July 19, 2005

Crazy Ninth

How can anyone possibly not love baseball?

The Twins came into last night's game at perhaps their lowest point of the season. Their offense had been so bad of late that they even had me saying things like, "I can't help but wonder if the Twins' postseason hopes are circling the drain." And they once again looked helpless at the plate, managing just two runs in eight innings against Daniel Cabrera, Steve Kline, Todd Williams, and Tim Byrdak.

And then, just when it looked like yet another frustrating one-run loss and yet another solid pitching performance wasted, the bottom of the ninth inning happened. I still can't quite believe what I saw, so you'll have to bear with me as I recap the crazy events.

Down 3-2 and facing B.J. Ryan and his 2.55 ERA, 62-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .210 opponent's batting average, Luis Rodriguez grounded out and Joe Mauer walked. As the tying run, Mauer -- who had already caught nine innings on the same surgically repaired knee that had everyone worried about his career all offseason -- took off for second base as Shannon Stewart struck out swinging.

Not only did Mauer make it safely with two outs for his second stolen base of the game, he popped up, dusted himself off, and advanced to third base when the throw from Eli Whiteside sailed into center field. Then, just moments later, Mauer sprinted 90 feet after a wild pitch and slid in safely on a bang-bang play at the plate.

Walk. Stolen base. Advance to third on a throwing error. Score the tying run on a wild pitch. It was like Mauer had channeled the still-living (and still-playing) spirit of Rickey Henderson for five minutes. But wait, it gets even weirder.

With the score now tied and two outs, Matthew LeCroy walked and was pinch run for by Michael Ryan. Torii Hunter followed with a single to right field and Ryan hustled to third base. The Twins suddenly had a two-out rally going, with two runners on and a run already in.

The only problem was that they had Jacque Jones at the plate. To truly appreciate just how big a buzzkill Jones being up in that spot is, you have to understand that a) Jones is a horrible hitter against lefties, including just .228/.280/.359 this year, and b) Ryan is one of the most dominant lefty relievers in baseball, holding left-handed hitters to a measly .174 batting average during his career.

And, of course, Jones got the game-winning hit. He chopped Ryan's two-strike offering right up the middle, Miguel Tejada made a nice play on it and threw on the run to first base, but the throw bounced past Rafael Palmeiro as Jones slid head-first into the base.

Twins win, 4-3. Oh, and Jesse Crain improved to 9-1 on the year and 12-1 in his career, and took over the team lead in wins. Seriously, how can you not love baseball?

UPDATE: In doing my morning news-gathering gig over at Rotoworld, I came across more on a potential J.C. Romero-to-Boston trade in the Boston Globe:

Lefthander Alan Embree was designated for assignment. ... With lefthanders Mike Myers and John Halama, the Sox felt they were protected for the time being out of the bullpen. But the Sox are one of several teams (as many as 12 according to one major league source) pursuing Twins lefthanded reliever J.C. Romero.

The Twins are looking for a third baseman and would like to have Bill Mueller, a low-salary veteran who is solid defensively and would be an impact hitter at the Metrodome. A major league source also said the Twins would consider Kevin Youkilis, and the deal could be expanded to include a Minnesota starting pitcher.

"There's still a lot to be worked out," said one Red Sox source. "[Romero] walks a lot of people, but he's got good stuff and he strikes out someone when you need it."

Kevin Youkilis would interest me a whole lot more than Bill Mueller, mostly because he's a lot younger and won't be a free agent for quite a while. The idea that Mueller "would be an impact hitter at the Metrodome" is complete conjecture on the writer's part, because as I talked about yesterday he has hit just .241 with a .339 slugging percentage away from Fenway Park over the last two years.

UPDATE #2: I just realized today's game starts at noon. I should be around, so feel free to hang out in the comments section and chat.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Minor League Workhorses: 1946-1950 (by Steve Treder)
- Business of Baseball Report (by Brian Borawski)

Today's Picks (77-66, +$1,025):
Atlanta (Smoltz) -150 over San Francisco (Lowry)

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