March 31, 2003

Mmmmmm, baseball

Like a man wondering the desert for 50 years that suddenly finds a drinking fountain, I turned on my television set yesterday at noon and watched 10 consecutive hours of major league baseball.

I had class until 12:15 yesterday, so I couldn't catch the very beginning of the Twins game on TV (it started at 12:05), but I listened to it while I walked back to my dorm. The first thing I heard when I flipped on my walkman? "Here's the first pitch from Maroth...Jones swings and hits it right back to the pitcher..."

You can learn a lot of things from one sentence. First, Jacque Jones is leading off against a lefty, which I had held out hope wouldn't happen (as much) this year. Second, Jacque is still hacking away. Now, last year he hacked away and hit the 2nd pitch of the season for a home run, but that was against a right-handed pitcher. You'd think that in the first at bat of the season, against a lefty, he might take a few pitches. Nah.

In fact, the entire top half of the first inning took exactly 7 pitches! I love the Twins and I know swinging away is more fun than talking pitches, but sometimes I wish they would just work the counts a little bit more. Not necessarily walk more, just work counts more and try to get better pitches to hit. We'll see. It was, after all, just the first inning of the whole season.

Just as I was getting to the dorm, the Tigers started their half of the first inning. Leadoff man Gene Kingsale reached on a bunt single (which I later saw a replay of - he should have been out) and the crowd in Detroit sounded like they had just won the World Series. Of course, the Tigers are still the Tigers, so Kingsale got thrown out trying to steal second and the next two batters made outs. By the way, I think Kingsale could have a nice little Dave Roberts-type season this year for Detroit.

I went into the cafeteria to get a quick bite to eat before going to my room to watch the game. I was wearing my Twins hat (as I almost always am) and the guy scanning the university ID cards at the door intiated the following exchange with me:

Guy: Hey, the Twins are playing today, aren't they?

Me: Yeah, they are on TV right now.

Guy: Who is pitching for us?

Me: Radke.

Guy: Who?

Me: Brad Radke.

Guy: Never heard of him, is he new?

Me: No.

Now, if you (presumably) care about the Twins enough to a) know that they begin the season today and b) see a stranger with a Twins hat on and start a conversation about the Twins with him, don't you think you should know who Brad Radke is?!

He has been the Twins' opening day starter for 5 straight years and 7 times in his 8 year career! I wish I would have thought to ask him what pitchers he did know of. He's probably a big Tony Fiore fan.

Some other notes on the Twins game...

Despite having a horrible first at bat against Mike Maroth, Jones did hit a nice double against him in his 3rd AB. I know it is only one hit and Mike Maroth aint exactly Randy Johnson, but Jacque only had 8 doubles in 160 ABs against lefties last year, so it's nice to see.

Al Newman continued to make some questionable decisions as third base coach. I was a little "down" on Newmie as 3B coach last year and what he did in the 6th inning yesterday didn't change my opinion. Jones led off the inning with that double and then Cristian Guzman hit a single up the middle. Now, I think that a fast runner on second base should always be able to score on a solid single up the middle, but Newman held Jones and Detroit's CF, Gene Kingsale, ended up double-clutching his throw anyway. So with Jones on 3rd instead of in the dugout after scoring a run, Torii Hunter hit a grounder to third, Jones went home and was thrown out at the plate by 10 feet. The next batter hit into a double-play and the Twins got ZERO runs out of a double and single to start the inning. It definitely had me shaking my head.

Bobby Higginson got moved from left field to right field this year, but he plays great D no matter where he is. He robbed Matthew LeCroy of a double in the 4th inning with a diving grab.

The Tigers moved the left field fence in during the off-season and it paid off immediately...for the Twins. Dustan Mohr hit a line drive right over the top of the newly moved in fence for the first homer of the year. It would have been a double last year.

Cristian Guzman's arm looks a lot better than it did last year, but he is still making what I would call "silly mistakes." Omar Infante hit a ball to him in the 4th inning that Guzman should have caught - and did for a moment - but dropped. He then ran over, picked the ball up and slung it to first base, in time to get Infante. The reason Guzman was able to take about 20 seconds and still get the out? Infante stopped running as soon as the ball hit Guzman's glove and then couldn't restart and get to first fast enough to beat the throw. The lesson in all of this? JUST RUN! It's the very first game of the entire season for god's sake! If you can't hustle now, when are you going to? If Infante, who is a fast runner, would have just run normally he would have beaten the throw easily. Instead, it's an out and he'll probably got yelled at by Alan Trammell after the game.

Michael Cuddyer got the start at third base for the injured Corey Koskie. I like Koskie a lot and hope he comes back from the injury soon and has a great year. However, I would eventually (like in 2005 or so) like to see Cuddyer be the everyday third baseman. Koskie is already 30, so maybe he could play 1 or 2 more years at 3B and let Cuddyer take over. That said, I am not real sure the Twins feel his defense is good enough at third, because he was taken out of the game in the 7th inning and replaced by Denny Hocking at 3B! What does it say when you take a guy out on opening day, in the 7th inning, against Detroit, because you want to put a better defender at 3B?

Brad Radke looked awesome. He needed 36 pitches (26 strikes) to get through the first 4 innings. And remember that leadoff bunt single that Kingsale had in the first inning? Well, that turned out to be the only hit Radke gave up in the first 6 1/3 innings! He gave up the bunt "hit" to Kingsale and then retired the next 18 batters in order, before Omar Infante hit a clean single to right field, which finally got the ball rolling for Detoit.

Dmitri Young then hit a ball about a foot from home plate and got thrown out at first and then Bobby Higginson walked, putting runners on 1st and 2nd with 2 outs. Dean Palmer came up and Radke got ahead of him 0-2, but Palmer hit a squibber down the third base line and Denny Hocking (who just replaced Cuddyer at 3B) couldn't make the play fast enough. Palmer beat Hocking's throw to first and then Infante came flying home and beat Mientkiewicz's throw (he double-clutched) home to score the 1st run for the Tigers.

And just like that, Radke's day was over. He was cruising along for 6+ innings, gave up a single, a walk and a squibber down the line and he got yanked in favor of J.C. Romero. Romero, a lefty, came into the ballgame and Detroit did something very "interesting." They pinch-hit for Carlos Pena, also a lefty, with Craig Paquette, who proceeded to make the third out of the inning.

I'm all for getting platoon advantages and all that, and Romero is good against lefties, but Craig Paquette sucks against everyone and Carlos Pena is probably their best hitter. To make matters even worse, Pena was actually very good against lefties last year (.265/.333/.538) and Paquette hit .271/.306/.339 against them.

So the Tigers made it a 2-1 ballgame without really doing a whole lot. No matter, A.J. Pierzynski led off the top of the 8th against sidearming lefty Jamie Walker and hit the 1-2 pitch about 30 feet over the fence in right field to make it 3-1 Twins. A.J. slugged .393 against lefties last year and .167 (yes, .167!) against them in 2001, so it's beyond great to see him yank one out against not only a lefty, but a sidearming lefty reliever!

Luis Rivas, always wanting to impress me, singled to center in the top of the 8th and then advanced to 2nd on a Jacque Jones bunt. Then Guzman hit a little pop up into center field and Rivas, who apparently forgot their was only 1 out, just starting running ("I was running..."). Kingsale easily made the play in CF and tossed the ball back in to second base to double-up Rivas. Along with bad offense and bad defense, we can now add "baserunning mistakes" and/or "brain cramps" to Luis' resume.

Earlier in the game, Twins play-by-play man Dick Bremer talked about what "A GREAT JOB" Luis Rivas has done as the Twins' second baseman. I nearly lost my lunch. You may think a lot of things about Rivas and you may not agree with my fairly negative opinion of him, but one thing I think is painfully obvious is that he has not been great.

Romero stayed in to pitch the bottom of the 8th and faced left-handed Eric Munson to lead off the inning. Munson was allowed to hit, despite the fact that Trammell had just pinch-hit for Pena an inning earlier. Now, I understand that there were guys on base when Pena came to the plate, so getting a hit there was more important, but Pena is actually a good hitter against lefties and has shown that in the major leagues, while Munson is...well, we don't know yet.

Along with being really good relievers, J.C. Romero and Eddie Guardado lead all major league duos in "times adjusting protective cup per inning."

Franklyn German looked nasty. He came in and pitched the top of the 9th and was a little wild at first, but was throwing 95 MPH fastballs. Then he got Torii Hunter to swing through a 3-2 breaking ball. Matthew LeCroy yanked a single into left field against him, at which point Dick Bremer mentioned that LeCroy (whom I lovingly refer to as "Fatty LeCroy") lost 20 pounds this off-season. Because the game was on TV and my eyes still work, I would say that is a lie. German then got Denny Hocking (batting for Cuddyer) to ground into a DP and the Tigers got out of the half-inning down only 3-1. German actually reminds me a little bit of Armando Benitez, which would be pretty nice for the Tigers. I'd be surprised if he isn't closing games for them by mid-season.

By the way, that 7th inning move of Hocking in for Cuddyer didn't work out all that well, did it?

Eddie Guardado came in for the bottom of the 9th and put the Tigers down 1-2-3 for his first save of the 2003 season. All in all, a very good, clean, crisp first game. I would've liked a little more offense considering who were playing and who was pitching, but you gotta love the pitching and it was nice to see A.J. go deep against a lefty.

Radke's final line:

6 2/3 IP

1 ER

3 H

3 SO

1 BB

0 HR

78 Pitches

With the Twins game over, I flipped to WGN just in time to see Ken Harvey smack a double down the left field line to put Royals at 2nd and 3rd with no outs in the 2nd inning against Mark Buehrle. Angel Berroa came to the plate and I, sitting alone in my room, literally said, "C'mon Angel..." Berroa listened to me and hit a single past the diving D'Angelo Jimenez and into right field, scoring Brandon Berger from 3rd base.

Amazingly, Runelvys Hernandez limited the White Sox to 2 hits and 0 runs over 6 innings, before turning it over the Jason Grimsley and then Mike MacDougal, who kept the shutout going.

So, after one day, the Twins are a game up on Chicago. You gotta love that!

In other games...

Chris Berman and Rick Sutcliffe did the Mets/Cubs game for ESPN. I know that a lot of people like Berman (although I've never met one), but I think he is an absolutely dreadful baseball announcer. And Rick Sutcliffe makes him look like Vin Scully. I am glad the Twins game was on at the same time so I didn't have to listen to more than 3 minutes of them at a time.

Chicago put a 15-spot on the Mets!

Corey Patterson went 4 for 6 with 2 homers and 7 runs batted in! I think Patterson will have a much better year than he had in 2002 (it would be hard to be worse), but I wouldn't get too excited about yesterday's performance. Patterson went 2-3 with a triple and 2 walks on opening day last year and followed that up a 3-4 with a double and a walk in the 2nd game. So, after 2 games, he was hitting .714/.800/1.143 with 3 walks. He went on to hit .247 the rest of the year and walked a total of 16 times in his final 618 plate appearances!

Juan Cruz also had himself a nice afternoon, coming on in relief and striking out 6 straight Mets. I will be shocked if Shawn Estes doesn't give up his rotation spot to Cruz at some point this season.

Heck, when you win 15-2, everyone has a nice afternoon. Hee Seop Choi went 1-3 with a double and 2 walks. Moises Alou went 2-3 with a double and 2 walks. Mark Grudzielanek went 3-3 with a walk. Even Kerry Wood had a hit and an RBI!

For the Mets, Roger Cedeno proved once again that he should never be allowed anywhere near center field. On one of Patterson's homers, Cedeno looked like had no clue where the ball was going and just seemed to be heading in the general direction of where he thought the ball could possibly end up. And then Mark Bellhorn hit a flyball out to center field that Cedeno proceeded to play into a 3-run triple.

I feel bad for Mike Bacsik, because he already had 2 outs before the Cedeno misplay and he ended up giving up 9 runs (all earned, since Cedeno didn't get an "error" on the play) in 2 innings, which is good for a 40.50 ERA.

The Orioles beat the Indians in the 10th inning when Gary Matthews Jr. hit a flyball into center field with the bases loaded and 2 outs and Cleveland CF Milton Bradley broke in on the ball, started to go back on and it and then basically said, "Screw it" and let it drop for a hit. Not the best effort I've ever seen.

Pedro Martinez pitched incredibly against Tampa Bay, allowing 1 unearned run and 3 hits in 7 innings of work. He turned a 4-1 lead over to the bullpen and watched as Alan Embree and Chad Fox combined to give up 5 runs in the bottom of the 9th, including Carl Crawford's walk-off 3-run homer.

As you probably know, the Red Sox are going with a bullpen without a closer this year, which some people are calling "closer by committe." That's not really true, in that they are really going with no closer, because they don't think the save stat should affect the way a bullpen is run.

Anyway, this is about the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, because now the media, who has been waiting to rip this "new idea" to shreds can get an early start. I already heard the guys on Baseball Tonight talking about how the Red Sox need to have a plan B and "maybe they'll go out and get a veteran closer, like Kelvin Escobar or Matt Anderson." That is what I like to call completely missing the point.

The Red Sox realize that there is nothing particularly special about guys like Kelvim Escobar or Matt Anderson. They are just good relievers that are given the chance to rack up a certain stat. I guarantee you the Red Sox do not trade for a crappy "established closer" this year and I think the bullpen will ultimately be very effective for them in 2003.

Jim Thome made his NL debut by going 3-4 with a walk and an RBI. The Phillies' offense, which I have predicted will be one of the top 3 in the NL this year, scored 8 runs. And the Marlins' running game, which I predicted would lead MLB in steals by a huge margin, stole 3 bags today.

Randy Johnson got pounded for 9 hits and 5 runs against the Dodgers. If you remember, last year Randy started the season at 6-0 after 6 starts and he had a 1.37 ERA! Definitely something to keep an eye on, but I wouldn't be too worried.

Superman went 0-3 (with 2 walks, of course) in his 2003 debut and the Giants won 5-2, behind solo homers by Ray Durham, J.T. Snow and Benito Santiago.

The last game of the day was Yankees/Blue Jays. The game took a sad turn when Derek Jeter separated his shoulder sliding into 3rd base, as Toronto catcher Ken Huckaby came crashing down on him (Huckaby was covering 3rd and taking the throw from across the diamond). No doubt Yankee fans will think it was a dirty play or something, but it really wasnt. Hopefully Derek is only out for a couple of weeks.

I did think it was funny that Karl Ravech (on Baseball Tonight following the game) said, "Our thoughts will be with Derek Jeter tonight." I think that is just a tad over the top. I mean, the guy hurt his shoulder, he didn't get paralyzed or anything. And since when is Jeter the first guy ever to suffer a semi-serious injury? Do you think Karl Ravech would have said the same thing if Nomar had separated his shoulder yesterday against the D-Rays? I doubt it and I think that is why a lot of people aren't the biggest Derek Jeter fans.

Seconds after Ravech said that, Peter Gammons said the following: "A lot of people come up with stats saying how Jeter isn't a great player, but none of that matter, he is one." I have one question...what stat is there that says he isn't a great player? People need to learn that a player can simultaneously be great and overrated at the same time. Or even more importantly, can be great and still have major flaws (for example, defense).

In other news...

Kent Williams from the Batter's Box went to SkyDome to watch the Blue Jays' open batting practice and actually got to meet (and take pictures with) GM J.P. Ricciardi. I have to say that I am extremely jealous of this, plus the fact that J.P. says he reads Batter's Box every day. I'm still waiting for an invitation to meet my team's GM, Terry Ryan, but I think I probably shouldn't hold my breath.

Today's picks:

Toronto (Lidle) +125 over New York (Pettitte)

Texas (Park) +110 over Anaheim (Callaway)

Los Angeles (Perez) +190 over Arizona (Schilling)

Total to date: $35

W/L record: 3-2 (won 3 and lost 2 yesterday, but one of the losses was the -170 on the White Sox, which I was glad to lose!)

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

Older Posts »