Hello again everybody...
I'm back! Well... sort of. Technically I don't head back to the real world until tomorrow. But I'm back in town and ready to do some writing!
As I told you - probably more times than you cared to hear - I went to Milwaukee this past Thursday for a Twins/Brewers matinee. The game didn't turn out exactly how I hoped, but it was still well worth the trip.
I also told you that I'd have a RGC column headed your way today, and never let it be said that I don't deliver... most of the time... usually... on occasion...
Right after the quote...
”Adventure is just bad planning.”
- Roald Amundsen (1872 - 1928), Norwegian explorer
I couldn't exactly have planned how the game would go, so I can't necessarily call it “bad planning”, but the trip was quite an adventure!
Running Game Commentary XII: The Milwaukee Trip
The plan was for me to head to Milwaukee on Thursday and meet up with two friends I haven't seen in a while to go to the Twins/Brewers game at Miller Park in Milwaukee. And as far as those details go, it was completely successful.
David in Milwaukee was my college roommate from my freshman year. Now he works for a major accounting firm in their Milwaukee office. We've kept in touch off and on over the years, but outside of a brief business trip of his to Minneapolis, we hadn't had any significant hang-out time in years. Fortunately we were able to change that.
Rob in Milwaukee was a co-worker of mine at an Eau Claire record store which paid a significant portion of my post-college bills while I tried to secure a full-time job in radio. He now works for a financial services company in Milwaukee. I hadn't seen him in even longer than David. So the game was an excellent chance to kill two birds with one stone - odd metaphor for friends, I know, but there you go.
So off to the ballpark we went. I was anxious to check out Miller Park for the first time, since my only experience with retractable roof ballparks was Chase Field in Phoenix. While Chase is a nice ballpark and all, even with the roof open, you don't get a true “outdoor experience” there. With the opening of Target Field here in Minneapolis, that's become an important part of the baseball experience for me.
As it turns out, Miller Park is more than capable of delivering an outdoor experience. The roof is an absolute engineering marvel. And while I didn't get to see it open or close, just seeing the structure was really impressive. I'm still not sorry the Twins went without a roof at Target Field - the cost alone made the idea rather untenable - but Milwaukee fans certainly have the best of both worlds: lots of outdoor baseball and guaranteed start times.
So before the game, we took a few circuits around the ballpark so I could get a feel for it. As I said, it's an impressive structure that's much larger than Target Field. So even with all the amenities that Target Field has, they were able to put larger and more intricate features into Miller Park. Yes, I was a tad jealous. The one thing that Target Field absolutely has on Miller Park, however, is the scoreboard. They built Miller just before the advent of the mega-HD scoreboards, so while Miller has a large black and white scoreboard, the video board that resides above it leaves a little to be desired.
After the tour, it was off to our seats. Which happened to be bleacher style. Granted, they had backs on them, but bleachers aren't usually my favorite form of seating. No matter, they provided an excellent view from right field, and there were plenty of Twins fans in our section, so I didn't feel outnumbered.
As we got ready for the game, I pointed out that Joe Mauer wasn't in today's starting line-up. That wasn't surprising considering it was a day-game after a night-game. That's usually when Mauer gets a rest. It was slightly disappointing though, given that the Brewers were throwing their ace, Yovani Gallardo, who was going to be tough enough to beat even with one of your better hitters in the line-up. Take Mauer out? Well let's just say it didn't lessen my fears that this game might not go Minnesota's way.
As warm-ups were wrapping up, Milwaukee right fielder Corey Hart turned to flip the ball into the right field stands. Only he over-cooked it a bit and bounced it off the upper-deck facing. A good omen for Minnesota? Perhaps. Rob decided that he was calling a Hart homer. Was he prophetic? Let's find out...
Top of the First
The Twins were up first and send CF Denard Span, 2B Orlando Hudson and 1B Justin Morneau up to face Gallardo. Yovani is one of those pitchers who, when they throw strikes consistently, have the kind of stuff to make them darned near un-hittable. And in the first inning at least, he is throwing strikes. A ground-out to second and two fly-outs to left and the Twins had a goose egg on the board after the first.
The musical end to the inning? The level-finishing music from the original Super Mario Brothers. I'm talking the 8-bit system from waaaaay back when. Interesting choice.
No score after a half inning.
Bottom of the First
And here comes Nick Blackburn. Nick is a big part of the reason that I'm feeling dubious about the Twins chances. It's been a strange year for Nick. He was 5-0 in May and looked reliable. In June? Not so much. In his last four starts, Blackburn had gotten out of the fourth inning exactly once. In his last start against the Phillies, he failed to make it out of the second inning. Dubious? I'm downright skeptical!
Which of course means that he retires the Brewers 1-2-3 to open the game. 2B Ricky Weeks strikes out looking, Hart grounds out to short (0-for-1, Rob), and 1B Prince Fielder pops out to the catcher.
Atta boy, Blackey!
Top of the Second
The second sees the Twins send up RF Jason Kubel, 3B Michael Cuddyer and LF Delmon Young.
It also sees Gallardo mow through them like they were AAA-hitters. He struck out Kubel looking, got Cuddy to ground out to first and Delmon to ground out to second.
If the Twins don't break up this guy's rhythm quickly, this is going to be a long afternoon.
Bottom of the Second
Milwaukee's murderers row, part deux kicked off the bottom half against Blackburn. He starts off by inducing a ground ball to second from LF Ryan Braun. That was pretty good. Unfortunately he follows that up with a walk to 3B Casey McGhee. Not as good.
It's at this point, I point out to David that the Brewers still have reliever Trevor Hoffman's “career saves” banner hanging in the outfield. The problem? He hasn't been their closer for a while, and there's no indication as to when he might get the job back. Kinda cruel, don't you think?
So with a runner on first, Blackburn gets CF Jim Edmonds (no Carlos Gomez today - strangely, I liked that - I've seen enough wild swings and chaotic fielding from that young man, thank you) to fly out to left. Nick follows that up by getting C Jonathan Lucroy to bounce one right back to him, which he easily flips to first to end the inning.
Is this the May Nick Blackburn making his triumphant return?! I can only hope...
Still no score.
Top of the Third
This portion of the Twins line-up is why I miss J.J. Hardy, and kvetch about Mauer being out of the line-up so much.
SS Nick Punto strikes out swinging. No surprise. C Drew Butera flies out to left. Hey, at least he hit it out of the infield. And that brings Blackburn up to bat.
Yes, because we were in a NL park, the game's played by NL rules, and that means the pitchers hit. Just before Nick steps to the plate, David asks if Blackburn has any NL experience - i.e. has he batted on a regular basis before? Just as I respond, “um, no”, Nick hits a weak ground ball back to Gallardo, which Yo tosses to first to end the inning.
Oh irony, you cruel, cruel mistress!
We remain scoreless.
Bottom of the Third
The third starts off well enough for Blackburn as he catches SS Craig Counsell napping and slips a strike-three by him. Counsell has made a career out of killing the Twins, so I'm definitely encouraged.
… and that's when I should've known the momentum would shift.
The next batter is Gallardo who promptly doubles. Really?! The pitcher?! Okay, as hitting pitchers go, Yovani is pretty good. Yes, his batting average is below .200, but his OPS is .654, which means that when he does get a hit, he makes it count.
After that, I turn to David and say, “see, this is where Blackburn makes me nervous. He was going along just fine, but get one baserunner on, and suddenly I'm terrified he'll go 'Gas Can' on us.” “Gas Can” here having the meaning of being the pitching equivalent of tossing a gas can on a fire. Bad things happen.
I barely get the words “on us” out of my mouth, when Ricky Weeks gets ahold of a meaty fastball and parks it in the left field seats for a 2-0 Milwaukee lead. David tries to give me credit for a call, but I can't accept it. Acknowledging my pitcher's propensity for prolific run-surrendering does not a homer-call make!
Okay, so it was 2-0. That's not insurmountable, so long as Nick focuses and gets out of the inning. Corey Hart is up next and takes a four-pitch walk (0-for-2, Rob). That's not going to get you out of the inning.
Neither is another 2-run homer that Nick proceeds to give up to Prince Fielder. It's one of the oddest crowd reactions I've ever heard. There were the initial cheers when it looked like it was going out, then sort of an “awww” when it appeared the ball would be caught at the wall, followed by more jubilant cheers when it turned out the ball cleared the wall by inches. 4-0 Milwaukee.
Ryan Braun follows that with a double, and the Twins bullpen gets active. Please, Nick. You have to make it out of the third. Please!
Thanks to a McGhee ground-out and an Edmonds fly-out, he does. Whew! If Gallardo stays as good as he's been through three, four runs might be too much to overcome. But the Twins still have a shot!
Top of the Fourth
Span strikes out swinging. Hudson pops to second. Morneau flies out to left.
There's a term they use for when team hasn't gotten any hits. I'm sorely tempted to use it in a partisan attempt to jinx Gallardo. But as a fan of the game, I decide not to. Though if this thing goes on too much longer, I may have no choice!
Bottom of the Fourth
Blackburn come back out for the fourth, and I tell Rob that he needs to have a quick inning to re-establish his confidence. Yeah, how do you think that went?!
Once again, he starts off fine, getting Lucroy to ground out to short and Counsell to fly out to center. But Gallardo gets another hit which turns into a double when Span misplays the ball in center. Blackburn then issues a walk to Weeks, and gives up a run-scoring single to Corey Hart (0-for-3, Rob). And that's all she wrote for Blackburn: 3.2 innings pitched, 6 hits, 5 earned runs, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts and 2 home runs. Not good. Not good at all.
Brian Duensing comes on in relief to get the final out of the inning. Prince Fielder grounds one to deep second, and Hudson barely gets a sprinting Fielder at first. That's right, I said it. A “sprinting Fielder”. Mark it down in your calendars folks. You won't hear that phrase very often!
Top of the Fifth
As the fifth inning opens, David reminds me of a text I'd sent him and Rob during game one of the series when the Twins scored three runs in the first inning. I might have been just a wee bit cocky in said message, and he reminds me that it would be karma-appropriate for the Twins to lose all three games in the series after I'd poked the baseball gods in the eye like that.
Sadly, he might be right.
Jason Kubel strikes out swinging to continue the carnage. That's followed by a Michael Cuddyer at-bat where, once he's down two strikes, I turn to Rob and say, “slider in the dirt, he'll swing right over the top of it”.
Gallardo proceeds to throw a slider in the dirt. Cuddyer swings right over the top of it. David looks at me like I'd just explained nuclear fusion. Hey, if my team's going to suck the bag, I should at least be able to get some calls correct, right?!
Delmon Young flies out to left, and the Twins still haven't produced a base-runner... dammit.
Bottom of the Fifth
Duensing remains in the game for the Twins. Hopefully he'll quiet those Milwaukee bats a bit.
Again, things start off great. Braun strikes out and McGhee pops out to short. But in what's becoming an annoying pattern, the Brewers get a two-out double from Jim Edmonds and once again, I left to wonder if the Twins are ever going to have a clean inning. Fortunately Lucroy flies out to center and there's no further damage.
David chooses this moment to point out that he'd like to be one of the red-shirted security guys who didn't seem to do much more than stand up between innings and watch the crowd, before sitting back down and watching the game.
Yeah, the game was a little dull.
Top of the Sixth
Punto, Butera and Duensing are your scheduled hitters. I ask Rob if we could just concede this half inning and go on to Span to start the seventh? Clearly none of these jokers are going to produce, right?!
Punto strikes out looking. And then the gods get me again. Butera singles to center to break up the perfecto. That's right, a .186-hitting Drew Butera broke up a perfect game by a guy who'd looked nothing but dominant for five solid innings. You try to figure this game out... I can't.
Duensing strikes out trying to bunt Butera over. Denard Span grounds out to second to end the inning.
Span's ground ball was greeted with a “turn it” coming from a Brewer fan behind us. As in “turn a double-play”. Which would've been an amazing feat considering there were already two outs. I'll try not to hold that against you Milwaukee. Really.
Middle of the Sixth
Why do I mention the middle of the inning? Because in Milwaukee the middle of the sixth means it's time for the legendary Sausage Race. That's right, five guys in sausage costumes race around the warning track in what's still the best mid-inning entertainment in baseball. Rob says we all have to pick a sausage, so he goes with the Polish, I take the Bratwurst and David picks the Italian.
The Bratwurst wins. Thank you, baseball gods. You haven't abandoned me completely!
Bottom of the Sixth
Duensing's still in the game. Counsell strikes out. (That's good.) Gallardo grounds out to second. (About freaking time we get that guy out.) And Ricky Weeks singles.
Dammit. Still not a clean inning. And what does it say that a clean inning is all I'm rooting for at this point in the game?! Oof.
That brings Corey Hart to the plate, as Rob reminds us that he made home run call for Hart in the pregame (yeah, Rob, and you're 0-for-3 on that one so far). Hart hits a fly ball to center. It could be... it might be... caught by Denard Span. Sorry Rob. 0-for-4.
Top of the Seventh
Orlando Hudson leads off the inning, and fouls a ball off his foot which sends him down in a heap. Now, trust me, I get that fouling a ball off your foot hurts like the dickens. But at this point I feel the need to point out to David and Rob that Hudson is like our own pro soccer player. Ever notice how when soccer players make minimal contact with each other, one of them goes down like he was just hit by a sniper rifle? Yeah, that's Hudson.
After several minutes of rolling and writhing, Hudson gets back up and finishes his at-bat by looking at strike three. Maybe you should've let them take you off on one of those FIFA stretchers O-Dawg... I'm just sayin.
Morneau then singles. Two hits! Yes! Kubel follows that with another single. It's a comeback boys!
Cuddyer strikes out. Young bounces out to second. Rally? Dead. Dammit.
Bottom of the Seventh
More Duensing. Another solid start to an inning.
Fielder strikes out looking. Braun flies out to center. Rob says, “Here's your 1-2-3 inning, Dan.”
Casey McGhee singles.
I say this with all due respect, Rob: “Eff you.”
Jim Edmonds flies out to left to end the inning. Well, at least they didn't score.
Top of the Eighth
A sprinkling of fans start to leave, which of course, bring out my “communists” rant. I'll never understand why people pay for 9 innings of entertainment and leave after 7 or 8. The only logical explanation? They're communists. Okay, maybe that's not logical, but it's my rant and I'm sticking to it.
Punto singles to lead off the inning. Four hits! Here we go!
Butera grounds into a fielder's choice. Oh well, at least it wasn't a double-play.
Jim Thome pinch-hits for Duensing (who did a marvelous job soaking up some innings for Blackburn) and strikes out looking.
Span grounds into another fielder's choice to end the inning.
You know what? I'm beginning to suspect that the Twins might not have a rally in them today... oof.
Bottom of the Eighth
Big Jon Rauch enters the game to pitch for Minnesota. Is bringing in your closer when you're down five runs and about to be swept the “we cry Uncle” move of all time, or what?
Rauch gets Lucroy to pop out to the catcher. And just for good measure, he gets Counsell to do the same.
At this point we start to debate whether you bring back Gallardo for the ninth. That question's quickly answered when he heads to the plate for an at-bat in the 8th. Another two-out hit perhaps? It looked like it when he smoked a ball to center, but Span runs it down, and Rauch pitches the first clean inning for the Twins since the first. Lovely.
Top of the Ninth
If Gallardo hit in the 8th, that means he's coming out to pitch the ninth. His pitch-count is north enough of 100, that I'm a touch surprised, but as good as he's going today... why not?
Hudson strikes out to lead off the inning. Morneau doubles. "We're not dead yet," I yelled! The entire section looks at me like I'd just suggested slapping the Virgin Mary. They're probably right. Kubel bounces out to second moving Morneau to third. Just 90 measly feet from a run!
… and Cuddyer strikes out to end the game.
Your final? 5-0 Milwaukee.
Gallardo's final line: 9 innings pitched, 5 hits, 0 earned runs, 0 walks, and 12 strikeouts.
When a guy's that good, you've got very little chance. Sadly, my fears came to fruition and the Twins were beaten and swept by our NL rivals to the east. Well played, Milwaukee. Well played.
David tried to console me by pointing out that I really shouldn't do a “cost of trip/number of Twins hits” analysis. Thanks David. I'll keep that in mind.
Rob was equally magnanimous, yelling, “SWEEEEEEP, SWEEEEEEP, SWEEEEEEP!”
Sadly, I can't blame either of them. In their shoes, I'd have done the same thing.
Okay, so the game wasn't as good as I'd hoped. But at least I didn't have to watch my club get no-hit! Yeah, that's about the best thing I can say about the game itself.
But the trip was 100% worth it. I got to see day-baseball in a wonderful ballpark with two good friends.
Top that... I dare you.
That's going to wrap things up for today. I'll be back on Wednesday with... well something. I have no clue what. After all, I'm still on vacation!
Until then, thanks for reading!