Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Guest Post: Devil Rays By Any Other Name

Sadly, this website, which was once the apple of my eye and one of the first Twins blogs out there, has fallen into disrepair - Lew Ford is now in Japan and I haven't posted regularly since the 2005 season.

But tonight, that's about to change - for the 10 of you who still click on this URL (whether or not you are real people... I have a sneaking suspicion you are all simply spam bots) are in for a rare treat. My friend Doug Vose, University of Minnesota athletic communications extraordinaire and aspiring would-be blogger, was in attendance at Wednesday night's big 6-5 Twins win. Check out Doug's thoughts below in "Devil Rays By Any Other Name."

The Twins returned to the Metrodome on Wednesday night to take on the Tampa Devil Rays after finishing off a seven-game, AL Central-flavored road trip that ended with the Twins’ bullpen squandering a pair of winnable games in Detroit. Buoyed by a three-hit performance by Joe Mauer and three shutout innings from their beleaguered ‘pen, the Twins pulled off a 6-5 win on Dollar-a-Dog night.

The Twins were in need of a few breaks to wriggle out of their recent rough patch, and the Rays were apparently feeling generous.

With the game knotted at five in the bottom of the eighth, the Twins began a threat when a bloop single by Brenden Harris moved fellow Rays refugee Delmon Young to third base with one out. Twins third-sacker Mike Lamb came to the plate and sent a soft fly into foul territory near the Twins’ bullpen, to which Rays’ perennial token All-Star Carl Crawford gave chase.

With Crawford’s only option of snagging the Lamb flare coming in the form of a sprawling lunge, everyone in the building was expecting the veteran outfielder to let the ball drop with Young poised to tag and score from third base.

However, Crawford demonstrated why the Rays are indeed the Rays - whether or not their new uniforms and new name say so. Crawford executed what would have normally been a Web Gem-caliber sliding catch. With no chance for Crawford to throw home lying on the carpet, Young trotted home to score the go-ahead tally.

In the span of four seconds, Rays skipper Joe Maddon aged a decade.

Closer Joe Nathan finished off the Rays in the top of the ninth inning, getting Crawford for the final out on a called third strike to secure the 6-5 win and to end the Twins’ brief three-game skid.

In another close game between the two squads last season, Crawford was the culprit on another crippling late-inning baserunning gaffe that cost the Rays a win at the Dome. FSN promptly ran tape of the play during their post-game coverage that featured Crawford turning a sure double into an inning-ending, 9-4-2-6 double play last season.

A player like Crawford illustrates the difference between a valuable fantasy performer and what makes a ‘winning’ ballplayer: Crawford has hit over .300 for each of the past three seasons and has stolen at least 46 games in each of his first five full seasons in the league in spite of the Rays’ perennial place in the sub-basement of the AL East. It is interesting how some fans often scoff at the notion of a ‘winning’ player when broadcasters make mention of the value of players like Kevin Youkilis and Chone Figgins, but games like tonight show why talent does not always translate into wins.

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Wednesday also marked the much-anticipated (not really) return of Jason Bartlett to the Metrodome after the shortstop was shipped to Tampa along with formerly prized pitching prospect Matt Garza and farmhand Eduardo Morlan in November for the heralded Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and outfield prospect Jason Pridie.

Bartlett has been handed the starting shortstop job with the Rays, and will look to add some pop at the plate and to shed a reputation as an inconsistent glove man. If Wednesday’s performance was any indication, this quest will be an uphill battle the 28-year-old.

With Twins’ newfound ace Livan Hernandez clearly not in command of his already limited repertoire in the top half of the fourth inning, the Rays followed a one-out solo homer by Eric Hinske with a pair of sharp singles by Jonny Gomes and Shawn Riggans. Bartlett strode to the dish with a chance to chase the Twins’ aging veteran and get into the Twins’ seemingly vulnerable bullpen before the game was half over. On a 2-0 pitch, Bartlett waved at a slow Hernandez curve that looked as if it had as healthy of a chance to reach the plate as it did to end up in the first base dugout. On the next pitch, Bartlett bounced into an inning-ending 6-6-3 double play.

The game was tied with runners on second and third and two outs in the bottom half of the fifth inning when Bartlett showed Twins fans why they ought to entrust new general manager Bill Smith the same amount of trust they did with Terry Ryan. Delmon Young sent a routine hopper to short that Bartlett scooped up and promptly skipped past first baseman Carlos Pena to give the Twins a 5-3 lead.

Although one would think that a seasoned front office executive might be beyond such petty delights, Wednesday’s victory had to feel good for Bill Smith.

Monday, March 31, 2008

A New Era

Just like my last post (put up approximately six months ago) waxed poetically about the end of the Lew Ford Era of Twins baseball, today marks the start of a new one - the Livan Hernandez era! The early over-under on Livan's season ERA is 5.00... Any takers?

Yet despite the cynicism, I will still be among the 46,000 strong at Metrodome tonight. What can I say? I simply can't stay away. This is Twins Territory, after all.