I’ll try to avoid the obvious here, since anyone who watched the game knows how utterly defeating it was. Instead, I’m going to comment on a few things that I saw (or thought I saw) during the course of the game. Some of them are original, some of them are distinctly not:
1.) I like Joe Nathan. At times I have loved Joe Nathan. I also fully understand that every closer blows saves, and that the “saves” category itself is somewhat dubious. So what I’m about to say isn’t meant to be a bash at Joe Nathan. I’m using him as an example to ask what is, I think, a more interesting question. I’m too lazy to go double check the numbers myself, but I believe I recall hearing Chip Caray saying that Joe Nathan has been downright mediocre in division series play, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 ER in 6 IP prior to tonight. He added on a couple more tonight, bringing him to 7 ER in 7 IP (unless I missed a run somewhere). Looking at his season numbers, it’s pretty clear that Joe Nathan is not a bad pitcher. But given the disparity between his post- and regular season stats, something is clearly going on. Maybe he’s just tired or wore down, as Jim Souhan thinks. Maybe (although I’m inclined to think not) he’s “toast,” as a number of message board irregulars have been saying all night.
There’s another possibility, though. In some ways it’s the most frightening, and the most difficult to deal with. What if Joe Nathan just isn’t that clutch? What if he’s the “anti-big game” type of performer? The type A-Rod had supposedly become before he started playing the Twins in post-season games. I mean, if Nathan really is “toast,” you just get rid of him. It might hurt. It might be costly. But it’s certainly not unprecedented. Players go bad all the time, are promptly dismissed or have their role changed, and the team moves on. But what happens if Nathan just isn’t a clutch performer?
This is what I’m wondering. If a guy (like, say, Joe Nathan) is going to put up an ERA of around 2.00, an Opp. Avg. of .171, and convert 45 saves for you during the regular season — but then promptly chokes come the post-season, what do you do with that guy? You can’t justify getting rid of him. But if you carry him as your closer, how could you possibly not use him in “closer” situations once the post-season comes around? I don’t have an answer to this question. But I thought a lot about it when I was watching Nathan tonight and thinking back over his performances the last couple of weeks. Let’s just say I was a bit disquieted. For once, I like Souhan’s answer better than mine.
2.) I only had a chance to see each at-bat live while it was happening, but if I remember the Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez at-bats correctly (and please do correct me if I’m misremembering!), each player swung at the first pitch. Not only did they swing at the first pitch, they swung at first pitches that (again, if I’m remembering correctly) were on the high side and at least in Gomez’s case, were coming inside. Now, I’m far from a professional hitter. Last time I hit a ball competitively I was in junior varsity baseball and posted a .150 batting average for the season. But it seems to me that with the bases loaded and no one out, your job is to hit a ball at least medium deep. And I have a hard time seeing how you do that with balls that are slightly elevated and in at least one case are busting inside. In fact, unless there’s a PERFECT pitch to elevate, why do you swing at the first pitch at all? I realize that Delmon smashed the ball he hit, and that Gomez took what was a fairly defensive swing — but they should have decided to lay off those pitches immediately. Not to mention the fact that with the bases loaded, you might want to see if the guy has what it takes to throw a few strikes.
3.) The whole world knows the ump screwed up on Mauer’s “foul ball”, but there’s no way the Twins can blame that for the loss (and I don’t think they will be). But how much more does MLB need to see before they just give in and put an official in a booth for calls like this? There’s simply no argument that can be made about any “delay” in such replays — the booth official would see an immediate TV replay and would have an easy time of making fair/foul and homerun calls. There’s no reason the home plate ump has to be involved in the process at all — give the booth official a button he can hit that says “fair” or “foul” or “homerun” or whatever on a scoreboard, and *bam* 99% of the problem is solved. Get it done, MLB. Your product suffers under the current system.
4.) Has there been a worse prediction about this post-season than Jim Souhan’s about Jason Kubel? His headline from the other day reads “Kubel is ready this time.” Only problem is, Kubel is now something like 0-for-9 with 6 K’s in the series. The Twins wouldn’t be where they are this season without Jason Kubel, who has been spectacular. It’s just too bad that this is when he decided to go AWOL.
5.) Yes, Gomez screwed up. It was still the right decision to play him today. The outfield defense with him in center and Span in right is great, and he adds some speed to the lineup in front of pesky hitters like Tolbert and Punto, which I like. He’s going to make mistakes like overrunning the bag and then forgetting to get in a run-down to let the run score sometimes. It’s frustrating, but it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t play.