Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Mark of a Winner

Manager’s Scenario: The date is August 31. Your team’s roster is in flux because of the impending postseason roster deadline, and you only have five pitchers available in the bullpen. To make matters worse, two of your six regular infielders are unavailable, meaning there is no way you can pinch-hit for two of your worst hitters (both of whom are now starting on the infield). Given this unenviable scenario, what are some of the WORST possible situations that could occur in that night’s game?

1. Your starter (the one who has grossly underachieved all season long) almost immediately blows a four-run lead and lasts just 4 2/3 innings while allowing five runs.
2. Your worst hitter, the same one you now unable to pinch-hit for, leaves a total of five men on base, which includes leaving the go-ahead run on second base twice late in the game.
3. The game goes into extra innings, meaning your already short-handed bullpen will have to pitch even longer.
4. Your closer and best reliever is forced to leave the game after just one batter due to a cut on his pitching hand, leaving you with only one relief pitcher in a tie ballgame.

Does that sound like enough adversity for you, Mr. Manager?

The scary thing is, every single one of those things happened to the Twins last night and they still won the game! Against one of the best teams in the league! How amazing is that!? Yesterday’s victory definitely exemplified the spirit of this Twins team. They had to deal with injuries and extenuating all season long (especially in the first half), yet they still manage to come out victorious in the end. After Nathan’s incident (he reached for a chopper with his throwing hand and suffered a cut on his ring finger) I was not optimistic about the Twins’ chances. Rincon didn’t have much time to warm up and was also the last man standing in the bullpen because of the pre-September roster shuffle. The Twins had the bottom of their lineup coming up the next inning, and the Rangers had closer Francisco Cordero (he of the 1.75 ERA) warming up in the bullpen. When Kubel (pinch-hitting for Blanco) and Ojeda were quickly retired to start the bottom of the 11th, I began to wonder just how long Rincon could hold out against arguably the best lineup in the American League.

But my apprehension was unnecessary. Stewart and Jones eked out lucky singles, and then Torii Hunter, shedding his old “Mr. Anti-Clutch” moniker in favor of the more appropriate “Mr. Extra-Inning Hero”, deposited a hanging slider from Carlos Almanzar into the leftfield stands for a dramatic, two-out, game-winning three-run home run. I could not resist jumping for joy. Yesterday also happened to be my birthday, and I couldn’t have asked for a better present.

As you might already know, the Twins acquired 41-year-old ├╝ber-veteran catcher Pat Borders yesterday for former #1 pick B.J. Garbe. I, for one, think this was a very good move on the Twins part. Borders is very old, yes, and he is not going to hit any better than Henry Blanco, but he is solid defensively and has postseason experience. There is almost no chance that Joe Mauer will be ready to catch by the playoffs, and any team with World Series aspirations had better not have a AA player as their backup catcher (which Rob Bowen would have been). Borders will provide some veteran stability and allow Gardenhire to pinch-hit for Blanco late in the game without losing much (if anything) defensively.
<-Pat Borders

It’s also about time that these B.J. Garbe delusions came to an end. Garbe was the fifth pick overall in the 1999 draft and the Twins gave him a whopping $2.75 million signing bonus. He has been a complete bust ever since, underperforming in five of his six minor league seasons (the lone exception coming in Rookie ball). He’s hit under .243 for the past five years, including a .201 batting average this year (with just 3 HRs and 35 RBIs in almost 400 at-bats). To make matters worse, Garbe has been eating a 40-man roster spot for the past two years, one that will be put to much better use this upcoming off-season. It’s about time Terry Ryan and the Twins simply admitted that they made a mistake with Garbe. Who knows? Garbe is still a tremendous athlete, so maybe he will find his way in the Mariners organization. But I seriously doubt it.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but what a day August 31 was. Besides being my birthday, today featured one of the better Twins games we will see all season. In slightly related news, yesterday also featured one of the most satisfying box scores of the year: Indians 22, Yankees 0. How great is it to see the Yankees get their asses kicked like that! It truly doesn’t get much better.

Be sure to stop by tomorrow, as John will undoubtedly have a great new post up as the Twins continue their drive towards a third consecutive division title.

Ah, how sweet it is