Hello again everybody...
Welcome to another week. Part of me wants to say that it was a boring weekend in sports. After all, there wasn't any baseball for the first time since early March. But it's hard to find a lot of truth in that feeling since there were some upsets in college football, and the Wild beat Those Stinkin' Stars.
(I came up with that phrase after the game Saturday night and threw it up on my Facebook page. Given the positive response, the hockey team that resides in Dallas will hereafter be known as, “Those Stinkin' Stars”. Thank you.)
I can't help how I feel however, so what felt like a dull weekend provided me with an opportunity to summarize all that was in the 2009 season of Major League Baseball.
For the final time in 2009, let's play ball!
”All human situations have their inconveniences. We feel those of the present but neither see nor feel those of the future; and hence we often make troublesome changes without amendment, and frequently for the worse.”
- Benjamin Franklin (1707-1790), author and printer, satirist, political theorist, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, soldier, and diplomat.
I think this is a really smart way of saying that actions we make today will have unforeseen consequences in the future. That doesn't mean we shouldn't take action. It just means we should be deliberate and thoughtful before making major decisions.
Is it possible to have a man-crush on a historical figure? Yeah, I should probably just leave that one alone...
Instead, it's time to put my annual bow on the baseball season... Another Game 163... A 27th Yankee title... and my best Phoenix trip ever?
Here's the review...
And we start in...
March: I flew to Phoenix this year hoping beyond all hope that no one I know would become gravely ill. My previous two March trips to the Valley of the Sun had been rough in that regard.
But I'm happy to report that there were no hospital trips, no unexpectedly cutting the trip short, and everyone I know came through the trip healthy.
I'm even happier to report that it was probably the most fun I've ever had on a Phoenix trip. Not that I hadn't had fun in the past, but we saw more baseball on this trip than any other. Over the course of the 7 days I was there, we saw 6 games, including a double-header on the Tuesday that I was there.
Now for a baseball-geek like me, that scratches me right where I itch. But what surprised me was how much fun my folks had. Yes, they both enjoy their baseball, but when it started getting to 4, 5 and 6 games on the trip, I began to fear they'd burn out. I give them a ton of credit though, they soldiered through and seemed to have nearly as much fun as I did.
As I was thoroughly enjoying life in the Cactus League, things in the Grapefruit League weren't nearly so enjoyable for one Alex Rodriguez. Still without a World Series ring, Rodriguez now had to deal with a forthcoming book that outed his steroid use. As usual, Alex tried to do the right thing, only to manage to do it the wrong way.
Any PR expert will tell you that in the case of a scandal, the best method of dealing with it is to get in front of it and try to control the story as best you can. So Alex held a press conference and admitted having used PED's. Which would've been great if he'd taken full responsibility for his actions. Instead he came out with a story about a cousin, strange substances purchased in the Dominican and no real admission that he knew what he was taking. Disappointing, but not surprising.
March, of course, led to...
April: And it wasn't a terribly good April for my favorite teams. Actually it wasn't good for baseball at all.
The Twins found themselves without the services of their All-Star Catcher, Joe Mauer for the entire month. Shortly after that little nugget of news became public, we found out that Minnesota's #1 starter, Scott Baker was also dinged up. Not good news for a team that wasn't deep at those two positions to begin with. Somehow the Twins managed to fight their way to an 11-11 record in the first month of the season. Not great. But they were still in the race.
But if April was tough for the Twins, it was downright awful for the Diamondbacks. Brandon Webb turned out to have a bum shoulder which would go on to cost him the entire 2009 campaign. And while Dan Haren started the season amazingly strong, the rest of the staff was woeful. And the offense wasn't much better. I'm not sure too many people thought Arizona was a threat to win the division, but I doubt they expected a start this poor. The Diamondbacks went 9-13 in April.
All of that, of course, paled in comparison to what the Angels went through in April. On April 8th, Nick Adenhart made his 4th career big league start - a game the Angels won. As he celebrated with friends and family that night, he was killed in an accident with a drunk driver. The human tragedy of it naturally trumps any impact his loss had on sports. But the Angels still had to deal with it on that level. They had to come to terms with his loss, mourn his passing, and try to focus on baseball games all at the same time. Here I am writing a recap in November, and I'm still not really sure how they managed it. Credit has to go to the organization as well as the Adenhart family for helping each other, as well as baseball fans everywhere, deal with such a senseless loss.
After a bummer of an April came...
May: And May featured the first managerial firing of the season, as well as more steroid talk.
After an awful start, the Diamondbacks became the first team to fire their manager in the 2009 season, sending Bob Melvin packing in favor of A.J. Hinch... who'd never managed... at any level. Oof. I wrote at the time that pulling the trigger on a manager is a tough move that early in the season because if it doesn't work, you pretty much doom the team to a lousy year. I hate to say it, but it turned out to be pretty prophetic. The Diamondbacks went 13-16 in May, which was a few points higher than their April percentage, but certainly wasn't indicative of a turnaround.
The Twins had Joe Mauer return in May, and oh what a return it was. I attended his return game against the Royals in early May with some old high school chums. In classic “Dan Cook”-style, I regaled them with a rant about how Justin Morneau was really the heart and soul of the Twins, and that Mauer got all the attention only because he was from St. Paul, and what had he really done anyway, yadda, yadda, yadda. I finished that by saying, “now watch, he'll hit a home run in his first at-bat”. About 1.008 seconds after making that statement, Mauer parked one in the left-field seats. And the MVP campaign was on. Mauer ended up batting .414 in May, with 11 home runs and 32 RBI. It was an astounding month for an incredible player, and I couldn't have been more wrong. Unfortunately, the Twins weren't able to translate Mauer's success into a winning record as they went 14-16 in the month.
May also saw more steroid nonsense. After it seemed that all the PED-related crap from A-Rod had finally died down, one of my other favorite players (insert sarcasm here) Manny Ramirez was suspended 50 games for violating the league's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Policy.
Manny's crack staff of savvy advisers counseled him to claim that the Human Chorionic Gonadotropin for which he'd tested positive was for a “personal medical issue”. And while it's true that HCG is sometimes prescribed as a treatment for erectile dysfunction, it's also clearly listed on baseball's “banned substances” list because of it's use as a testosterone-booster for athletes coming off of a steroid cycle.
Needless to say, nobody was buying Manny's explanation. Fortunately for the Dodgers they'd built such an enormous lead that even without their top slugger, they managed to maintain their stranglehold on the NL West.
An ugly May gave way to...
June: It was a better month for one of my favorite teams, and a worse one for the other... plus a managerial change finally started to work.
The Twins had a better month in June going 15-12. Joe Mauer continued his torrid hitting and it looked like the pitching was finally going to come around. 3 games over .500 wasn't reason to throw a party, but considering how much worse it could have been, I was pretty happy.
“How much worse it could have been” came in the form of the Diamondbacks month of June, where they went 9-17. That's a .346 winning percentage. Ugh. Apparently the change to A.J. Hinch wasn't going to save the season. I wrote in a DFTU that the only thing remarkable about the switch so far, was the complete lack of a reaction from the Arizona players. When management pulls the trigger on a manager, you're hoping to fire up the squad. Unfortunately, not only did the move not fire up the boys, it seemed to cause a good number of them to pack it in. Not good when it's only June.
So which managerial change DID work? The Colorado Rockies. Colorado management fired Clint Hurdle on May 29th, and bench coach Jim Tracy took over. In the Rockies' case, the move clearly fired up the team, as evidenced by their red-hot 21-7 record in June. For a while I thought that the D-backs would be competing with the Rockies for the cellar of the NL West. Instead, the Rockies decided to compete with the Dodgers for the division title. What a concept?!
June, of course, leads us to...
July: My birthday month! Oh, and there's that All-Star game that comes each July as well... and the 2009 version of the 7th month contained a little bit of perfection.
The Twins were in water-treading mode as they went 12-12 during the month. But they managed to put three players on the All-Star squad. Joe Mauer continued his ridiculous pace and was voted on to the club. Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan were added to the squad as reserves.
The Diamondbacks actually managed to make a little noise in July. Their 14-12 record earned them their highest monthly winning percentage of the season. Sure, it turned out to be a tease. But at least they gave fans a reason to stay interested. As expected, Dan Haren made the National League All-Star squad. In what was an otherwise dismal season, Haren had an outstanding year. What was surprising is that Arizona got a second representative in the form of Justin Upton. Upton had a nice first half, but if Arizona was going to get a second rep, I'd have thought it would have been Mark Reynolds who had a career year. Shows what I know!
As for the All-Star game itself? The American League won 4-3... this is a recording. Ever since the All-Star game was changed to decide home field advantage in the World Series (don't get me started) the American League has won each year. I'm not one of these people who call the NL “quadruple-A baseball”, but there's also no question in my mind as to which league is better.
The Mid-Summer Classic wasn't the highlight of the month, however. That came on July 23rd as the White Sox's Mark Buehrle set down 27 Tampa Bay Rays in order. No hits, no runs and no errors. A perfect game. He's only the 16th pitcher to accomplish the feat since the turn of the 20th century. Naturally, I wouldn't have rooted for a division rival to pull that off (though if the Sox color had been different, I'd have been far more annoyed), but as a fan of the game, I'm thrilled to bear witness to history, no matter the uniform. Okay, most uniforms.
Okay fine... I hate the Red Sox and would've been pissed if it was Josh Beckett doing it instead. Any other team, I'm good with.
The perfection of July gave way to...
August: August meant the end of the non-waiver trade season (though there were still significant moves to come) as well as a trip to a Twins game with three of my matriarchal elders?! Oh my...
The Twins went 14-14 in August, their second straight .500 month. At this point, I openly wondered if this wasn't what the Twins were: a .500 team. They'd show signs of getting on a run, and immediately give back all their gains with a losing streak. It was frustrating to watch. But at least they stayed close enough to have a shot. And while they didn't address pitching at the trade deadline - their deadline acquisition took the form of SS Orlando Cabrera - they did later in the month by picking up Carl Pavano in a waiver deal with Cleveland. Both of those deals would turn out to be important down the stretch.
The Diamondbacks followed up their positive July with a nearly-as-positive August. Their 15-14 record got them out of the cellar and gave the fans hope that maybe things were back on track. At this point, the Wild Card was well out of reach, but at least they could have a positive finish. At least that's what I felt at the time. Turned out, not so much...
For me? The most remarkable part of August was a trip I took to a Twins/Cleveland tilt with my mom and two of her sisters. The game itself was something of a dog, but the experience was entertaining to say the least. Don't remember reading that column? You can find it right here. You'll laugh, you'll cry... you'll promise yourself to never get involved in a game of “moundball”. I promise!
An interesting August led us to...
September: The final full-month of the season. The stretch-drives were in full-effect. Do-or-die time was at hand. Could I find a few more lame cliches? I'll just take 'em one at a time and see what happens!
The Twins began the month a full 5 games in back of the Tigers. That's a lot of ground to make up down the stretch, but it's not impossible. By the end of the month? Things were looking dire. They were in the midst of a 4-game series in Detroit having split the first two which left them two games behind the Tigers. Their 16-11 record gave them their best month of the year. Why not save the best for last, right?
To say that the Diamondbacks regressed in the month of August is like saying my hairline has regressed over the last 10 years. It's an understatement to say the least. Their 8-18 record put to rest any hopes that they'd finish in the top 3 of the division, and fairly well mired them in the cellar. At this point, players were playing to not get hurt. Wins were luxuries. Future earning potential became the most important thing. Sad, but such is the nature of professional sports.
(Ed.'s Note: Cheap Plug Warning.... Cheap Plug Warning...)
September also saw me take a trip that I'd been planning for years. It had absolutely nothing to do with sports, but I blogged about it anyway. If you didn't get a chance to read about it, here's another chance. Check out ”The Gettysburg Files”. I made it as interesting for the non-history-geek as I could!
A nail-biting September gave way to...
October: The 162-game season comes to a close... or does it? The playoffs begin. Brett Favre was leading the undefeated Vikings in to battle?! What insane alternate-universe was this?!
The Twins began October 2 games behind the Tigers. At the end of their 162-game schedule, the two clubs had finished with identical 86-76 records. Kudos to those of you who wondered if 85 wins would be enough to win the division. You were darned close. As it turned out, it took 87. And that 87th win came in the form of Game 163. The only thing that's more intense than a Game 163 is Game 7 of the World Series. Nothing else has the same sense of finality. Not even the Division Series or League Championship Series. If you win Game 163, it validates your entire season, no matter the ups and downs. If you lose, then you spend the rest of the fall and winter combing through your schedule trying to figure out where you could've picked up that one extra win that would've given you a playoff berth.
Not only weren't 162 games enough to decide the season, but 9 innings in Game 163 weren't enough either. The Twins and the Tigers battled in a classic contest before the Twins finally won it in the bottom of the 12th off of an Alexi Casilla single. If you'd told me even a month before that Alexi Casilla would provide the Division Championship-clinching RBI, I'd have offered you a trip to your local psychiatric ward. But that's the brilliance of baseball - the unlikely provides the greatest drama.
Unfortunately for the Twins, Game 163 would be their last win of the season. After having gone 0-7 against the Yankees in the regular season, the Twins fared no better in the post-season. They were summarily swept out of the playoffs 3 games to none. Included in that broom-job was a soul-crushing Game 2 loss where the Twins had a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth with their All-Star closer on the mound trying to seal the win. Needless to say, he was unsuccessful, and the Twins went on to lose Game 2 before bowing out in Game 3.
It was a disappointing denouement after the climax of Game 163. But given the ride the boys took me on, I'm loathe to complain. Given where they had to come from, I'll gladly enjoy the Division Championship banner and look forward to 2010.
The Diamondbacks went 2-2 in their last four games and gladly put an end to a disastrous 2009 campaign. Whatever optimism I have going into 2010 as pertains to the Twins, I have equally as many questions about the Snakes.
Baseball's final eight came down to: Boston (whom I hate)Los Angeles, Minnesota, and New York in the American League; Colorado, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and St. Louis in the National League.
The Angels handled the Red Sox and the Yankees swept the Twins. Philadelphia had no trouble with Colorado, while the Dodgers had surprisingly little trouble with the Cardinals.
In the LCS's, the Angels made a little noise against the Yankees, but eventually succumbed. Philadelphia continued their NL dominance sending the Dodgers packing.
That brought us to...
The World Series and November: The Fall Classic. My only hope was for a competitive series.
And after Game 1, I thought that's what we'd get. Philly's Cliff Lee pitched a gem, and the Phillies began the series with a win. The Yankees answered back in Game 2 behind a surprisingly good outing for the notoriously volatile A.J. Burnett... and the series was on!
Or was it...
Back to Philly we went for Games 3, 4 and 5. Andy Pettite did the job for the Yanks in Game 3. And then a curious thing happened. Philly manager Charlie Manuel decided to go with Joe Blanton in Game 4 over his Ace, Cliff Lee. This not only gave the Yankees a pitching advantage, but also meant that Lee wouldn't be the starter in a potential Game 7. It was a gamble on Manuel's part, and unfortunately for Phillies fans, he lost. The Bombers took game 4 and grabbed a commanding 3-1 lead in the Series.
Philly refused to bow out on their home field by winning Game 5, but a 27th Championship for New York seemed all but assured as the Series went back to the Bronx. And Game 6 proved to be the clincher. Pettite again stood strong for New York as he out-dueled Pedro Martinez to win the Series-clincher for the third time in his career.
So after a long, dramatic season, we had a champion. Sure, it was a champ that annoyed better than 75% of baseball fans, but as I keep saying, you can't be David if you don't have Goliath.
The Yanks are the champs.
And that was your 2009 Major League Baseball Season in Review!
Baseball provided the impetus for The Sports Take, and continues to provide the bulk of the content.
I hope you enjoyed 2009 as much as I did. I can't wait for April of 2010. Another trip to the Cactus League, opening a new ballpark here in Minnesota, the raising of another Division Championship banner, and hopefully a rejuvenation of my other favorite team. There's a lot to look forward to. It can't get here soon enough!
That's going to do it for today. I know it was a little longer than usual, but a baseball season is no easy thing to recap!
I'll be back on Wednesday with all the usual college football inanity. Until then, thanks for reading!