And to think I spent most of this game wondering what I was going to talk about.
Unfortunately, the Twins season has come to an end. A simple sweep wouldn’t have been so bad, but a sweep in which the Twins led in each game — and led late in Games 2 & 3 — was a bit much. Disappointment will almost inevitably be the initial reaction to this result (especially since so many of us absolutely loathe the Yankees), but it should go without saying that the Twins were the longest of longshots, a team that was without one of its major players in Justin Morneau, that started a rookie in Game 1, and that relied on Nick Punto (more on him later) to be the guy getting big at-bats. The magical ride on which the Twins took all of us during September, including that poorly played but thrilling Game 163, was really what this season was all about. At least the Metrodome got one more chance to host a playoff game.
In the next few days, I’ll be delving into all of the silly season issues confronting the Twins, from which free agents-to-be the Twins should try to bring back to which Rule 5 eligibles should be protected on the 40-man roster and how they should go about getting those players on that roster. But tonight is reserved for a few thoughts on tonight’s game.
1.) Oh, Nick Punto. After spending most of the year losing the confidence of the vast majority of Twins fans, you teased us during the playoff run and throughout the post-season with tantalizingly strong at-bats at unbelievably strong defense. There was a noticeable change in the attitude that those fans exhibited towards Punto during that stretch, and I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that he had won a few converts with his play. Unfortunately, the last memory most Twins fans will have of Punto over the long, brutal winter is of his absolutely stunningly foolish decision to overrun third base (presumably assuming that Denard Span’s bouncer up the middle was heading to center field). Really, this was an error on multiple fronts; he failed to read the speed of the ball of the bat (excusable), he failed to note the positioning of Jeter (probably excusable), and he failed to pick up his third base coach as he rounded third (unforgivable). I’m still on the bandwagon — but why do you have to make it so hard Nick?
2.) I’m a Gardy apologist. Actually, I’m an apologist for a lot of guys — I’ve always liked Gardy, Bill Smith, Nick Punto. Heck, you name the Twins-affiliated goat, and I’ve probably got his back. Tonight, though, I was very disappointed with at least one bullpen decision by Gardy in the top of the 9th inning. It was absolutely the right decision to bring Ron Mahay in to face Damon to start the inning, and Damon’s strikeout backed that up. I’m also just fine with letting Mahay face Teixeira, even though it resulted in a walk. Mahay clearly wasn’t going to challenge Tex, which was probably the plan, and I’m fine with Gardy not wanting to bring in Rauch and turn Teixeira around to the left side. After the walk, bringing in Rauch to face A-Rod also made plenty of sense. My problem, instead, was with the decision to turn the game over to Jose Mijares after Rauch walked A-Rod. Obviously, Gardy wanted the lefty-lefty matchup against Hideki Matsui, but Mijares has been, to be kind, ineffective of late. In fact, he hadn’t gotten the “guy” he’d been asked to get for five straight appearances, since September 29 against the Tigers. Given that, I would have preferred letting Rauch, a veteran reliever with reasonable (although by no means great) numbers against lefties, face Matsui. I simply don’t have any faith in Mijares right now. What he did was no worse than what Mahay or Rauch did before him, but that wasn’t good enough.
3.) I really hope that Jason Kubel’s stunningly bad performance in this post-season doesn’t affect him in the future. Kubel is tremendously important for the Twins, but 9 strikeouts in 14 AB’s is just dreadful. There are slumps, and then there are choke jobs. Hard to look at this as anything else.
4.) How unbelievably stupid of Major League Baseball to schedule tonight’s Rockies-Phillies game for a 10:00 PM ET start. I’m hardly the only person to comment on this, but it’s so monumentally stupid I felt the need to add my two cents. It’s unfortunate that the sport cares more about giving TBS 4 windows for Sunday games (1 of which — in a perfect afternoon slot — went unused due to the Dodgers sweep of the Cardinals) than it does about giving fans in Philadelphia and (to a lesser extent) Denver a chance to watch the game.
5.) Carl Pavano deserves a quick shoutout. The guy was great tonight, even with the A-Rod and Posada homers. If you had asked me whether I would take 7 innings and 2 ER from Pavano coming into this game, there’s no question I would have been thrilled. He was obviously motivated to pitch well against the Yankees, and that mission was accomplished. This leaves me wishing even more that Gardy had taken a different approach to the starting rotation in this series. I would have liked to see Nick Blackburn start Wednesday’s game 1 on short rest (yes, even though he had just started on short rest on October 3), with Pavano going in Game 2 on regular rest and Scott Baker getting the ball in Game 3. Look, I like Brian Duensing — but I don’t think he had any business taking the bump in Yankee Stadium for a playoff game. I think Pavano would have been even more motivated to perform in Yankee Stadium, and that he’s professional enough not to have been overwhelmed by the experience of being booed remorselessly by Yankee fans. We’ll never know whether this would have given the Twins a better chance, but in my mind it would have set things up a bit better.
Anyway, it’s all over now. I have no real regrets for this team. They overachieved to get into the playoffs, and while it would have been nice to give the Yankees a real run for their money, it just didn’t happen. I can’t complain about getting beat by a better team — even when, in many respects, the Twins beat themselves. The Twins were pressing, after all, because they weren’t as strong as the Yankees. They so badly needed to get runners in when they got on base that they just tried too hard, and as a result they ground themselves down. The Yankees never looked anything other than confident. There’s the difference. Thank you to the Twins turning what looked until July like a lost season into a memorable one. Bring on Target Field!