Hello again everybody...
… and we're back from another weekend. Hope yours was good. I have no complaints about mine. At least none worth listing here.
As I told you last week, my first regular season trip to Target Field was on Saturday and at the risk of looking like a complete dope to the folks sitting around me, I took copious notes. All the better to entertain you, my dear readers, with another RGC. That's right, I'll take you along for the ride as we re-live Twins vs. Royals from Saturday, April 17th.
But before we do that, I want to provide you with one quick note. After taking two of three from the Royals this weekend, that now makes four straight series the Twins have won to open the season. Why is that significant? Because the franchise has never done that before. Despite all the doom and gloom spouted by naysayers after the loss of Joe Nathan for the season, the Twins haven't missed a beat and are off to one of the best starts in club history. There's plenty of room on the bandwagon folks. Hop on board and enjoy the ride!
Off we go!
”We are bits of stellar matter that got cold by accident, bits of a star gone wrong.”
- Sir Arthur Eddington (1882 - 1944), British astrophysicist
Okay, on the surface, this quote looks rather pessimistic. But the way I see it, if we're here by accident then we might as well kick back and enjoy ourselves, right?
And oh, how I do enjoy taking in a ball game. Which leads me to...
Running Game Commentary XI: Twins vs. Royals
Regular readers know I've split a 20-game Season Ticket Package with a co-worker of mine. Until Saturday, we've only had the chance to attend the first exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals. But on the 17th of April, I had the opportunity to attend a game at Target Field that actually counts with an old High School friend of mine, Frank in Maple Grove. What follows is a mostly-accurate account of our experience, with embellishments for entertainment purposes only!
Right off the bat, I made a mistake. Sadly, it was a similar mistake to the one I made going to the exhibition game. As thrilled as I am that outdoor baseball is back in Minnesota, I hadn't quite grasped the concept of dressing for it. It was approximately 55 degrees when we arrived in downtown Minneapolis for a 12:10pm first pitch. This time I actually brought my jacket with me, but as I pondered whether to actually bring it to the ballpark - if I didn't need it it would be in the way, right? - Frank said, “ah hell, don't worry about it! By the second or third inning, you won't need it anyway.” So I left it in the truck. That turned out to be not such a good idea...
We made our way to the ballpark, took a few pictures on the plaza, and up to the seats we went. We stopped on the way to pick up some food. I went with the Dinger Dog (a Schweigert foot-long - not all that impressive), some cheese curds (very tasty), and a souvenir Pepsi (I can't help it, I like those plastic cups). I'm not going to lie folks, the food at Target Field isn't cheap. The three items I purchased ran up a total of over $15. My advice? Plan on spending that amount for a meal, but bring your own peanuts/sunflower seeds/popcorn, etc. If you keep them in a clear plastic bag, you can bring them in from the outside, so long as you don't try eating them in any of the bars/restaurants inside the park. I brought in some seeds in just that fashion and it worked out swimmingly.
So we were fed and watered and ready for some baseball. But before the game could begin, there was a little pregame ceremony to be getting on with. Twins catcher Joe Mauer was awarded his Silver Slugger trophy for being the best-hitting catcher in 2009 and his 2009 AL MVP award. Lots of Twins luminaries were involved and it was pretty cool to see. Once all the hardware had been awarded and tucked away, the Twins gave Joe's dad, Jake Mauer, the privilege of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. Catching said pitch? His son of course! Not surprisingly, it was one of the more accurate ceremonial first pitches I've ever seen.
Time to run down the line-ups and light this candle!
For the Royals: CF David DeJesus, LF Scott Podsednik, 1B Billy Butler, DH Jose Guillen, CF Rick Ankiel, 2B Alberto Callaspo, C Jason Kendall, SS Yuniesky Betancourt, 3B Willie Bloomquist. Pitching for Kansas City, Gil Meche.
For the Twins: CF Denard Span, 2B Orlando Hudson, C Joe Mauer, 1B Justin Morneau, RF Michael Cuddyer, DH Jim Thome, LF Jason Kubel, SS J.J. Hardy, 3B Brendan Harris. Pitching for the Twins, Nick Blackburn.
It's 12:10... still too chilly to be without my jacket (thanks Frank), and time to get underway!
Top of the First Inning
Nick Blackburn has struggled a bit with his first two starts. Hopefully he's able to have a better go of it today.
David DeJesus leads off and flies out to center. So far, so good.
Scott Podsednik, who's made a living out of killing the Twins (please Philadelphia Phillies, you've already taken Ibanez and Polonco off our hands, can you sign Pods too?), walks. Dammit.
Frank asks if Nick Blackburn has turned heel (a wrestling term for a “bad guy”) with his dark beard. My response? If he has, then based on his performance so far? He should shave.
Blackburn gets Billy Butler to ground into a 6-4-3 double play, and just like that, he's out of the inning. Atta boy Nick!
Bottom of the First
The Twins come to the plate, and what has Frank mesmerized? The wind sculpture on the wall of the adjacent parking garage. Admittedly, it's a cool feature, but the Twins are hitting dammit!
Denard Span grounds out to second. Orlando Hudson flies out to right. Joe Mauer does the same.
Hey, that sculpture is pretty neat after all!
Top of the Second Inning
Jose Guillen leads off with a double to right. Uh-oh, "bad-guy" Nick is back.
That thought is confirmed when Rick Ankiel hits one out to right that probably landed in somebody's Guinness at Kieran's. Okay, it wasn't that far, but it was a shot.
Frank and I debate the merits of throwing back home-run balls hit by the opposing team. Personally, I find it ridiculous given the rarity of catching a home run ball. Frank disagrees. He thinks it's a show of home-team pride and loyalty. We agree to disagree. Well, he agrees to disagree. I agree to allow him to continue to be wrong.
Blackburn manages to retire the next three batters with a ground out, strikeout and fly out to center.
Bottom of the Second
Time for the Twins to get some runs back. Justin Morneau starts out with a ground out to first. Not precisely what I had in mind.
Michael Cuddyer follows with a single. There we go. Enter, Jim Thome. Thome hits an absolute moonshot to center to tie the game at two. Take THAT Rick Ankiel! The game is tied and we're both feeling much better.
But the Twins aren't going to stop there, right? Jason Kubel flies out to center. Okay, maybe they are.
J.J. Hardy's next and he doubles to right. No, they're not done after all! Brendan Harris is next and he draws a walk. Frank and I figure that Meche was distracted by Harris's high-socks. We're both a fan of the old-school look. I try to get Frank on board with a new nickname, “High Socks Harry”. He declines, and that's probably for the best.
So runners on first and second for Denard Span who reaches on an infield single which scores Hardy, and the Twins take their first lead of the day. Orlando Hudson walks and that loads them up for Joe Mauer.
What are the odds Mauer gets a hit here? Even with the Twins' early-season struggles with runners in scoring position, I'd say a solid 8-to-5 in Mauer's favor.
And we have a winner! Mauer singles in two runs with a base-hit to right. Immediately following the single, the Twins play the last 7 seconds from Joe's “MLB '10: The Show” commercial. You know the line... “Well played, Mauer.” Classic.
Morneau grounds out to second to bookend the inning and Meche finally gets his club back in the dugout.
5-2 Twins after two. Oh, and that stiff breeze that is chilling us all rather nicely? My jacket would've been handy for that. Thanks, Frank!
Top of the Third Inning
Willie Bloomquist flies out to center. David DeJesus doubles.
At this point, I have to interrupt the column to bring you a Public Service Announcement... If you're coming back from the concessions stands in the middle of an inning, please wait until between at-bats to return to your seats. And for the love of Abner Doubleday, don't ever, EVER, go out to the railing and gawk while there's action going on. You're blocking people's line of sight and being an all-around doosh, so do us all a favor and refrain. Thank you.
Podsednik grounds out to short and Blackburn strikes out Butler to end the inning.
Still 5-2 Twins.
Bottom of the Third
Cuddyer leads off with a fly out to center. Then Jim Thome walks. Yup, if a guy had hit a home run like that off of me, I'd walk him the next time around too. Well played, Meche.
Kubel flies out to right. J.J. Hardy grounds into a Fielder's Choice, and that's all for Minnesota in the third.
Top of the Fourth Inning
Frank, still disgusted by the previous inning-ending ground-out asks, "What does 'J.J'. Stand for anyway? James Joyce?!" (Irish writer and poet - it's only highbrow humor here at Writing for the Cycle folks!)
My response? Might as well be. Joyce wouldn't have hit the ball any softer than that.
(The actual answer is “James Jerry” by the way.)
Guillen leads off by striking out, which brings Rick Ankiel up to the plate again. Ankiel homered in his last at-bat, so Blackburn will pitch around him this time, right? Nope. First-ball meatball and Ankiel parks it in the pines in center. Damn you, Rick Ankiel. Damn you.
Callaspo grounds out to first, Kendall flies out to left, and Blackburn gets out of the inning without any further damage.
5-3, Twins still lead.
Bottom of the Fourth
Harris leads off by looking at a called strike three. Yep, guess those high socks aren't really good luck after all. Denard Span grounds out, pitcher to first.
Orlando Hudson breathes some life into the inning with a single. Joe Mauer kills it by grounding out to second base. Well played...
Aw hell, never mind.
5-3 Twins after four.
Top of the Fifth Inning
Most ballparks will have some sort of mid-game “race” where fans can win prizes. The best is still the “Sausage Race” in Milwaukee. Sure, it's kitschy, but that's part of it's charm.
At Target Field this season, the “race” is going to consist of Minnesota icons: Babe the Blue Ox, Bullseye the Target mascot (gotta get the most out of that naming rights fee!), and Skeeta the Mosquitio. Okay, the mosquito is pushing it, but I can live with it. And of course Skeeta wins... oof.
Betancourt leads off the inning with a single. Bloomquist follows that up with an RBI double. Betancourt's “slide” into home wasn't exactly a thing of beauty. It was more of a sliding/spinning tumble. But I think he got a 9.5 from the East German judge, so there's that. Come on Nick. Shut this down!
DeJesus flies out to center. Better. Podsednik singles to left, scoring Bloomquist. Not better. Dammit.
Blackburn attempts to redeem himself by picking a napping Podsednik off of first. Butler grounds out to second and Blackburn gets out of the inning without doing any more damage.
5-5 tie after four and a half.
Bottom of the Fifth
Time to get the lead back boys!
Morneau leads off with a triple. No, that's not a typo, he really did triple. The outfielders are still trying to figure out the angles at Target Field. Atta boy, Justin. That's the way to start things!
Cuddyer grounds out to short, no run. Thome is intentionally walked, no run. Kubel grounds into a 4-4-3 double play, no run. Frank notes that the Twins average with runners in scoring position is hovering perilously close to the Mendoza Line (.200). I hate to be critical of a first place ballclub, but that's not good!
Still tied, 5-5. And after five innings? My jacket still would've been welcome. Well played, Frank!
Top of the Sixth Inning
Brian Duensing comes in to pitch. Today was another sub-par start from Blackburn. I'm not sure what the trouble is, but hopefully he comes around. The Twins are going to need him.
Duensing gets Guillen to pop out to first, Ankiel to strike out and Callaspo to ground out to second.
A 1-2-3 inning?! Be still my beating heart!
The 5-5 nail-biter continues...
Bottom of the Sixth
Speaking of 1-2-3 innings... Hardy grounds out to third, Harris does likewise, and Span makes it easy and grounds out right to the first baseman.
Frank's back to gawking at the wind sculpture, and I can't blame him.
Yep, still 5-5.
Top of the Seventh Inning
Duensing still in there, and he serves up a single to Kendall to start things off. The Royals decide to play small ball and have Betancourt sacrifice-bunt Kendall over to second. They actually manage to execute the play - not something you can always say about the Royals.
Bloomquist grounds out to second, which moves Kendall to third. Kansas City isn't really going to manufacture a run, are they?!
Nope, DeJesus grounds out to first and Duensing gets out of it.
5-5 tie, and it's stretch time!
Bottom of the Seventh
John Parrish comes on to pitch for the Royals. Who's John Parrish? He's a Royals reliever, and in fairness, that's all you really need to know.
Orlando Hudson leads things off and wham-o, high fly ball, deeeep left field, it's going, going, outta here! O-Dawg gets his first home run as a Minnesota Twin. Well played, O-Dawg!
Mauer keeps things rolling with a single. Morneau earns a walk. Okay, this is good!
Cuddyer grounds into a 5-4-3 double play... why is there life on this planet?!
Thome wraps things up by grounding out to second, and what looked like a very promising inning ends with merely a one-run lead.
6-5 Twins. At least it's warmed up enough to... oh wait, nope, the jacket still would've been useful.
Top of the Eighth Inning
Now that the Twins have the lead, Gardy's going to go Guerrier, Rauch and put the baby to sleep. At least that's the plan.
Guerrier tries to give Gardy palpitations by walking the lead-off batter, Podsednik. Butler flies to center, Guillen flies to right and Gardy's pulse-rate subdues a little bit.
That brings Rick Ankiel to the plate. Frank and I agree that after two home runs on the day already, clearly the Twins will work around Ankiel here.
Nope, Guerrier comes right after him and on three pitches, gets him to ground out to second.
Bottom of the Eighth
Josh Rupe is on to pitch for the Royals. Who's Josh Rupe? See “Seventh Inning, Bottom of”.
Kubel flies out to start things off. Hardy looks at strike three and there's two quick outs.
Okay, look. I know I've been bitching about the jacket bit a lot. And Frank's taken an unfortunate amount of punishment for it. But there is something useful that's come out of this situation. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you...
Writing for the Cycle's 70 & 5 Rule: If you're going to Target Field, the temperature's less than 70 degrees, the wind is forecast to be anything over 5 mph, and you're sitting in the shade? Bring a damned jacket!
We now resume our regularly scheduled 8th Inning. Harris flies out to center and that ends things.
So is that technically a “Rupe-a-dupe” inning? (Damn you, Lon... damn you.)
Top of the Ninth Inning
Time for Big Jon Rauch to shut things down. I've been wondering what song Rauch has picked to come out to, and I'm not disappointed. The haunting opening strains of Metallica's “Wherever I may Roam” waft over the crowd, the bullpen gate opens, Big Jon trots out towards the mound, and the fans go crazy.
I don't mean to bag on an injured guy, but Joe Nathan's entrance to “Stand Up and Shout” by that fake band they created for the movie "Rock Star" really did nothing for me. Big Jon Rauch's music? Yup, goosebumps.
The crowd is primed and ready for a 1-2-3 inning. Callaspo singles to ruin that notion right from the get-go. The Royals go for the small-ball approach again and Kendall successfully sacrifices Callaspo to second. One out.
Betancourt is up next and flies out to center, moving Callaspo to third.
Two outs and the tying run is 90-feet away. Willie Bloomquist is scheduled next, but Royals skipper Trey Hillman sends recently-recalled Alex Gordon to the plate instead. You know, because in the most critical at-bat of the game, you really want a guy who's fresh-off a rehab stint in there. That's why they're the Royals, folks.
Gordon walks. Okay, maybe it wasn't so dumb.
That brings David DeJesus to the plate. DeJesus is one-for-four on the day with a double, definitely a dangerous hitter. But the Big Man will not be denied. Rauch strikes him out on four pitches to end the game.
Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
Twins win 6-5, and the faithful are sent home with a guarantee of a series victory. THAT'S a successful Saturday at the ol' ballpark!
I'm declaring myself officially 1-0 at Target Field. Sure there was that pesky Exhibition Game, but if that doesn't count towards the Twins record, then I'm not counting it towards mine!
Thanks goes out to Frank in Maple Grove. Sure I was chillier than I would've been without his sage advice, but the birth of the “70 & 5 Rule” more than makes up for it! It was a great time, Frank. Let's do it again real soon!
And that, folks, is your first ever Target Field RGC. Hope you enjoyed the game, and the column.
That'll do it for today. I'm back on Wednesday with more of the usual nonsense and balderdash.
Until then, thanks for reading!