Joyless in Mudville

From: Steve Perry
To: Brad Zellar
Subject: Joyless in Mudville

I thought the most telling moment in Sunday's game came early, when AJ Pierzynski drove in the Twins' second run. Before the play is over, the guy basically runs his team out of the inning trying to advance to second--and after he's tagged out he stands there pumping his fist, as if it were the greatest of moral victories for the Twins to have scored a run at all. You knew right then that, win or lose today, this team was licked.

I can't remember seeing a club wilt so visibly in the postseason since the Cardinals dropped the '85 World Series to the Royals. What the hell happened? I told you all along I thought Anaheim was the better team, but that doesn't account for the Twins' folding up like a pup tent this way.

How was it that 7th inning could feel so stunning and so inevitable at the same time? When you write the final chapter on the '02 Twins, compadre, you're going to have to spill some ink on the figure of one Ron Gardenhire, don't you think? His use of the bullpen these last few games has been a study in timidity and desperation--he's gone by the platoon percentages so slavishly it's been like watching a frightened man steer violently against a skid. And it looks to me like his skittishness has infected the whole team. Or maybe he caught it from them. But in either case...

There's only one bit of business left to settle. Here, now, is the funniest joke in the world:

It's the day of Jesus's crucifixion, and his band of disciples has gathered at the foot of the hill of Calvary.

Shortly after the Roman soldiers have raised Jesus up on the cross, the disciples hear a faint, plaintive cry from the hilltop: "Paul... Paul...."

So Paul leaves the other disciples and clambers up the hill. But as he approaches the cross he's grabbed by centurions and pummeled and thrown back down the hill.

The other disciples bind up Paul's wounds and give him wine to wet his mouth. A couple of hours later, though, they hear the same call, fainter this time: "Paul... Paul..."

And once again Paul hobbles up the hill as best he can. This time he reaches the foot of the cross and is about to stroke Jesus's foot with his outstretched hand when the soldiers kick him away from the cross, beat him, and throw him back down the hill.

This time Paul passes into and out of consciousness as the other disciples see to his injuries. On toward dusk, Mary Magdalene is changing the wet compress on Paul's head when Jesus's voice comes to them again, more halting than ever: "Paul... P-Paul..."

And Paul leaves the disciples and crawls on his hands and knees up the hill, reopening wounds as he goes. With twilight falling he manages to reach the cross of Jesus without being seen.

"Yes, teacher," he pants to Jesus. "What is it you wish to tell me?"

"Paul," Jesus croaks, "is that you?"

"Yes, my savior!"

"Paul," says Jesus, gesturing feebly with his head, "I... I can see your house from here..."

From: Brad Zellar
To: Steve Perry
Subject: re: Joyless in Mudville

Blasphemer! "How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10.29). You've taunted me for days, psychoanalyzed me, and even--shame on you--invoked Rilke, for this? *This* you are prepared to insist is the funniest joke in the world?

In these annual longest and darkest of the long, dark nights of the soul, with the indignities of the last several days still rolling over me like a steam thresher, do you honestly think that I'm going to tempt fate by offering anything but the strongest possible censure for your misguided choice and poor comedic judgment? Sorry, but I'm in enough pain at the moment, and I have no desire to incur the wrath of the righteous while I'm trying to recover from the brutal shock of the sudden and appalling conclusion of the local baseball season. I simply can't take any chances, Steve; it's the old Pascal's wager, I suppose. And, frankly, I'm still at a loss as to why you would drag me into this whole ridiculous debate about the World's Funniest Joke in the first place, and right in the midst of what was supposed to be a genial-enough conversation about the baseball playoffs.

That was the initial idea, anyway, or at least so far as I understood it, but you kept trying to change the subject. First it was this business with the joke, and then you tried to draw me into a speculative exchange about the psychological profile of this sniper out east. And you know how important it is for me to stay focused on the *game,* how important it is to the Twins. I have my routines, right? You know that. I have to concentrate and send powerful brain vibrations to the players, beginning several hours before each game. I have to wear the same lucky Nancy and Sluggo tee shirt I've been wearing for postseason Twins games since 1987. I have to tap my left shinbone seven times with a pencil between pitches in tight situations. Between innings it is necessary that I roll back on the couch and kick my legs straight up in the air fourteen times. I have all these things I have to do just to survive these games, and every one of them requires my complete attention and concentration, and yet *you* kept wanting to talk about the World's Funniest Joke.  

And you can go ahead and call me crazy, but I'm telling you this stuff I do works. I'm almost certain that the tremendous success the Twins had at home this year was due almost completely to the fact that I attended virtually every home game. Given the fact that the Twins road record was mediocre at best, please explain to me how it is that they nonetheless somehow managed to win all four games that I was able to attend in adversarial ballparks.

I should have gone to Anaheim. I'm going to be beating myself up all winter that I didn't go to Anaheim. I intend to apologize to Ron Gardenhire at the first opportunity.

In the meantime, Steve, I blame you. Since late last night I've been struggling mightily with the suspicion that you are almost entirely responsible for everything that went wrong in those disastrous last four games of the American League Championship Series. And even if you're not directly to blame, I have absolutely no doubt that you take a sort of perverse glee in the very real suffering all of this is causing me.

How did Mike Tyson put it? I wish that you had children, Steve, so I could kick them in the head or stomp on their testicles so you could feel my pain; because that's the pain I have waking up every day.

I blame you, Steve, but there is certainly plenty of other blame to go around. If Gary Gaetti's immortal quote, "It's hard to play with both hands around your neck," didn't come to mind at some point during the last couple games in Anaheim, then you're not a real Twins fan. You can blame Gardenhire all you want --and, really, I now have only one question for Gardie: where the hell was Kyle Lohse?-- but this was a full-team meltdown. The Twins came into the postseason with a reputation for excellent defense and proceeded to commit seven errors and surrender seven unearned runs. The top of the order, the middle of the order, the bottom of the order --point your finger in just about any direction and you can find a goat. The team's bullpen picked up the slack for the struggling rotation all year, and had prolonged stretches of domination both before and after the All Star break. They then had a 5.11 ERA in the playoffs, and got absolutely rocked in the decisive fourth and fifth games in Anaheim; pretty much everybody in the Twins bullpen got bombed: five guys combined to give up 15 runs in games where the Twins were either leading or within striking distance. It honestly couldn't have been any uglier. Game five in particular was an absolute teeth kicker. In the seventh inning the Twins actually managed to score three runs off the previously untouchable Francisco Rodriguez --notice I said 'untouchable' and not 'unhittable,' however, because the Twins did their damage off Rodriguez through a bases-loaded walk, a wild pitch, and a sacrifice fly-- to take a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the inning. At which point the Angels proceeded to score ten runs off four Twins relievers to put the series away.

Despite his first lousy outing, Rodriguez, the 20-year-old wunderkind of the series, got the victory, his fourth in the postseason. That's the sort of ridiculous, charmed thing that happens to teams of destiny. A guy like Adam Kennedy, who hit seven home runs all season, steps up and hits three in one game. That's the sort of thing that *only* happens to teams of destiny.

It's all very painful, but I guess I'll do what I'm supposed to do and tip my cap to Mike Scioscia for the job he did. I'm now prepared to acknowledge that the Angels were a better all-around team than my beloved Twins --mentally tougher, better prepared, and better managed. As I watched the celebration on the field after the game, however, I was struck for the first time by this curiousity: Are the Angels the whitest team in the Major Leagues? They looked like an Iowa high school football team that had just won the nine-man state championship.  

And one last question: now what am I supposed to do with my life?

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