Joe Mauer has made his retirement official and it has me reflecting on favorite ballplayers and how our relationships with them change as we age.
I spent the bulk of my weekend at the O.co Coliseum in Oakland to see the Twins come to town instead of back in Minnesota for the annual family gathering at the cabin… because I have my priorities straight. While I would have liked to have seen my extended family, particularly my cousins’ kids who I don’t see often enough, apparently they were able to see me on Saturday night, as I made it on the broadcast while Jack Morris rambled on about being in the Minnesota Lottery Winner’s Circle. The friends I had gone to the game with had all left me to babysit the bobblehead dolls¹ and it was between innings and thus, I was looking down at either my scorebook or my phone the entire time. Apparently this caused my grandmother to yell at me from all the way back in Minnesota, but unsurprisingly, I did not hear her and did not look up at her.
Getting on TV might be the personal non-actual-baseball-game-related highlight for the weekend, except that, also on Saturday, Trevor Plouffe tossed me a baseball during batting practice. In fact, he tossed me two as the first one was intercepted by a kid in A’s gear that dove in front of me. For the second time, wearing the away team’s jersey got me special recognition as the second baseball he tossed me, he announced was for me specifically. My friend Jen Perez, who was standing behind me at the time, actually got a picture of him flipping me the baseball with her DSLR, as opposed to the picture I took of the baseball itself from my camera phone.
As I didn’t bother bringing my good camera to the park for any of the four games I went to², all of the pictures in the gallery below were taken by Jen.
As for the baseball itself… it was the team with the best record in baseball against the Twins. I think the Twins were lucky to take one (on Sunday). Here’s the bulleted recap of the four games:
- Thursday: Athletics 3, Twins 0 — The John Lester-Yoenis Cespedes trade seems to be working out for Oakland as he took a perfect game into the 6th inning before surrendering a single to former A Kurt Suzuki. At one point, with two runners on, Brian Dozier hit a ball over the wall that looked like it might be fair, to the point that he started doing the homerun trot, but alas, it had just hooked foul and the Twins didn’t score. Lester wound up pitching a complete 9-inning shutout. Yohan Pino also pitched well for the Twins, not giving up a hit until the third inning. But that hit was a homerun by Stephen Vogt, which was preceded by a walk to Alberto Callaspo. The A’s didn’t need anymore offense to win the game and more less just rode to victory on Lester’s coat tails.
- Friday: Athletics 6, Twins 5 — I had this sinking feeling that the Twins were in danger of getting no-hit for the second night in a row as Scott Kazmir took a perfect game into the 5th. Meanwhile, the A’s offense lit up in the 5th and 6th, giving them a 6-0 lead and it looked like it was going to be a runaway. But the Twins bounced back with a 5 run 7th that was actually exciting to watch. It seemed like, maybe, just maybe, they’d come back — and hey, at least they made it interesting. In the 9th, with Kennys Vargas on first and two outs, Josh Willingham, another former A, launched what looked like might just be a go-ahead two run homer… that hooked just foul down the left field line. It was deja vu with Dozier’s foul ball the night before. Willingham struck out to end the game on the next pitch.
- Saturday: Athletics 9, Twins 4 — The score of this game is closer than the game really was. Trevor May, one of the Twins top pitching prospects, was making his major league debut as the starter for Minnesota and, uh, he did not do so well. 2 innings, 4 runs, 7 walks. He threw more balls than strikes and two of those walks were bases loaded walks to Derek Norris. Were it not for a 7-2 double play (Willingham gunning down Josh Reddick at home after tagging up), the damage would have been a lot worse in the first inning. He was pulled early for Samuel Deduno, who was mostly there to eat innings. And he ate them, but not prettily, giving up 5 more runs in 3+ innings of work. The Twins managed to score a few runs here and there, but after the early blow up by May, it seemed mostly futile. But hey, I got a baseball from Trevor Plouffe and was on TV, so it wasn’t all bad.
- Sunday: Twins 6, Athletics 1 — The Twins finally won one! With Phil Hughes starting, I figured that Sunday’s game was the game the Twins were most likely to win… and I was right. Dozier started the Twins off with a solo homerun in the first, which the A’s responded quickly with a run of their own in the bottom of the inning to tie it up. It remained at 1-1 for quite awhile, with Phil Hughes settling down and pitching a gem of a game. Casey Fien started warming up after the 7th and it looked like Hughes might not get a decision out of his work, but then the former A’s on the Twins, Suzuki and Willingham, knocked in three runs in the top of the 8th, including a two run homerun by Willingham, which would turn out to be his last hit as a Twin, given that he was traded to the Royals today. This set Hughes up for the win. After Fien through a scoreless inning, Glen Perkins started warming up and I thought I might see a classic Perkins save, but the Twins offense and the A’s bullpen had other plans. In the top of the 9th, the Twins scored another two runs, on a weird little infield hit from Kurt Suzuki with the bases loaded followed a bases loaded walk to Kennys Vargas. I thought only the Twins were allowed to walk in runs! With now a 5 run lead, it was no longer a save situation for Perk, but he came in to pitch anyway and mowed the A’s down 1-2-3 to finally, finally get the Twins a win against Oakland, something they hadn’t done in the previous 12 games the two teams had played.
¹ – It was Tony LaRussa bobblehead night on Saturday. As I remarked on twitter, the bobbleheads looked more like Kent Hrbek than LaRussa.
² – I still have hundreds of photos to go through from my recent trip to Denver with my parents to see the Twins take on the Rockies, which, uh, I should blog about. Also my trip to New York to see the Twins against the Yankees with Anand. I think I missed a random Giants game in this long stretch of a non-blogging summer too.
I spent my 4th of July in Oakland, watching the best American Major League baseball team (by record) take on the best non-American Major League baseball team (by default… although the Blue Jays are no slouches this year). In a sign of true patriotism, MLB teams were all wearing special stars and stripes hats. The big question on my mind was whether or not the Blue Jays would have such a hat, because it seemed possible that MLB might be that dumb, but no, the Toronto team just sported a large maple leaf on their red caps.
After a rousing tailgate, which included many delicious sliders and brisket and tabbouleh and guacamole and bundt cakes, we got to our seats just as the bottom of the 1st was starting. I flipped open my scorebook and… learned that I am out of pages to keep score in. I vaguely remember noting this in Detroit a few weeks ago, but hadn’t bought a replacement scorebook in the meantime. So, this recap comes entirely from memory and not from notes.
Luckily, there wasn’t a lot to remember… for a long time, no body scored. The A’s turned a number of double plays to keep the Blue Jays from crossing home and Nick Punto appeared in the A’s line-up every nine at-bats to squash any rally the A’s might have had. In the 10th inning, a member of our group who was bemoaning the fact that he was being “forced” to stay past the 6th inning in a game that wouldn’t end pointed out that Little Nicky Punto had just earned himself a sort of anti-cycle: getting out in four different ways with a strikeout, outfield fly out, infield pop out, and a ground out. This gave me a chance to fill everyone in on the near mythical status of Nick Punto amongst Twins fans.
When Punto came up again in the 12th, with Derek Norris on 1st, my friend cried, “Oh, great, this guy! What new and exciting way will he find to get out this time?!” But Punto, always one to disappoint you when you least expect it and always, always getting after it, dropped a weird little blooper into left that Melky Cabrera couldn’t handle. In fact, not only couldn’t he catch it, but it seemed some weird magic Punto spell had been cast on it and he couldn’t even pick it up and throw it into the infield. Norris scored, the A’s won, and just as he was approaching third, Punto attempted to tear open his jersey superman style… and failed.
Classic Nick Punto.
Anand recently called me out for not blogging about the game we went to in New York a few weeks ago, and he’s right, and I’ll get to it, but as it’s not the only game I’ve missed out on writing about, I’ll start with the most recent and probably fudge the dates to get these things in chronological order so it doesn’t look like I’ve been the worst blogger in the world.
I spent most of this past weekend (where “weekend” starts on Wednesday) in Lansing, MI for the US Curling Arena Nationals, winning the consolation bracket (and thus a trophy). However, due to some strangeness of the draw and the fact that we won both games on Thursday, we did not have to play a game on Friday… and the Twins were in Detroit, which was only two hours away. I was on the fence about making the drive, especially considering that we had to get up early to play on Saturday and that my team insisted we go see Lake Michigan on the western edge of the state — i.e. the wrong direction from Detroit. But then swalsh‘s team won Friday morning, giving them the evening off and Sarah was determined to join me at this game, as she had never been to Comerica. And so, my mini-roadtrip across the entire state of Michigan to see the Twins was set.
It had been awhile since I’d been to Comerica and my ability to get there without consulting directions wasn’t quite what I thought it was — but we managed, and with a little detour to see what’s left of Tiger Stadium (a fence and a field). Sarah commented that Detroit looks a lot like the rougher neighborhoods of Oakland… and then I pointed out that we were in the “good” neighborhood of Detroit. Eventually, we found a scalper, paid too much money (have to help that Detroit economy?), and entered the stadium… for Polish night, apparently.
Mercifully for our curling schedules, the game itself went quick. Kyle Gibson was on fire for the Twins, pitching 7 shutout innings on 110 pitches, including getting the always dangerous Miguel Cabrera to ground into an inning ending double play with the bases loaded in the fifth. Drew Smyly also pitched well for Detroit, but not quite well enough, giving up a homerun early to Eduardo Escobar in the 3rd, which would prove to be all the offense needed to win the game.
It wasn’t the only run scored however. Late in the game was Twilight Zone time for long time Twins fans. First, Torii Hunter came in to pinch hit and it’s still bizarre to see him in a Tigers uniform — I had finally gotten used to him being an Angel and not a Twin. He did no damage, grounding out to third. Next, former lights out closer for the Twins, Joe Nathan, came in to pitch for the Tigers in the 9th. I think Joe forgot which team he was supposed to be helping as he actually walked in a run to put the Twins up 2-0. Glen Perkins, who now holds Joe’s old job as “All-Star Twins closer,” came in in the bottom of ninth and, in classic Glen style, gave up a double to make it interesting, but shut down the Tigers nonetheless to end the game.
And with that, we got back in the car and drove two hours to Lansing to finish off the curling tournament where my team won the aforementioned consolation bracket and Sarah’s won the bronze medal. The key to taking home hardware from our club is apparently to send your skip to a baseball game.
As a thank you for being the director of the incredibly-awesome-if-I-do-say-so-myself Alice Shrugged 2014 Mystery Hunt, our equally awesome-if-I-do-say-so-myself team of editors and testsolving coordinators* bought me a pair of tickets to tonight’s Twins-Giants game at AT&T Park, sitting in the third row right behind first base, which allowed me to stare at Joe Mauer and Buster Posey all night. I took my Fraggle Rocks** teammate, Jen Perez, who was even willing to wear my spare Twins jersey, despite being a Padres fan from San Diego.
The game started off well for the Twins. Brian Dozier doubled down the left field line on the first pitch of the game. But then it went south fast. Dozier got picked off trying to steal third very quickly and in the bottom of the first, Angel Pagan did not immediately squander his lead off double and the Giants wound up scoring three on a Pablo Sandoval homerun to right. (There was a challenge early in the inning which resulted in Hunter Pence being safe at first instead of out as the umpire’s originally ruled it. Yes, it was the right call, but man, oh man, do I hate this new challenge system.)
In the top of the third, it looked like the Twins were going to make a ballgame out of it when Brian Dozier led off with a single and Joe Mauer followed with a deep shot to Triples Alley, which sure enough, wound up being an RBI triple. Parmelee hit a ground ball to second, which allowed Mauer to score and suddenly the Twins were within one. Unfortunately, they never scored again, which was not true for the Giants, who piled on an additional three runs throughout the game, including one on a Hicks homerun and later a Hicks sacrifice fly.
Which Hicks, you ask? This is a fair question as both the Giants and the Twins had a guy named Hicks batting 8th. And for a brief period, they both were batting .194. But then Brandon Hicks of the Giants hit his homerun and his average went up to .200, whereas Aaron Hicks of the Twins, well, he’s now batting .192. In other similarities between the two teams, both feature a first baseman who is a former MVP catcher with at least one batting title and a wife who had twins: Joe Mauer and Buster Posey.
Finally, I’m sure Jen would be disappointed if I left out one of the major sources of entertainment for the evening: the guys behind and to the right of us who, from about the 5th inning through the 8th inning, relentlessly hassled the Twins bullpen catcher to “give the kid a ball.” Which kid? Well, I’m not sure they knew or cared, initially, but eventually they picked a pet kid sitting in our section with a Giants hat on. It seemed pretty clear to me that they were pissing off the bullpen catcher, but eventually — eventually — he gave the kid a ball. Actually, it was a different kid wearing a Twins jersey, but it did seem to satisfy the guys to the point that they stopped chanting. That and the usher came over and threatened to kick them out if they didn’t stop now that a kid had a ball.
All in all, a great night… and I’ll be back on Sunday, sitting much farther away from the field, hoping for a different outcome in the score!
* I believe this includes Jason Juang (who actually purchased the tickets and delivered them to me), Aaron Bader, Brandy Buckingham, Robbie Buckingham, Jamie Clark, Harvey Jones, Dan Katz, Roger Morash, Chieu Nguyen, and David Wilson. If a non-editor/non-testsolving coordinator also went in on the tickets, someone should tell me.
** Is that not the best name for a curling team you’ve ever heard?
Yesterday, while unrelatedly driving past AT&T Park, I got a text message from a curling teammate offering me free tickets to the evening’s Giants game, as her company was “bleeding free tickets.” I’m never one to turn down free baseball (and this turned out to be free+ as the tickets came with $12 “SplashTix” credit that I could use to buy food at the park), so I said yes and arranged to meet Paul, another curling buddy, and clot up the bleeding of tickets by two. Paul, a diehard Dodgers fan, hates the Giants, so I had to agree to not cheer for them if we were going to sit together. (At least he had the good sense to wear his Expos hat instead of his Dodgers hat so that we wouldn’t be harassed.)
It turned out to be “Farewell to Candlestick” night. We didn’t make it in time to get the free giveaway — a Croix de Candlestick scarf — and we didn’t even get to our seats until the second inning (had to use those $12 vouchers), but we did get to see the return of the Crazy Crab. I’m not referring to the sandwich they sell out behind centerfield, which is delicious if very pricey, but the anti-mascot the Giants had at Candlestick in 1984. True to his origins, he ran around the field and “annoyed” the bullpen and did his best to get booed. But mostly, the crowd seemed to love him and eat him up — which would still probably be a cheaper meal than the sandwich.
The game itself turned out to be pretty exciting. The Diamondbacks scored two runs in both the second and the third innings and the Giants scored one back in the bottom half of each of those innings. Down two, the Giants continued to chip away at the lead until the fifth when a Michael Morse double, his second of the night, scored Pablo “Panda” Sandoval and Buster Posey to put the Giants ahead 5-4. As the seagulls started to swarm the stadium in the 8th, it looked the Giants were going to walk away with a win, much to Paul’s chagrin, but the Diamondbacks had other plans, tying it up on Sandoval’s throwing error to first which soared over Brandon Belt’s head and sent Gerardo Parra scampering safely home instead of making the third out. The Giants managed to load the bases in the bottom of the inning, with only one out, but a couple of liners and one inning later and the game went into extras. The Diamondbacks wasted no time in the 10th, scoring one thanks to Cliff “Good show” Pennington’s deft steal of second, which wound up being all they needed to go back to Arizona with the win.
Ah, baseball, you’re back and I’ve missed you.
The annual Bay Bridge pre-season series is happening now and last night, after getting some cheap tickets on StubHub and “stealing” a friend from one of my curling buddies, I went down the street to AT&T Park to catch my first baseball game of the year. Now that interleague is an everyday occurrence, the Bay Bridge series lacks some of its original novelty, as these teams will face each other again in the regular season. But it’s still fun to hear the bleachers break out into competing chants of “Let’s Go Giants!” and “Let’s Go Oakland!”
One tradition with these games, at least the ones in San Francisco, is the free grab bag giveaway. They take all the giveaways that they have leftover from previous seasons and you get one random thing. It could be a Barry Bonds commemorative pin, a Brian Wilson gnome, or a Giants sombrero. This year I got a Jeffrey Leonard bobblehead doll. Only, I’ve never heard of Jeffrey Leonard. It turns out, he was the MVP of the 1987 NLCS, despite the fact that the Giants lost that series to the Cardinals (which I obviously knew because the Cardinals went on to lose the World Series to the Twins that year). He’s the last guy to win a post-season MVP award, despite being on the losing team. So at least I’ve learned a fun bit of trivia.
During the game, we sat in the arcade section, which was a first for me. Those are the handful of rows high above right field, just in front of the drop off into McCovey Cove. It’s prime homerun ball territory, and Josh Reddick got us close. In the sixth inning, he launched a shot that seemed all but destined to splash down behind us, but instead, it hit a flag pole and bounced back towards us, making a resounding thunk on the tin roof just in front of us before bouncing back onto the field. That put the A’s up 4-0 and they never looked back.
In about the 8th inning, the seagulls, also aware that baseball is back with it’s post-game fine dining options for our avian friends, started hovering and swarming the field. The game ended, and as if they had been counting the outs, they took over the stadium and we went home.