class=img_thumbleft>According to a variety of sources (I did not travel to Seattle to watch these games, nor watch them on the cable I don't get), the Twins took the third game in a three game set against the Mariners by playing small-ball. Amazingly (to this writer), the Twins haven't swept Seattle since 1996. That's over eleven seasons, for God's sake. Compare that '96 Mariners squad to that year's Twins, and consider some of the lousy teams the M's have fielded in just the last three years, and, wow, that's one bizarre statistic. Then again, with the imbalanced schedule, we don't get an opportunity to play teams outside the division, so maybe that skewers the whole thing.
The Twins edged Seattle 5-4 on Friday. There was a small-ball carnival in the lucky seventh inning, beginning with three bunts in a row by our fishy friends (Bartlett, Casilla and Castillo) followed by a booming Michael Cuddyer double and a single by Mike Redmond. Behold, like candy spilling from a pinata, it's 5-1. With Santana holding his own, and our ace relief staff on the line, the game should have been sewn up, yes? No.
Joe Nathan, lately shaky, wasn't going to pitch at all, what with that four-run lead and submarining Pat Neshek on the hill. But Neshek was a bit off on his game, perhaps feeling groggy from West Coast time, from the afternoon game, from staring intently at the totem poles in downtown Seattle. He gave up three runs on a blast by one Mr. Raul Ibanez, and suddenly it was a one-run game. In comes Joe Nathan, who would have been perfectly effective were it not for a long fly ball, a sure out, that was lost in the cruel sun. It dropped in front of Cuddyer and leaving Richie Sexon standing on second (Quote of the day: "These 3:30 games don't make much sense to me," said Mr. Cuddyer. So much for "Let's play two!") Finally, Nathan ended the game on a Jose Guillen strikeout. Whew.
Now I've been known to criticize the use of bunts in the past, especially coming off the bat of Joe Mauer (and in his case, I'll continue to grump despite decent arguments to the contrary by one Twins Geek, whose points I still consider incorrect. But, man, that guy knows how to throw statistics around...) In any case, the Twins blew a couple of scoring opportunities from their big bats. In the third inning, with runners on second and third and one out, Cuddyer popped foul and Morneau couldn't get the ball out of the infield. In the fourth, Redmond opened the frame with a double, made it to third with only one out, then stood that ninety feet away and twiddled his thumbs while the next pair of Twins couldn't even hit a pop fly far enough to score him. Then in the fifth, Luis Castillo doubled to get things started, and after Nicky Punto grounded out to the shortstop (thus failing to get Castillo over--not a small-ball way of moving runners, to be sure) and Joe Mauer was hit by a pitch, now again you have people in scoring position. And Cuddyer and Morneau as the next two batters. And again, for the third straight inning, these guys failed to score.
But Seattle is Seattle, a better team than last year, and in this brutal sport of 162 games, you take any and all victories, no matter how ugly they might be. At this point, the Twins are doing things right--going 4-0 in one-run games is a great start. Small ball is perfect, folks, especially if it's just a matter of being there when the big bats are quieted.
A feat that always amazes me is the 35-5 start by the Detroit Tigers in 1984. You can keep your 56 game hitting streak (unbelievable for sure), but will any team ever eclipse, or even tie, that 40 game record? With one fourth of the season down, that year's Tigers were thirty games over .500 and could lose half their games from then on and still win 95 (they ended up winning 104--with the third best record in the American League after that. Toronto and New York fared better in the remaining 120 contests, but, as Sparky said, "you gotta count the whole season.")
Having grown up in Michigan, I'm an old, dyed-in-the-wool Tigers fan, but this is still one hell of a record. For instance, no team has played more than 16 games this year, and only one club has an opportunity to beat the '84 Tigers, and that's the Mets, sitting today at 10-4. Meaning, of course (this is simple, non-SABR math), that the Mets need to go 25-1 in order to tie the Tigers of that incredible year . I'm convinced that no team will ever break this record, but I'd be happy to entertain algorithm and other mathematical feats to prove me wrong. I think it was Stephen J. Gould who proved that DiMaggio's streak is so crazy as to never be beaten; could this one be the same?
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