Planetary Alignment

The Twins are putting it all together in May

Reed's performance was certainly encouraging. Throw out one decent six-inning win over the Tigers --which should almost count in the Spring Training standings-- and he hasn't been good since getting rocked in the playoffs last year. It's very easy to forget that Reed was clearly the Twins best pitcher last season, when he led the starters in wins, innings pitched, and earned run average. The guy is now 37 years old, and is making $7 million a year, and you absolutely never have any idea what you're going to get when he takes the mound.

Neither, really, does he, it turns out. Reed is easily the most self-effacing guy on the Twins' staff, and even after last night's gem --in which he matched his career high for low-hit games-- he was as seemingly puzzled by his success as he is when he gets pounded. Reed's a guy who's mastered the shrug, and he always seems to be entirely unruffled, which is of course the prerogative of any man making seven million dollars a year.

"It was nice to be able to pitch a halfway decent game for a change," he said. "Hopefully I'll be able to go home and sleep a little better." Reed said this in his characteristic deadpan drawl, and it wasn't entirely convincing; I've never had the impression that Reed is a guy who tosses and turns at night over a bad start.

Win or lose, though, Reed will always insist that he wasn't doing anything different --he just goes out there and throws "the same old garbage up there," as he's said-- and last night he stayed with that script. He did, however, elaborate a little bit when pressed to explain how he accounts for the often-radical difference in his performance from one start to the next.

"You really never know what's going to happen when you go out there," he said. "I don't, anyway. Especially with this rug [the Dome's artificial turf]. I don't have any margin for error, and I have to throw strikes. If I go out there and walk five or six guys they're all gonna score, because when I make mistakes I make 'em big. If I miss by a couple inches that generally turns into a very big mistake. It's nice to have runs to work with, and you sort of take for granted that these guys are going to make the plays behind you, but I just pitch for outs, one batter at a time. I'm never thinking about a shutout or pitch counts or anything like that. I'm just trying to deal with each guy as he comes up there. After all these years I still couldn't tell you how this game works."

Reed said that while there isn't any kind of template for how he approaches any particular start, in a perfect world he'd pitch the second or third game of every series, which would afford him the opportunity to watch how his teammates approach opposing hitters, and how those hitters respond.

"That's pretty much how I get my scouting reports," he said. "But even with a good game plan and all the information in the world everything has to go just right for me to have a game like tonight. I guess the planet's must have been lined up perfect."


The Twins have now thrown four shutouts in the last month, and have five for the season. They didn't get their second shutout last year until July 28th, and finished with nine, including seven in the last two months. The team ERA is now under four (3.99) for the first time all season, and they've gone 12-3 over their last 15, shaving Kansas City's lead down to one-and-a-half games in the process.

Christian Guzman looks to be all the way back from whatever was ailing him last year. He already has as many triples --six-- as he had all last year, and, the occasional sloppy error aside, is playing great defense again.

Whatever the umpires are doing to speed up the games, it's working. After enduring years of three-plus hour games, the Twins have now played 11 straight in under three hours. Last night's game, even with the bench clearing, was two hours and 25 minutes.

The Twins choice of Joe Mauer over Mark Prior with the first pick in the 2001 draft will always be second-guessed, and for good reason. Prior, of course, is already in the Major Leagues, and pitching like a Cy Young candidate for the Cubs, while Mauer is still in Class A, playing for the Twins' Florida State league affiliate in Fort Myers. Pretty much everybody agrees that Mauer has a chance to be a great player somebody --he has tremendous plate discipline for a 20 year old-- but everybody agrees that Prior is already a great player, and one hell of bargain at that. Prior's signability was the issue with the Twins, but the Cubs managed to wrap him up for five years for $10.5 million, which included a $2.3 million signing bonus. That means the Cubs are paying Prior, who is now 5-1 with a 2.13 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 55 IP, $1,450,000 a year, which sure looks like a steal when you consider the salaries the Twins are paying Brad Radke ($8,750,000), Rick Reed ($7 million), and Eric Milton ($6 million).

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