News of the Weird
It's still relatively early in the season, but already Ron Gardenhire's club has taken the usual grab-bag, roll-the-dice nature of a day at the ballpark to the wildest extremes. You literally can't predict what you might expect from the 2002 Twins on any given night, but I've already pretty much accepted that eventually we're going to see it all--this is a team, I'm virtually certain, that is going to spend the entire season winning and losing games in every conceivable fashion.
Two months into the season I've seen all sorts of things I'd never seen before on a baseball diamond. A 14th-inning walk-off grand slam. (Which, the more you think about it, really takes some doing.) The other night the Twins scored five runs on ground-ball outs and had a seventh-inning in which all nine men in the line-up reached base and scored, en route to a 25-hit, 23-2 pasting of the (supposedly streaking) Cleveland Indians. In that same series, Minnesota roughed up both Ryan Drese, the American League rookie of the month for May, and, a couple of nights later, Bartolo Colon, the AL pitcher of the month for May. The outings were the shortest of the season for both pitchers. Against Florida a few nights later, the Twins scored runs on two-out hits in three straight innings.
Then, Monday night, the first five Twins batters all singled and scored off Atlanta's Greg Maddux. If you're not aware of how unthinkable that is, consider that the righthander had given up five runs in the first inning on only four previous occasions in his entire 17-year career. Consider also that this was the second time in four games that the Twins' first five batters had reached base and scored in a single inning; and consider that after Minnesota ripped Maddux, the Braves eventually scrapped back against Twins starter Eric Milton to tie the game; and that the Twins would not manage another run until almost four and a half hours later, when Cristian Guzman finally drove in Tom Prince with the winning run in the bottom of the 15th inning.
By which time, appropriately enough, a raging thunderstorm had rolled into downtown Minneapolis. In keeping with the bizarre and uncanny nature of the season to date, Monday was umbrella night at the Dome.
Monday night's 6-5 victory marked the second time in a month that the Twins have played through two seventh-inning stretches in one night. The team is now 3-3 in extra-inning games.
Atlanta's top three starters and former starter turned closer John Smoltz have an astonishing combined career record of 717-443; both Maddux and Glavine are now 100 games over .500 for their careers. For a little perspective, the eight pitchers who have started games for the Twins thus far this year are a combined 278-268.
Coming out of the victory in Monday's series opener against the Braves, the first-place Twins are 37-27; their six-game margin in the AL Central is their largest to date. All four of the other teams in the division are now under .500. The Twins aren't about to get excited just yet, however. After Saturday's game outfielder Jacque Jones pointed out that the team had a five-game lead going into the All Star break last year. "And we all saw what happened in the second half," Jones said.
Still, there remain plenty of reasons for optimism: The team is finally showing signs of getting healthy, and second baseman Luis Rivas's return from the disabled list seems to have energized the entire ballclub, most noticeably his double-play partner Cristian Guzman.
Heading into last weekend, the Twins were tied for the major-league doubles lead (136), and were leading the majors in extra-base hits (214). They were second in total bases (964), and had the highest team batting average (.298) and slugging percentage (.472) against righthanded pitching. Jacque Jones, at .361, ranks second in the AL hitting versus righthanders.
The Twins outfield is currently ranked first among major league outfields in batting average (.321), hits (244), home runs (36), RBI (132), runs scored (136), and slugging percentage (.544).
Twins Trivia: Name the former Twin who is one of only 11 players in history who homered in his first at bat and never hit another home run in the major leagues. Extra credit: Name the former Twins reliever who had five pinch hits in the National League in 1986. (Answers below.)
Contraction Watch: What is it about the Brewers and strikeouts? Last year's woeful Milwaukee squad had more strikeouts than hits. Four different players had more than 100 Ks, including Jose Hernandez (185), Richie Sexson (178), and Jeromy Burnitz (150). Hernandez and Sexson finished one and two in the National League, joining distinguished former Brewers Rob Deer and Gorman Thomas in the select lists of single-season whiff leaders.
Finally, in light of Baltimore Oriole outfielder (and former Twins heartthrob, hair obsessive, and rookie of the year) Marty Cordova's tragic tanning-booth accident, the timing seems right to revisit a few of baseball's other legendary injuries. Here, then, is one fan's all-time Top 10:
1) Kevin Mitchell once strained a muscle vomiting; another time he injured himself eating a cupcake.
2) Glenallen Hill went on the disabled list after he crashed through a glass table while having a dream about being attacked by spiders.
3) Jeff Juden got an infection from a tattoo.
4) Larry Andersen strained a muscle getting out of a Jacuzzi.
5) Nolan Ryan missed a start after he was bitten by a coyote.
6) Roger Craig cut his hand on a bra strap.
7) Steve Sparks injured his shoulder trying to tear a telephone book in half.
8) Vince Coleman missed the 1985 World Series after he was rolled up in an on-field tarp machine.
9) Moises Alou (who reportedly most recently aggravated his hamstring "standing in the outfield") once suffered a knee injury when he ran over his son with a bicycle.
10) Dwight Gooden was hurt when a teammate, the aforementioned Vince Coleman, accidentally hit him with a golf club in the clubhouse.
Trivia Answers: In 1984 Andre David hit a home run in his first at bat as a Twin. He never hit another homer in the major leagues. Extra Credit: Dan Schatzeder.
Brad Zellar goes Yard every Tuesday morning--and perhaps more often--for as long as he (and the Twins) are up to it.
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