.
Hunter had started to go to third base on the play, but was able to dive back into second base an instant before Tejada got there to double him up.
The A's then intentionally walked Michael Cuddyer, so they could pitch to A.J. Pierzynski with the bases loaded.
A.J. did exactly what the A's wanted and popped out to left field.
So, they went from 2nd and 3rd with 0 outs to bases loaded and 2 outs, without scoring a run.
But Denny Hocking ended that with a single up the middle, scoring Lecroy with the first run of the game.
The Twins should have scored two on the play, but for some reason third base coach Al Newman decided to give Torii Hunter the stop sign at third base.
During the regular season, Big Al is normally very aggressive sending runners to the plate, but he was extremely careful this time and it probably cost the Twins a run.
With two outs, Hunter was running on contact and had already started to round third base when A's centerfielder Terrence Long picked up the ball.
Hunter has good speed and would almost certainly have scored on the play, especially considering Long's throw ended up about 10 feet up the 3rd base line and shorthopped the catcher.
I think Guzman getting thrown out at third in the 1st inning was probably in the back of Newman's mind, which is a shame.
It was even more obvious that Hunter should've tried for home when the next batter was Jacque Jones, who promptly struck out, ending the inning.
Guzman led off the top of the third inning with a double off the wall in deep left-centerfield.
That made two hard hit balls into the outfield gaps for Guzman in his first two at bats, which was certainly great to see after his struggles all season.
Two batters later, Guzman scored the second run of the game when Lecroy singled to center.
In Oakland's half of the third, Ray Durham drilled Brad Radke's 1-0 pitch over the wall in straight away centerfield, cutting the Twins' lead to 2-1.
RayRay really hit the ball well in this series (except for his last at bat, of course).
With 1 out in the top of the 5th, the following graphic was shown on the screen:
Twins against Mulder today:
Lefties = 0-10
Righties = 8-10
On the next pitch, Lecroy (a righty) struck out and the next batter, Hunter (also a righty) struck out too.
And then, suddenly, my notes stopped.
It was right around this time that I started thinking the Twins might actually win this game!
And it was also right around the time that my extremely nervous and excited uncle made my phone ring.
In the bottom of the 7th, after allowing a single to Jermaine Dye, Radke got David Justice to strike out and got Mark Ellis on a flyout.
Gardenhire then decided to take Radke out of the game and he brought in J.C. Romero.
At the time, I would have liked to have seen Radke pitch the Terrence Long (who was up next) and also to Ramon Hernandez (who was on deck and who struggles big time against righties).
But, Gardenhire's move was definitely an acceptable one, as Radke was up around 100 pitches and Romero has been lights out all season long.
Romero got Long to ground out to first base, ending the inning.
Oakland brought in extreme submariner Chad Bradford for the 8th inning.
David Ortiz was brought off the bench to pinch hit for Lecroy.
Ortiz hit an easy grounder to second base, which led to this classic exchange between my uncle and I:
Uncle: "That fat piece of ----."
Me: (something unintelligble)
Uncle: "He reminds me of Tony Oliva."
Me: "Tony Oliva was fat?"
Uncle: "Well, no."
Nothing beats nervous chit chat!
Bradford got the Twins 1-2-3 in the 8th.
Romero stayed in for the bottom of the 8th.
Randy Velarde pinch hit for Ramon Hernandez and hit a bullet up the middle that Romero somehow got a glove on.
The ball knocked Romero's glove completely off of his hand, but it was slowed up enough for Cristian Guzman to come charging in on it, scoop it and make a strong throw to first base to get Velarde.
Ray Durham then singled to center (remember I said he was having a great series?).
Romero got Adam Piatt (who pinch hit for Scott Hattberg) to strike out, which brought up Miguel Tejada with a man on 1st base, 2 outs and the Twins leading 2-1.
As if our hearts weren't pumping fast enough at that point, Ron Gardenhire decided that Latroy Hawkins should probably come into the game, so Romero was taken out and Latroy "Aaron Gleeman wouldn't trust me with a lead less than the Gross National Product" Hawkins came into the game to face Tejada.
If you would have been on the phone at that point, here what you would have heard:
Me: "Here comes Donnie Moore."
My uncle laughed for a second and then realized that Hawkins was actually going to pitch to Tejada and said something like "@#%$&!"
Latroy threw 8 straight fastballs (most of which were between 96-98 MPH) to Tejada and somehow (thankfully!) struck him out to end the inning.
Latroy had a really great season (80 IP, 2.13 ERA, .217 Opp BA) and he really has a great fastball, but for some reason (possibly because he has a career ERA of 5.38 in over 700 IP) I just don't trust him in any sort of important situation.
I have to give him credit though, he got a really key out from one of the best hitters in baseball.
And right about here is where it started to get real interesting...
A's closer Billy Koch started the top of the 9th inning.
Before he threw his first pitch, my uncle and I had this exchange:
Uncle: "Koch is coming in."
Me: "I think this is a good move, he's their best reliever and there isn't gonna be a save."
So much for what I know.
Dustan Mohr (who had replaced Cuddyer defensively in RF earlier) led off the inning with a walk.
The next batter, A.J. Pierzynski hit an absolute bullet right over the yellow "home run line" in left-centerfield, giving the Twins a 4-1 lead and causing both my uncle and I to omit a sound that resembled a cross between a 3-year old girl screaming and an animal being shot.
Then, with 2 outs, Guzman reached on an infield single and stole second thanks to a good jump and a bad throw by Greg Myers (who was in the game because Hernandez had been pinch hit for earlier).
Corey Koskie drew a tough walk, which brought up David Ortiz, who doubled to right-centerfield, scoring Guzman with the 5th Twins run.
Torii Hunter struck out swinging and the game went to the bottom of the 9th.
Twins closer (and AL saves leader) Eddie Guardado came into the game and was met with the following graphic:
"Guardado vs. Oakland in 2002: 2.2 IP, 5 H, 1 HR, 16.88 ERA, 0-2"
Uncle: "Oh, that's a nice statistic."
Eddie obviously felt as though a 16.88 ERA against Oakland this year wasn't quite as high as he would like it to be, so he did his best to fatten it up.
Eric Chavez hit a bouncer up the middle, Denny Hocking dove, grabbed it, got up and threw a strike to first base, but Chavez beat it by a step.
Jermaine Dye hit a grounder to Koskie at third and the Twins forced Chavez out at second base.
David Justice followed with a double to deep right-centerfield, putting runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out.
Mark Ellis came up, took a strike and two balls and then hit a 3-run homer over the fence in left field.
Suddenly it was a 1-run game.
Terrence Long hit a hard line drive to centerfield, but it held up in the air and Torii Hunter was able to get under it for out number two.
Randy Velarde slapped a 1-1 pitch on the outside part of the plate into right field for a single, which brought the winning run to the plate in Ray Durham, who had already homered once in this game and who hit a combined .333/.417/.762 in the 5 game series.
To say that Guardado did not have his best stuff today was probably the understatement of the season, so we both prayed to the God Of Popups.
And what do you know?
Ray Durham popped the 3-2 pitch up into foul territory right behind 1st base.
Easy play right?
Ah, but you forget, some strange things have happened defensively in this series.
But Denny Hocking, Minnesota Twin since 1993, sprinted over, frantically waving his hands in the air and caught the ball.
If you thought the hybrid 3rd grade girl/injured animal scream was loud before, well, that was nothing!
THE TWINS WIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
About two minutes later, perhaps lacking the proper amount of oxygen in my brain as a result of all the excitement, I said, "So, what do you think about the Angels?"
But that is definitely a question for another day (What? The game is on Tuesday? Okay, so "another day" will be tomorrow).
For now, I will try to calm down.
This was a great day to be a Twins fan.
Check back tomorrow (which, coincidently, will also be a great day to be a Twins fan) for the official "Aaron's Baseball Blog Preview" of the Twins/Angels series, which starts Tuesday night, at The Dome.
Anyone know of anyone looking to donate some really good seats to a young, poor, college student?