Monday, July 30, 2007

The Northwoods Beat: Only 2 Weeks Left!

Okay. I'll admit it. I was on vacation for a week and I was taking some classes so I sorta let my attention slip. When I finally settled back into my real life and looked at the standings my first though was, "Where in the hell did Madison come from?" Over the last couple of weeks the Mallards have put together an 11-2 record including a current 6-game winning streak. That has put them right in the hunt for the South Division second-half title along with Eau Claire and the Wisconsin Woodchucks. Sadly, my La Crosse Loggers (What? I'm supposed to be unbiased?) have sunk to 6-15, the worst record in the league. How do you have the most All-Stars and the worst record? No pitching.

In the North, it appears that Duluth may be running away with it, but there are several teams within striking distance. We may see a mad streak (winning OR losing) decide the fate of the North during these last couple of weeks.

Hmm...the Loggers play in Eau Claire this coming Sunday. I think I feel a road trip coming on.

Northwoods Adventure: The Duck Pond


Some of the best days are really just random occurrences, aren't they? A couple of weeks ago, I glanced at the schedule of my beloved La Crosse Loggers and saw that they were due to play in Madison on a Sunday afternoon. I called my buddy to see if he was up for it and the plan was set. Jonny and Ty at the Duck Pond for an afternoon game. Nothing fancy. No getting wild. Just a game and then back to La Crosse because I do have a day job that requires my attendance on Monday morning.

My first impression of the Duck Pond, home to the Madison Mallards, was that it looked big. For the Northwoods League, it's a pretty big stadium. And though we arrived an hour and a half before game time, there was a HUGE line waiting outside the gate and even some tailgaters! Okay, so Madison can draw 6-7000 fans per game. I get that. But they all show up early to party? Nice.

As we approached the ticket window on this sunny and 80 degree day, a man broke ranks from the giant line, ran up to us and offered us two tickets. Free. I thanked him, grabbed the tickets, looked at Jonny and said, "Buddy, I think I'm feeling some karma here." I had no idea.

Once we were inside the stadium, we were blown away by the amount of space...and food that the Duck Pond has. Hot dogs, Chicago hot dogs, pulled pork, grilled corn, turkey legs, and (I tear up just remembering)they were roasting a pig. Yep. Apparently it's not every game, but on that day they were roasting a whole pig. Wow. What could be better than that? Great Dane beer! So, we loaded up and found our seats.

It turned out that our seats were very nice bleacher seats not far from first base. Not too shabby for freebies. Then, a young couple (Adam and Julia) arrived and sat immediately in front of us. During the course of the game we got to know them pretty well. Jonny got along with Adam and I tried to convince Julia that I was her long lost soul mate. A few innings, and a few Old Glory Pale Ales, later we were all the best of friends.

After the game, (how did the game get lost in the shuffle here? Logger blew it in the ninth.) we went on a mission to find Maynard the Mallards mascot. He'd actually spoken to me earlier in the game and until then I'd never realized how creepy it is when full-suit mascots speak. Anyway, Jonny and I always get a classic "thumbs-up" picture with the mascot. However, the game is done and we're half in the bag. After looking for awhile, a Duck Pond employee tells us that the mascot already took off! No! After a little coaxing, this guy went and actually put the Maynard outfit on just to let us have our photo op. I would feel a little guilty, but I really think we helped him achieve a dream of his, too.

What next? Adam and Julia wanted us to go out. For the sake of keeping this under 8000 words I'll give you the short version. I called into work to say tomorrow was not gonna happen. Then we went out to eat and drink at a fine Madison establishment only to dine and dash. That's a new one for me. From there it was on to BW3's for some trivia and then to a place called "Visions." If you've never had the pleasure of visiting Visions, just think of an old garage with a few strippers and Fabio behind the bar. Seriously, I'm really trying to win over Julia by this point. No dice, but she was a very good sport.

Jump ahead...Monday morning. Jonny and I wake up on a nice leather couch (separately) in a very nice condo. Julia and Adam are gone. I assume they went to work, but had no reservations about the two yahoos they met at the game last night. I had a hangover to equal the day after my 21st birthday and we had to get back to La Crosse.

What's the moral of this story? If you love baseball and you want to party, you don't need to drop all that money to sit in the bleachers at Wrigley, hit the Duck Pond. It's amazing. Next up...a review of my trip to see the Wisconsin Woodchucks.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Apex of Nerddom: SABR 37 Convention Log

WEDNESDAY

Not much goes down on the Wednesday before the convention officially begins the following Thursday. The only reason I showed up so early was to attend the Retrosheet.org workshop. If you aren't already familiar with Retrosheet, it's the greatest baseball website of all time, with box scores and play-by-play data for thousands upon thousands of Major League games.

People came from as far away as Japan to talk databases with the Retrosheet crew (Clem Comly giving instruction at the front of the room).

David Vincent, the statistician often cited by ESPN, and Dave Smith, the founder of Retrosheet teach from the back of the room with the help of a projector (and painful Hawaiian shirts). They could have told the workshop that their favorite hobbies were strangling kittens and drowning puppies and I'd still rank them among the finest human beings ever to grace the planet.

Once I had had my fill of DOS based applications and Access databases, I met up with my friend Eric (a St. Louis native) so he could take us out for barbecue. Shortly thereafter we found ourselves at Smokin' Al's Barbecue.

The before. (That Texas toast, after soaking up all the extra grease and sauce from the ribs, is almost as good as the ribs.)

Eric during.

The after.

It was getting late and we were still sober for the most part, so off we went to the Morgan Street Brewery for $3.75 micro brews and pool.

I pose with the infamous Black Sox.

Kevin and Eric sample the goods.

Me blowing yet another game of pool (thankfully we weren't playing for money or I'd have had to sign my condo and car over to Eric).

It was getting late so we paid our $75.00 tab and stumbled back to our hotel where we bid Eric farewell. Things were going to begin in full at 9:00 AM the next morning so there was only time for...

Me to take a barbecue and beer fueled dump that melted porcelain.

I'm having some internet issues in my hotel room, so I don't know if I can keep writing updates while I'm still in St. Louis, but I am taking good notes and pictures and have plenty to write about when I get back. I'm typing this after midnight on Friday morning. It was hard to find the time before it began to take five minutes to upload each photo. Don't worry, though. I'm here living it up to the fullest extent I can (bearing in mind this is a giant sausage fest and I'm one of a dozen members without an AARP card).

-Kyle

This Bud's For... Who?

Oh, the trials and tribulations of leadership. Heavy lies the crown, as they say. That seems to be the case now more than ever, at least when it comes to the commissioners around these parts. The good Mr. Goodell appears to have inherited the major-sports equivalent of Alcatraz, David Stern has a ref with mob hooks in him, and nobody can even find Gary Bettman’s product if they tried. But Bud Selig has a hefty problem of his own (one that seems to be getting bigger as time goes by—at least, if you measure by hat size).

It really is pretty impressive how badly Bud has blown the last few years of the Barry Bonds Situation., but it should not come as a surprise. In fact, we learned all we needed to know about how Bud operates from the All-Star Game tie from a few years ago. That was a weird little spot he was in; in fact, I think he made the right call ending the game when he did. The important part, however, was how he looked making the decision. Instead of some kind of forceful, confident “Sorry, but in the best interests of the health of our players…” statement, we all got to watch Selig looking around, bewildered. He looked lost; unsure of himself. It’s that habit of projecting incompetence, even when he’s actually making a quality decision, which defines Bud as a commissioner.

I happen to think Selig should be there when Barry Bonds hits 756. But that’s really irrelevant here. Bud had two options—simple, straightforward, and tough to screw up. He could have justified either one of them. If he wanted to attend, all he needed to do is remind people that Bonds has in fact never run afoul of any baseball rules, and as such it would be pure speculation for the Commish to pass such judgment. After all, 756 should be a celebration of baseball history, and the sport deserves to have a night to honor its past.

The justification for not attending is just as clear, if perhaps gutsier (so it’s no surprise that Bud decided to go). This would have seen Selig taking a principled stand, pointing out that while everyone involved in baseball for the last twenty years is in part responsible for the steroid problem, and while Bonds may not have been caught, he has clearly done irreparable damage to the history books. I would have disagreed with Bud on this one, but at least I would have been able to respect him for making a straightforward call.

It’s not like I’m expecting Bud (or anyone in leadership) to be some kind of rock-solid bastion of moral certitude. And it’s alright for someone to change his/her mind (don’t get me started on flip-flopping and all of that crap about leaders needing to be completely steadfast at all times), but Bud didn’t do anything at all for far too long. Jayson Stark at ESPN writes that Selig likely made his decision to attend now only because he had run out of time with Hall-of-Fame weekend approaching. He was “boxed in.” And that’s exactly the problem. Bud’s plans should never have been a story at all, just like the ASG shouldn’t have been much of a big deal. But instead of getting out in front of the issue and being forceful, Bud sat back and let the question of his attendance take on a life of its own. It’s looming large now. If he had made his intentions known a month ago, the story would already have died down. But all his indecision did was bring even further negative light upon the record and the game itself.

Every so often we hear about the “best interest of baseball” clause that the commissioner can deploy as he sees fit. Unfortunately, it’s pretty clear that the man currently with his finger on the button doesn’t have the first clue. He was as major a player as any in letting steroids become the problem they are today, he’s put together the ridiculous Mitchell Commission instead of putting the focus on baseball’s excellent new testing program, and he’s let the Bonds issue mushroom out of control. It would be nice to have a leader that would, you know… lead.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Apex of Nerddom: SABR 37 Convention Log

TUESDAY

I left the familiar confines of St. Paul at 6:00 PM Tuesday evening with my close friend Kevin and 2004 Individual Trivia Champion Cary Smith. In the SABR universe Kevin and I are nobodies. We haven't published any books. We haven't done any statistical analysis of note. We aren't one of the many volunteers and elected officials that power the organization. And we aren't trivia champions like Cary. But we do like drinking a lot of beer, watching major league baseball in out-of-town ballparks, getting exposed to new research, meeting a whole slew of knowledgeable baseball fans from around the country (and world), and blowing town for a few days every summer.

The trip started off with a good omen. Two hours before I was scheduled to hop in my car, rendezvous with my two travel companions and head out onto the open road, the postman delivered my Screw Everyone... I Love Bonds tee shirt just in time for the convention.

The only problem we faced was having to drive through Iowa. To say there is nothing in Iowa is an understatement. We found no traces of the ghost of Kerouac or the prettiest girls in the world. In fact, even the information signs where barren.

Most of the Gas, Food, and Lodging sings we passed looked like the one pictured above. Give Iowa credit, at least they're optimistic, holding out hope that there will someday be gas, food, and lodging along their state and interstate highways.

Around 10:00 PM we realized that we were four hours into our trip and hadn't (a) consumed any beer nor (b) watched any baseball (although we were listening to XM in the car and Pat Neshek's bludgeoning at the hands of the Blue Jays). We decided to stop in Waterloo, Iowa to get the trip back on track.

Becks's Sports Brewery seems like the greatest idea in restaurant history, combining a sports bar with a microbrewery. Hopes were high.

Cary and Kevin sample the beer. Cary was nice enough to sympathize with me having to drive and just ordered a ten-ounce to start. Kevin has both a 22-ounce and a shit-eating grin on his face, reveling in my sobriety.

I enjoy my solitary brew of the night and rep the Twins as the Iowans around me (off camera) cheer on the Cubs in their game against the Cardinals.

Fortunately for me, the beer wasn't that good. You could taste the good, dark beer that had existed in the past but had since been drowned into mediocrity. It was like needing a coke fix only to have half of what you snort turn out to be baking powder. The beer was also served really cold, and could have benefited from a serving at cask temperature. I guess the type of folks who frequent sports bars in Waterloo, Iowa want at Miller Light even when they're not drinking Miller Light.

The sandwiches were as forgettable as the beer, but the fries were great.

We hopped back on the road and almost made it to Missouri before having to refuel. We pulled into a huge truck stop along a state highway.

Kevin and I both got a Maximum Overdrive vibe from the place, and we knew that if things went wrong Emilio Estevez wasn't around to bail us out.

Shooting over tons of poorly designed elevations and curves along a two-lane Highway 61, we were too scared to nod off despite our trip crawling into the early hours of the morning. Finally, around 3:30 AM we rolled into St. Louis and found our hotel.

Kevin and I passed out immediately upon coming in contact with our beds, but Cary had to register for his fall classes at 6:00 AM and figured he might as well stay up as our drive came to a close.

I'm writing this from lulls in the convention's Retrosheet Workshop, and while sitting in a class taught by Dave Smith is a nerd's dream come true, I'll hold off on the details until I post my Wednesday recap some time tomorrow.

-Kyle

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Northwoods Beat: Time to Sink or Swim

With only four weeks left in the 2007 season the playoff picture in the Northwoods League is starting to take shape. True, there's still time for a couple of teams to turn around their second half, but we're a good 2/3 of the way through the season and if you can't tell the teams who are stacked from the teams who hack, you're just not paying much attention.

In the South, it appears to be a duel between the Wisconsin Woodchucks and the Eau Claire
Express. At 11-3 and 10-3 respectively, they have a good jump on any other team that matters in the division. (Green Bay's right there, but after winning the first half of the season, they're already guaranteed a spot in the playoffs.)

The North is a considerably closer division, yet the Duluth Huskies seem to be the most consistent winner. However, the basement dwelling Thunder Bay Bordercats are only 4 games back if that gives you any indication of how tight that race is. Oddly, the St. Cloud River Bats, the first half winner, are second to last with a record of 6-8.

If you don't care about the teams and you're just wondering what stars are shining the brightest in this hopeful league, this past week surely did not disappoint. On the 16th, Andy Marks, a lefty out of Kansas tossed seven innings of no-hit ball with 12 k's for the Duluth Huskies. The game was the first of a doubleheader in which the teams only play 7 innings in each game.

The very next night, Wisconsin Woodchuck, Notre Dame's Jeremy Barnes, proved that hitting is alive and well as he swung his lumber to the tune of a 4-for-6, 3 HR, 2B, 9 RBI, 4 R night. Barnes' night tied the team record for home runs in a game and set the team record for RBI in a single game.

Check back later this week as I relive one of the best days of my life...a trip to the Duck Pond in Madison. Late inning heroics, great beer, misdemeanors, and one spooky mascot.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Sweep In Pictures

What's the difference between being 3 games back and 9 game backs? The ability to use a bat when it matters.

The rare assis auriculus

Five runs in three games does not demonstrate that ability. Of course, the problem wasn't necessarily getting runners on base (at least not after the first game). Rather, the problem was that the Twins couldn't come through in the clutch. They stranded eleven runners in scoring position and ran their way out of other opportunities as well. And they did it in the most infuriating fashion. They hit into double plays and they watched three straight strikes without moving their bat from their shoulder (Jason Kubel, I'm looking at you, eh). They popped up and swung at ball four. They did it all.


A key part missing from the Twin's Offensive Engine

If they had done the little things right, they might still have been able to pull out the series. Instead, they compounded their problems with mental (and physical) errors. A costly error by Jason Bartlett in the first game and poor fielding by Nick Punto and Jason Tyner in the seventh inning of the final game were too much for the Twins weak offense to overcome.


The message Gardy saw after the Twins' mistakes

And if just one Twin had actually gotten a hit each of the last two games, we would all be singing a different song.


The sheet music for "Stocking up for Next Year"

They didn't, however. Which is why the Tiger's have a nine game lead, the Twins have two of their four real hitters battling injuries and it looks like it's time to see if Terry Ryan can unload some of his free agents to bring in a center fielder, third baseman and DH for next year. On a positive note (and it's always important to find a positive note), at least we'll get to watch Scott Baker and Matt Garza figure out how to use their abilities and become quality starters.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

STOP THE PINK

by Maggie Lofboom

All right. Things have officially gotten out of hand. It's time for an intervention. We need to stop the ever-growing legions before they overwhelm us and destroy everything we've worked so hard to build. Their numbers are great, but our will is greater. This is a call to arms for female sports fans everywhere: STOP THE PINK.

What IS it with pink sports gear? I don't understand. The pink shirts, the pink jerseys, and the worst: the pink caps. Ladies, why are we choosing to support our team with a cap that doesn't include even ONE of their colors? Fellow Twins gals, are we worried that the menfolk might forget we're women if we wear a hat in the standard navy? Are we worried that we'll plop a navy cap on our heads and, POOF!...our femininity will vanish and instead we'll be a bunch of ogreish hags? Rest assured, I’ve worn my trusty navy wool cap for YEARS and I'm pretty sure the males around me are still aware that I'm a woman.

And girls, if you think that pink cap makes you look like a sport-savvy gal who really knows her baseball team, you are sorely mistaken. A pink hat is pretty much the kiss of death for anyone who wants to be taken seriously at a sporting event. A pink hat says you're there for Johan Santana's charming smile and not for his changeup of doom. A pink hat says you know one stat and one stat alone: who on our team is married, and who isn't. A pink hat says you are someone who doesn't understand the count. In short, a pink hat labels you as a fawning, clueless, nitwit girl.

And even if you aren't really concerned about baseball (which begs the question: why are you at the game?), do you really want to be thought of as a nitwit? It's very aggravating for those of us who take the game seriously, because there is nothing in life more vexatious to the spirit than the clueless girls opening their mouths and making the rest of us look bad.

That's the real tragedy of Pink Hat Nation: that the rest of us (you know, the ones who wear NAVY Twins caps) suffer as a result. The tiresome task of proving I know as much (or in many cases, more) than most men about the game and this team is made more arduous by the fact that the Pink Hats are the most vocal among us, and when they lapse into transports of ecstasy over the players, think they speak for the rest of us as well.

Now, as a heterosexual woman, I can admit that some players are better-looking than others. For instance, I'd be lying if I said that I don't take a good, long, thirsty look when Jason Bartlett is up to bat. But, I also happen to know the he's our everyday shortstop, his average is .256, he has 17 stolen bases in 18 tries, he's very quick in the field but is starting to throw sidearm which irritates me, but on the whole is an improvement over Cristian Guzman. So if I happen to admire his lanky frame while he's airborne and turning a double play, I think I am allowed. But if I want to do nothing but stare at men, there are plenty of other places where the men are less than half a mile away and may potentially come talk to you.

And that's my suggestion to the women at baseball games who don't really care about what's happening on the field: go to the bar, or at least just be quiet and don't embarrass the rest of us. I go to baseball games because I love watching the game live, played by professionals (I can say that now that we’ve gotten rid of Sidney Ponson.) And holding your own as a legit, knowledgeable FEMALE fan is hard enough without the Pink Hats sitting three rows up, gushing about the possibility of Joe Mauer siring their children while simultaneously asking how the other guys got on base.

So please, my fellow women, let us leave the pink and all its stigma behind us. Nothing says class like the navy wool cap (or whatever other colors your team dons when they take the field.) Also classy: learning your team. If there's something more fun than knowing what you're talking about and being able to discuss the finer points of your team with anyone, I don't know what it is.

If I may invoke the words of Benny 'The Jet' Rodriguez, from the immortal film The Sandlot...

"You got a fireplace?"
"Yeah, why?"
"Throw that hat in there."

Couldn't have said it better.

Monday, July 16, 2007

His Agony Is Ours



That's the picture that adorns this MLB.com article about the trials and tribulations of our old pal, Nick Punto. I'm not going to say that it's the most fitting snapshot I've ever seen, but it's probably close. That grimace sums up his season in a way that no word count can.

Trashing Punto at this point is probably unnecessary and overkill, but I remain continually frustrated by the way he has been used this season. There are a few quotes in that MLB.com article that really show what I'm talking about. Torii Hunter selects Punto as his "pick to click," citing some kind of adjustment that Punto is sure to make, for example. But there are two things that jump out from that article that really get to the heart of the Punto Problem; one comes from the writer of the article (Leslie Parker), and the other comes straight from Ron Gardenhire.

In the middle of that article, Parker writes that Justin Morneau "knows Punto will eventually turn it on." That's all well and good, but take a gander at the quote from Morneau to back up that assertion:

"Everyone's pulling for Punto in this clubhouse. He plays hard every day. He wants to win as hard as anybody, and to see him get a big hit like that [triple on Sunday], it's huge and hopefully it'll get him going. We need him to get those big hits."

Yessir, it sure sounds like Morneau "knows" Punto is going to have a monster second half. Yeesh. The whole story carries that same air, really; speaking of Punto in reverential tones and acting like his .220 batting average is the great mystery of our age. Why do people fall for Punto? For the same reason that David Eckstein is a World Series MVP, I suppose; he's "scrappy," he "plays hard," and so on. I guess the only thing he doesn't do is "play well."

None of this Punto infatuation would be much of an issue if it was contained to the media, but that clearly is not the case. A bit farther down the article, Ron Gardenhire is quoted as saying that "our team gets pretty fired up with Nicky. We all cheer for him pretty hard. We all understand what he's going through. Some of us have been through those things more than others, and we understand those things." The emphasis is mine, of course. Simply put, Gardy relates to Punto and doesn't have the heart to bury him on the bench. Gardenhire knows how it feels to be a .232 career hitter that bounces around the infield spots. That infatuation with Punto that is merely a nuisance in the press becomes an albatross in the dugout.

The tragedy here is, of course, that Punto can actually be a useful player. That mid-dive grimace shows why; he does play hard, he's a useful defensive player, and he can run a bit. You could do much worse on a major league bench than Nick Punto. But there isn't really anyone else to put there at this point. Gardy might be inclined towards Punto, but he doesn't even have a real alternative. I think we all knew coming into this season that expecting Nick Punto to be a competent every day third baseman was crazy; halfway through, it's looking like negligence.

The Twins are currently 6 games behind the division-leading Tigers. To see just how much Punto has contributed to that deficit, the stat "Wins Above Replacement Player" is useful. Punto's WARP1 (roughly, the number of wins he has contributed above what a bargain-bin, major-league-minimum player could provide) is currently .2. Basically replacement level. To put that in context: Baseball Prospectus' glossary states that "a team which is at replacement level in all three of batting, pitching, and fielding will be an extraordinarily bad team, on the order of 20-25 wins in a 162-game season." To be taking such an extreme hit at third base has been crippling.

Punto hasn't been the only player dragging the Twins down, of course. But he remains unique in the way he seems to receive such a free pass for such extraordinary suckitude. He can throw himself around the field, slide into first base, and grimace all he wants, but unless the Twins begin to take third base seriously we can all start dreaming of Liriano and the 2008 season.

Northwoods League Beat: The Second Half Begins

The first half titles are safely in the pockets of the St. Cloud River Bats and the Green Bay Bullfrogs. The All-Star Game (and most of those scouts) is a thing of the past. Now, it's time for teams in the Northwood's League to get back to business and try to capture a second half title.

With about 7 games already completed for most teams, the two divisions seem to be running true to form. The North, led by the Duluth Huskies (4-2), Rochester Honkers (4-3), and Thunder Bay Border Cats (4-3) is once again a tight race. On the flip side, the South Division is a division of have's and have-nots. The Wisconsin Woodchucks, Eau Claire Express, and Green Bay Bullfrogs lead the charge with a 6-1 record each.

Over the weekend Eau Claire's Cole Calhoun and Wisconsin Woodchuck, Vicente Cafaro, had exceptional days at the plate while Thunder Bay's Matt Fields threw a complete game shutout with 10 strikeouts.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Look Who's Talking

"Hi. I'm Justin. I'm kind of a big deal. I like to hit home runs, sometimes quite far. Like upper deck far. I hit one yesterday against some cat named Casilla. I feel a little bad because he hadn't given up a long ball in aboot 3 years and I nearly doubled his ERA with the swing. But I can't help it if the team needed a run. Any other circumstance and I'm content with simply ground rule doubling and leaving him with some semblance of self-confidence. But that's neither here nor there now. My ex- roommate Joe won the game for us in the bottom of the 9th, but he didn't hit a long homer. He hit a chopper over 2nd base. Not my cup of tea, but to each his own. If I had come up again in the 9th, I would've ended things a bit more emphatically. That's what reigning MVPs do. But Joe's the reigning batting titleist (Is that a word? I know they're golf clubs. That's another ball I like to hit quite far, but I'm digressing, eh?) and he has less flair for these things. He kinda has less flair in general, except for that cool fashion spread he had a few years back. Man, he's gonna hate me for bringing that up. I better shut up now. Uh, we cool Joe?"


"Yeah, we're cool Justin, but don't be hatin' on my hitting method. It's called lumber on the ball, and as long as I get to celebrate like paid entertainment at a Greek wedding (O-pah!), I'll chop balls wherever and whenever I see fit. While you're listening, congrats on your first round exit in the Derby. I'm not lettin you live that down anytime soon. Oh, and you're on trash duty next time you're over for digging up those pictures."


"Alright, that's enough outta both a yous. Quit yer yappin and keep winnin ballgames. Don't make me snarl in your general direction. (beep beep) Uh, hold on, I've got someone on the other line. I didn't even know this phone had call waiting."




"Coach - it's A.J. Wazzzzupp?! We won tonight! Wait...no we didn't. Man, I'm sick of all this losing. I miss you. At least I understood you when you yelled at us. Oops, I forgot I was holding this shot. I can't remember this girl's name, but I'm gonna try and long-distance kiss her."


"A.J., wait. Don't try the long distance kiss. A tough lesson learned from my playing days if you know what I mean, heh heh. 'Cept we didn't have all these fruity concoctions you kids drink. A drink was meant to put hair on your chest. And girls liked hairy chests then. None of this shaved chest and fake tan stuff you see everywhere. I remember Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez used to have chest hair contests in the clubhouse. Ha! And a man was measured by his mustache. Golly, those were the days. You still there A.J.? Aw nuts."

Friday, July 13, 2007

THE NORTHWOODS LEAGUE ALL-STAR GAME: NEW BEGINNINGS

For players in the Northwoods League, it's all about new beginnings. As they're trying to establish a career between the chalk lines, an invitation to the Northwoods All-Star Game is a great opportunity. This year's event, held last Wednesday in Mankato, MN, played host to over thirty pro baseball scouts. I had a chance to talk briefly with Twins scout, Mike Ruth about the event.

"I think the Northwoods League has really separated itself." he said, "There are a lot of scouts here because it's more of a pro setting than you'll find in a lot of summer leagues. The players have more travel and the fields are more like the pros. This game is a fine example. The way they run the whole day. They had a scouts workout where the kids hit and field for us. You couldn't do it better."

So, while the scouts were getting their fill, what did the fans see? Wally the Beerman, for one! Yep, our favorite beer peddler from the Metrodome was on-hand to do what he does best, sell beer. I even saw La Crosse Logger Jimmy Viscomi's dad hustling past a group of kids to come up with a foul ball, looking for all the world like he was ten years old again.

The evening's events began with a home run derby featuring one representative from each team. With the wind carrying balls out to left field at Franklin Rogers Stadium, it was Xavier Scruggs, a third baseman with the Brainard Blue Thunder that won the day with a total of 11 jacks in two rounds.

The game itself was mostly dominated by pitchers as the two teams tallied 27 strikeouts. The North Division eventually came out on top by a score of 3-2. Hometown Mankato Moondog, Nate Hanson walked away with MVP honors.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that as all of these players were staring at their futures in the form of big league scouts, one player, Moondog catcher Ben Geelan, grabbed his future by the horns...proposing to his would-be bride on the pitchers mound before the games first pitch. Let's just say, if she had been a scout...it appears he got the contract.

Keep your eyes open for weekly updates and my continuous snippets from second half games!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Triple: Baseball's Endangered Species

“I don't know why people like the home run so much. A home run is over as soon as it starts. The triple is the most exciting play of the game. A triple is like meeting a woman who excites you, spending the evening talking and getting more excited, then taking her home. It drags on and on. You're never sure how it's going to turn out.”

~George Foster


And this from a left-fielding National League leader of homeruns in 1977 and 1978. This from a player whose nickname was “the Destroyer” when he played for the Cincinnati Reds during the Big Red Machine era. But I agree. The homerun is as overrated as Spiderman 3, especially since it has developed into a showcase for corporate sponsors at the Homerun Derby.

The best part about a homerun is scoring a run, or four. That’s a gimme. However, the worst part about a homerun is sitting through the next at-bat. After the hitter scores and plenty of knucks and manly pats on the caboose are passed around, and the fans take their seats, the next batter is practically forgotten. We already stood up and cheered our faces off, clapped our hands red, and had our scoring excitement for the inning. No need to pay attention to who’s next because we’re probably still commentating on the last at-bat. Unless the next batter hits a homerun too, I’m back to tidying up my scorecard or working on the Sudoku puzzle at the back of my GameDay.

Homeruns are as common in baseball now as the loon is in Minnesota. For 38 years, Roger Maris sat atop the single season homerun list, and suddenly, in the span of only four years (1998-2001) he was knocked down the list to number 7. Sosa passed 61 homers in a season three times, McGwire two times and Bonds once. Is it ironic to note that all three have been heavily accused of being infected with the steroid bug? And is it also interesting that they are all from the NL, when the AL is most often considered the more power-hitting league?

A number of active players from the last decade pepper the top 100 list of single season homers; there are nearly 20 active players in the top 100 for career homeruns. Names like Griffey, Thomas, Ramirez, Rodriguez, Jones (Chipper and Andruw) sound familiar. How about these names: Maranville, Magee, Brouthers, Konetchy, and Bottomly. Anyone? They are all members of the top 100 career triples list. Guess how many active players make that list…one—a lone player by the name of Steve Finley, and he’s number 92 on the list. Kenny Lofton and Johnny Damon are the next closest active players to have a snowman’s shot in hell of adding their names to the list.

“It drags on and on. You never know how it’s going to turn out.”

A triple gets the most excitement out of a crowd because it magnifies the emotions one feels towards the middle yellow glare of a stoplight—do you risk it and go, do you play it safe and hold up; how long will it last? Fans get to scream, pray, cheer, and clutch their bladders while the ball is in the air or bounding down the line, kicking off the baggie or bouncing off the fence, dancing around in a corner while the runner, well, runs; the third base coach waves him around second; the fielder picks the ball up and his morale is immediately shattered to see how far the runner has gone; he hurls the ball off target; the base coach throws his arms down, signaling a slide; befuddled and hurried, the third baseman straddles the bag, hoping not to get spiked; and the runner slides in safe amid a dramatic cloud of dust only 90 crucial feet from heaven while the third baseman cries the gravel out of his eyes and the pitcher mutters “Luck S.O.B.” into his glove. The crowd doesn’t completely settle down after that; fans cheer in appreciation for the successful venture and effort and because the next batter is just as important with a chance to knock in an RBI.

Isn’t that much more exciting than when the ball is hit high, higher; you watch it, watch it, wait for it, wait for it, keep following it if you haven’t already lost it against the dome, and it’s gone! Cheering erupts and the score immediately increases without any assistance from the fielders or other batters. In many cases a homerun is effortless and yet the fireworks go off, the milk jug lights up, and sirens blare; confetti bombs explode, planes fly overhead, rainbows arch over the field, children weep, and somewhere an angel gets its wings. All the while the batter doesn’t even break a sweat. He circles the bags pondering what toppings will grace his sub sandwich after the game. Or, if he's the DH, he ponders what shade of pink, red, or frosted sunset berry to paint his nails during the next inning.

The enormous, loud, abrasive finality of a homerun is incomparable to the teasing, risky, prolonged anticipation of a triple. It drives a pitcher batty wondering how it happened. Homeruns are easy—one bad pitch and the player jacks it, and pitching to the next batter feels like a fresh start, a second chance.

If homeruns are over once they start, then triples are just getting started once they start. Embrace the triple. With the way the game is progressing, who knows when you’ll ever see one again.

Food for thought: In all seriousness, why the lack of triples?
Game dominated by power-hitters?
Game dominated by players with lung capacity of a two-year-old?
Game dominated by players with the physical makeup of Ortiz and Fielder?
Better throws from right fielders? (Knucks for Cuddyer)
No-talent baserunning?
Not enough weird outfield apparatuses for balls to take weird bounces off? (No, there’s still the baggie, the Monster, that really pesky brick wall at AT&T Park, the uneven ivy leaves at Wrigley.)

Career triples leaders:
Sam Crawford – 309 (The only player in history with 300+ triples)
Ty Cobb – 295
Honus Wagner – 252

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Making Sense from No Comment

"It's not that I don't want to talk about. It's just something that, publicly, I haven't talked about. It's insensitive. So instead of mapping it out in the media, I think I'm always better off [keeping quiet] ... and I know it's not what people want to read or hear, but sometimes I just have to say it's not something I discuss in the media ... These things usually have a way of working themselves out."

-Twins GM Terry Ryan, in reference to Torii Hunter's future

Quite the well-rehearsed company line, eh? Sounds to me like he said a whole lot without officially saying anything. I completely respect that Ryan and the club don't allow a mid-season circus surround the volatile issue of re-signing free agents. He simply does not cater to the media feeding frenzy. This tight-lipped, no-nonsense conviction has been the modus operandi of the Twins and it has suited them just fine in the last handful of years.

As a counter-point, the White Sox were a bit looser with their Mark Buehrle talks and, subsequently, the team backed itself into a corner. At the risk of pissing off their fan base, they saved face by upping the ante to keep Buehrle, a great clubhouse guy who has many solid but not great years left in him. Sound familiar?

I get the vibe that Torii will be apartment hunting some time this year (sooner if the team doesn't show immediate signs of life out of the gate). I understand Ryan isn't going to hint one way or the other, but it's easier to interpret his words with a negative spin. The crux of the matter is Torii played himself out of the team's budget. He picked the absolute best time to have a career year, unlike his counterpart in Atlanta.

Minnesota fans should feel like proud parents sending Torii into the real world, proverbially graduating from his schooling and apprenticeship summa cum laude and ready to rake in big corporate bucks. If you gave fans the choice of keeping one player among
Hunter, Santana, Mauer, and Morneau, my hunch is Hunter garners the least votes, not to mention Cuddyer is as integral to the team's successes at less than half Hunter's price.

If it plays out that way, there should be no hard feelings between either side. Fans are bludgeoned to death with the pat phrase "That's the business of the game," but that's the simple truth in this case. Torii deserves to be paid in the upper echelon of players and the Twins can't afford to saddle the team with the kind of contract he will command. The Hunter saga will weigh on fans' minds the rest of the season, even if mum's the word from management's mouth.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Significant Digits

…baseball statistics, unlike the statistics in any other area, have acquired the powers of language.
--Bill James

It’s been a pretty good year when it comes to numbers. We just had 7/7/07, after all, so maybe it’s destiny. But in any case, watching 500, 600, 350, and 3000, we’ve had our fair share of significant digits. So if those numbers can speak to us as James posits, each of them should have a story to tell. I’m not ready to go quite as far as James and say that baseball statistics are the only numbers that have the power of language, but there is something unique about hardball’s tally marks.

The very nature of the sport lends to its statistics a unique status. So much effort in basketball and (especially) football goes into trying to disentangle individual contributions from those of teammates. Aside from the pesky pitching/defense quandary, baseball is largely free from that issue. I know I’m not breaking new ground here, but it’s worth remembering what exactly makes us love baseball numbers so much. They can instantly call to mind visions of mano-a-mano pitcher/batter duels in the way that rushing yards and rebounds do not. That’s the language James was talking about: we can look at them and instantly translate them from sums to stories.

350 is kind of unique among this year’s notable numbers in the way we make that translation. Roger Clemens’ 350th win is quite distinct narratively from the home run and hit totals. While the offensive stats call to mind brief, violent flashes of accomplishment at the plate, pitcher wins make us think of hours of sustained dominance at a time. A win requires stamina, endurance, and consistency. (At least, the way we imagine them does. I don’t think anyone thinks of a LOOGY grabbing an 8th inning vulture win.) The win gets (rightfully) bashed as a performance-evaluating statistic, but it still has its own tale to tell; one does not pick up 350 wins by accident.

350 sums up tidily the career of possibly the greatest pitcher of all time. Clemens’ continued dominance over two decades of an offensive era matches up with the resume of anyone to ever climb a major league mound. He won those games for four different organizations, winning Cy Youngs and World Series. Other numbers are a better argument in an objective sense for his all-time ranking (a career ERA+ of 144!), but saying “he won 350 major league games” sums up his career in a way that anyone can grasp.

Comparing this year’s 350 to its 600 is an interesting exercise. 600 home runs is kind of a big deal, as you might have heard. But I didn’t hear much celebration for Sammy Sosa’s feat. His 600 tells the story of epic home run chases, corked bats, and congressional testimony; his ascendance to the title of pre-eminent slugger of the late ‘90s has all the makings of a great movie. And last I checked, we have just as much hard evidence linking Sosa to steroids as we do for Clemens (about whom some have whispered rumors as well). Funny how that works out. Until the real evidence rolls in (and I doubt it ever will), Sosa’s 600 should be a happy one. Unfortunately, not every story has a storybook ending.

Frank Thomas’ 500 reeks of domination, pure and simple. His nickname is no accident; he put the Hurt on AL pitching throughout the 1990s, throwing up some of the most dominating seasons of the modern era. (Look at his 1997, for example. .347/.456/.611! Yikes. Also, notice how all I needed to do was give you a few decimals, and you got the point.) When people say “fear” in relation to a hitter, they mean Frank Thomas. Of course, his 500 also holds the frustration of his ugly White Sox divorce, which remains one of the sadder player exits I can remember. (Although, throwing up a 141 OPS+ wasn’t a bad way to cope with the grief in Oakland.)

Speaking of sad ends, we have Craig Biggio’s 3000th hit. In a lot of ways, he and Thomas are polar opposites, even though the traits they share (like, first-ballot Hall-of-Famer) are significant. Biggio’s number is all about the little man’s game; Thomas launched the ball like a catapult. Biggio remained with his original team to the end; Thomas was run out of town. And, of course: Thomas remained productive as he pursued his milestone, while Biggio has gritted his way through substandard seasons and pulled his team’s offense down. I find 3000 to be the saddest of this bunch, for this reason. The aforementioned Bill James once made a pretty decent argument that Biggio was the best player of the ‘90s; he has been either right around average or well below it in each of the last six seasons (measured by OPS+). While the twilight of his career should not obscure the great player that he was, Biggio’s 3000 instead tells the tale of a player seemingly hanging on too long, and an organization unwilling to come to grips with reality.

We haven’t finished our numerology this year—not by a long shot. We still have Tom Glavine (300), Alex Rodriguez (500), and, of course, Barry Bonds. 2007 will certainly be a year for the storybooks—or the stat books. Same difference.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Stops and Starts

A long, bad [day]. It was hard to watch, but you have to get up and keep fighting. I have a new name for those guys. They were piranha, but now they’re sharks. They’re bigger fish now.

- White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen
Well, one of them is getting bigger it seems. Of course, Jason Kubel was never supposed to be a piranha. Let’s call him a baby shark that is starting to relearn exactly what those rows of razors in his mouth can do.

There were nights of anger. And screaming. And then depression that went beyond both of those, when hope seemed to be gone. And I’m not talking about Kubel. I’m talking about Twins fans, who have watched Kubel’s little drama unfold in extreme slow motion, waiting for the third jewel of the hitting prospects to take his place in the Twins championship crown.

As we look longingly at a minor league system that is bereft of any offensive help, it’s worth noting that Kubel was THE top hitting prospect in the entire minor leagues for a time. Kubel had every bit the promise of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, with more power than Mauer and more consistency than Morneau. Need a refresher?

In 2004, he started the season at AA-New Britain, his first exposure to that level. It wasn’t an especially hard adjustment. In his first couple of months, Kubel hit .377, with a .667(!) slugging percentage and an 1120 OPS. He continued his tear at AAA-Rochester, hitting .343, slugging .560, and sporting a 958 OPS. That earned him another promotion to the majors, where he again hit .300 and was included on the postseason roster.

All that and he was just 22 years old.

Two-and-a-half years later, he still isn’t back to that level, but he’s slowly – very slowly - showing growth. If you look at Kubel’s monthly splits so far, it looks so clean and promising:


Just about every number climbs, peaking in a roadtrip that smells a little like a breakout week. But the day-to-day reality has been infinitely more frustrating for Twins fans. And I’m guessing for Kubel and the Twins as well.

And it's easy to see in this graph, which is Kubel’s OPS charted daily. You still see the gradual upward trend, but here you also see all the peaks and valleys that make up the daily grind. You don’t see a long road well-traveled. You see the Crosstown at rush hour – all starts and stops, starts and stops. Only it’s worse, because with every stop you don’t know if maybe “it” is gone for good.

You can expect more in the future as the line undulates its way towards the end of the season. It might as well be a measure of Twins fans frustration. Or of an organization’s hope. Or of a promising player’s level of confidence.

But I hope that Ozzie is right, and it’s really a growth chart for a shark.

Gamelog II: The Sequel

PREGAME

John: Huzzah!
Kyle: You're going all renfest on me now?
John: Renfest?
Kyle: Renaissance Festival?
John: Ah. Verily, it beith a fine day for some bat and ball.
Kyle: So do I dare watch the WGN broadcast? Bert and Dick wear on me, but they're nowhere near as much as Hawk and Jackson.
John: I don't have the guts for Hawk. He gone!
Kyle: He's wearing some pineapple themed Hawaiian shirt during the pregame.
John: Aloha?
Kyle: Would that be the hello, or goodbye version? I'm treating it as the latter.
John: I'm hoping the latter as well.
Kyle: If the Twins don't score at least ten today, I'm calling the afternoon a waste.
John: Who's pitching for the Sox?
Kyle: Vazquez, so not quite in the Gavin Floyd fifth-circle-of-hell for Sox fans.
John: Haha. Ten sound about right; that would restore a decent per-game average for this series.
Kyle: Silva's on the mound for the hometown nine, so depending on which version of Carlos shows up, we might need 'em.
John: We'll see how he deals with the heat--if he gets sleepy and decides to take an afternoon nap, we might have some trouble.
Kyle: Mackowiak, Owens and Terrero in the outfield for the Sox... we'd better win.

TOP OF THE FIRST
Twins 0, White Sox 0


John: The outfield from hell.
[Luis Castillo grounds out to the pitcher.]
Kyle: Castillo runs very fast for a guy that simulates the arthritic gate of an AARP member.
John: Castillo's quest for a higher OBP than SLG continues. We might need to get him a Rascal scooter or something soon.
[Jason Bartlett comes to the plate.]
Kyle: So what's the over-under on the number of times AJ mentions Bartlett's mother during this at-bat?
John: Now that Bartlett's taking a few pitches, I'd say 86. Gotta give AJ time to work.
[Bartlett strikes out.]
John: Ooof, not a pretty swing. I had visions of Punto there.
Kyle: You can take pills for that.
John: Those would have to be pretty potent.
[Vazquez gets Mauer to ground out to third.]
Kyle: A scoreless top half... The Twins are way off their pace for the series.
John: The quest for ten runs off to an inauspicious start... At least we're free of Buehrle. If the Sox wanted to deal him to the NL, I would be totally okay with that.
Kyle: You don't want the Sox to tie up a bunch of funds on an aging control artist?
John: Hmmm, good point.
Kyle: The Twins should place a call or two, convince Buehrle he deserves Zito money.
John: He still drives me nuts when he shuts down the Twins.
Kyle: Well, Jorge de la Rosa can do that as well, so...

BOTTOM OF FIRST
Twins 0, White Sox 0


John: I imagine Silva coming out of the dugout wet, George Foreman-style.
[Jerry Owens leads off for Chicago.]
John: Dick says that both pitchers are throwing a high percentage of strikes so far. Silva sure has been pounding the zone... two times out of four.
Kyle: Silva's stash seems thicker today, almost in the realm of evil doppelganger, only identifiable by the sinister mustache. I bet he gives up a ton of fly balls, if that's the case.
John: He needs a black bowler hat. And a cape.
Kyle: The cape might work. He could really hide the ball during his delivery.
John: In fact, he should probably just dress up like the Count from Sesame Street.
[Owens grounds out to short.]
Kyle: Dick again with the "Twins' defense second in the majors, statistically." Which statistics?
John: Of course, statistically. As in, the number of little stars that Dick drew in his scorebook to mark good plays. The Twins lead the league in Dick's stars.
[Iguchi grounds out to second.]
Kyle: I heard he's upgraded to smiley-face stickers.
John: FSN must be throwing cash at him, then.
[Thome fouls out to catcher.]
Kyle: Bizarro-Silva answers back with a one-two-three inning of his own.
John: He wanted to get back in the shade. Both teams with the dark unis today: equal-opportunity heat stroke.
Kyle: Do baseball players resort to the pickle juice?
John: Good question.
Kyle: I'll go do a shot in the Twins honor.
John: I figure Mauer and Morneau just drink plenty of Land-O-Lakes.

TOP OF SECOND
Twins 0, White Sox 0


John: "It's so hot out... milk was a bad choice."
Kyle: I heard Joe is up for an Oscar. "Pour it on, Twins fans."
John: Some of the finest work I've ever seen, really.
Kyle: I rank things...
-Skinny Brando
-Skinny Wells
-Mauer
-Olivier
John: I can't quibble with that.
[Cuddyer grounds out to third.]
Kyle: Man, that pickle juice shot... rough. I think I needed to add more bourbon.
John: A common rookie mistake. Has Morneau picked a Derby pitcher yet?
Kyle: He's in negotiations with Gavin Floyd right now.
[Morneau grounds out to first.]
Kyle: Why don't the Twins order their line-up: Castillo-Mauer- Cuddyer-Morneau-Hunter?
John: That's a mystery to me. Mauer seems like an ideal two-hole guy.
Kyle: As great a season as Hunter is having, does he really need to bat sixth so Punto/Bartlett can hit second?
John: Urgh. Castillo and Mauer getting on base like crazy, then get to the power guys--works for me.
[Hunter grounds out to the pitcher.]
Kyle: And the Twins go down one-two-three in the second. I don't want to jinx it, but I think we're looking at dueling perfect games here.
John: We could be making history. Especially if the Twins don't start hitting a few balls in the air.

BOTTOM OF SECOND
Twins 0, White Sox 0


Kyle: Is Cuddyer sporting some Wayfarers in right?
John: Something for the ladies, I'm sure.
Kyle: I think the all-star break has started early. I bet he dons some deck shoes and pleated kaki shorts by the fifth.
John: If he brings a fishing rod to the plate, we'll know what's up.
[Konerko strikes out looking.]
Kyle: Silva with a strikeout. Shame on you, Paul Konerko.
John: Silva=Nolan Ryan.
[Pierzynski grounds out to second.]
Kyle: Sox fans have to be mildly excited about getting a long look at Fields now that Creede is done for the year.
John: It's probably a relief to have a 3B who can actually tie his own shoes.
Kyle: Silva's high change-up lands for a strike, much to the ire of the Southside faithful. It's not Silva's fault though, a team of bartenders cut all of Section 109 off last night.
John: I'm hoping the fine family that beat the crap out of the Royals' base coach came out this afternoon.
Kyle: As long as they go after Ulger and not White.
John: Morneau might jump in to help.
[Fields grounds out to second.]

TOP OF THE THIRD
Twins 0, White Sox 0

[Kubel grounds out to second.]
Kyle: Gardenhire to pitch for Morneau in the derby?
John: Ah, so Gardy gets the Derby nod. Pressure!
Kyle: Can we please change the managers wearing uniforms rule. The last thing a national television audience needs to see is Ron Gardenhire in tight pants.
John: I'm with you there. At least Don Zimmer stays out of sight now.
[Cirillo flies out to right.]
Kyle: : Cirillo becomes the first Twin to put a ball in the air.
[Punto doubles to deep right center.]
John: Punto breaks the ice? He might have been my 9th guess.
Kyle: Punto doubles, breaking up the perfect game and collecting his fourth hit of the season!
John: If he's not careful, he might stay above .200.
Kyle: Enter RBI-machine, Luis Castillo.
John: I can feel the power from here.
Kyle: 2-1, Vazquez is pitching around him.
John: Is it too late to slide Mauer up to the two-spot?
Kyle: 3-1, Vazquez doesn't want to get burned deep by feeding any strikes to Luis.
[Castillo flies out to left center.]
Kyle: And the threat is over... for now.
John: Luis is the one guy I don't want to hit the ball in the air, so of course he does.

BOTTOM OF THE THIRD
Twins 0, White Sox 0


John: Why is it called the "game reset"?
Kyle: No idea.
[Mackowiak homers to deep right.]
Kyle: Ouch.
John: Well, both perfect games are toast.
Kyle: Double ouch, because that's Rob Mackowiak.
John: Enter Evil Silva?
Kyle: I don't understand it, Silva fed him a change-up belt high over the middle of the plate, the Twins just can't catch a break.
John: Yeah, total fluke that a major-leaguer would hit that.
[Terrero doubles to deep right.]
Kyle: Terrero doubles.
John: I'm collecting canned food and preparing my bomb shelter.
[Uribe pops out to short.]
Kyle: Don't we look like clowns for daring to question the Mackowiak-Owens-Terrero outfield.
John: We tempted the fates.
Kyle: They're slugging 2.000 so far this game, entering Owens' second at-bat.
[Owens grounds out to short, Terrero to third.]
John: According to Dick, Owens is not yet at the level of Kenny Lofton. I'm glad he pointed that out.
Kyle: I think he's gunning for Larry King's job.
John: I'm not convinced that King is still alive; he might be a robot at this point and no one would notice.
Kyle: "Johan Santana is a good pitcher. You heard it here first."
John: "I know some people might disagree with me, but that Henry Aaron was one fine ballplayer."
[Iguchi signles to center, Terrero scores.]
Kyle: Nuts. Silva misses his spot and Iguchi singles in a run.
[Thome homers to deep right, Iguchi scores.]
John: Oh boy. Thome smash.
Kyle: Nuts. Silva misses his spot and Thome achieves escape velocity.
John: That is Thome's 438th career home run against the Twins.
Kyle: Damn it, Bert, not every single homerun is hit with the "uppercut swing".
John: It's either an uppercut swing, or he drops the head of the bat. And every out is hit off the end of the bat. You should know these things by now.
Kyle: Two-outs, no one on, does Silva thump Konerko out of spite? We could use a brawl heading into the break. Most players would have three days to heal.
John: As long as we hold Johan down. Morneau could deal some serious damage, I would think. He'd spend the whole time trying to pull guys' jerseys over their heads.
Kyle: So could Ulger. Reyes could sit on someone while Ulger gave them batting tips.
[Konerko homers to deep left.]
John: Ulger should give Konerko batting tips. Solo shot, 5-0 Sox.
Kyle: I don't think this is Bizarro-Silva, because Bizarro-Silva has success with fly balls. This is just regular Silva, doing what hurts him the most.
John: Going to need every one of those ten runs.
Kyle: Four two-out RBIs. Yuck. At least hit AJ now. It's not like anyone's going to back him in a brawl. Maybe Ozzie.
John: Ozzie could be dangerous in a fight. The crazy ones are always trouble.
Kyle: And if you speak Spanish, it'd be hard not to laugh at the stream of profanity that would make a sailor blush with shame.
[Pierzynski singles to right.]
John: Ramon Ortiz, AKA "The White Flag", warming up.
Kyle: Four two-out hits now, someone needs to put out the fire, even if it takes the form of a controlled burn like Ortiz.
John: Silva's sweating enough to put out even the mightiest of flames.
Kyle: He doesn't even need Moises Alou's mighty stream-of-justice.
John: Hopefully no one ever does. We should introduce Moises to the pickle juice.
[Fields singles up the middle, Pierzynski to second.]
Kyle: Fifth straight two-out hit. Kind of wish that would have hit Silva.
[Mackowiak grounds out to second.]
John: Mercifully, the inning ends.
Kyle: I'm inventing a new drink right here and now. The Alou is a shot that's two parts pickle juice, one part bourbon.
John: And it hates Steve Bartman.
Kyle: The Bartman leaves you with a hangover that lasts another 80 years...

TOP OF FOURTH
Twins 0, White Sox 5


Kyle: Where's Jon Garland when we need him?
John: The Twins think they scored their July supply of runs on Friday, apparently.
Kyle: 2-1 to ace number-two hitter... Jason Bartlett.
John: Super stud.
Kyle: The over-under on JB's impending dinger: 480 feet. What's your bet?
John: Oh, 500 easy. Or, zero.
[Bartlett strikes out swinging.]
Kyle: Or he could climb the ladder and miss the same pitch he did in his first strike-out of the game.
John: At least he's consistent.
Kyle: That was option 1A, I swear.
[Mauer singles to short.]
Kyle: "Pour it on, Mauer."
Kyle: Uribe throws a tantrum at short after botching the transfer from glove to throwing hand.
John: Stupid ball!
Kyle: His mom just gave him a time-out for saying crap. "That's not how we talk in this infield."
[Cuddyer singles to left, Mauer to second.]
John: Two singles, and I feel a rally coming on.
John: Well, hopefully Torii doesn't have another meltdown then.
Kyle: Two on for Morneau...
[Morneau singles to right, Mauer scores, Cuddyer to third.]
Kyle: Get through... yes!
John: We comin', we comin'!
Kyle: The most likely method of scoring runs, and the Twins entire offensive philosophy for most the season... three singles in the same inning.
John: Also very easy to put together at any given moment.
Kyle: Hunter up... ooh, did that two-seam really catch the corner?
John: The zone isn't quite as big as yesterday's.
[Hunter grounds to short, Morneau out at second, Cuddyer scores.]

Kyle: Fielder's choice with the runner from third scoring. Only three runs back now. Kubel ties it with one swing, I'm making the call.
John: That would be a mighty hack.
Kyle: .263 with seven dingers on the year, it's pretty much a lock, right?
John: The third run is a reward for hitting it 700 feet.
Kyle: Right. Don't trouble me with mundane details like the actual number of runners on base.
John: There is no spoon.
[Kubel strikes out swinging.]
John: ...and no homer.
Kyle: Yuck. Don't chase the splitter in the dirt...
John: Still, the comeback begins.
Kyle: Now the Twins just need Silva or Ortiz to shut down the likes of Mackowiak-Owens-Terrero.
John: No easy task. The resistible force versus the movable object.
Kyle: Jorge de la Rosa could do it.
John: Jorge can do anything.
Kyle: He's like zombo.com.
John: The impossible is possible.
Kyle: The only limit is yourself.

BOTTOM OF FOURTH
Twins 2, White Sox 5

[Terrero grounds out to short.]
Kyle: Finally, a groundball out from Silva. Man, you know it's a rough day if we're saying stuff like that...
John: No kidding. An out! Thank the gods!
[Uribe singles to center.]
Kyle: I thought Torii was going to go for that. Being able to decide between a single, and a single and a two base error, along with the insurmountable gap in talent and skill, is what separates me from Torii Hunter.
[Uribe gets caught trying to steal second.]
John: And Mauer guns him down anyway, so it's all for the best.
Kyle: Torii knew that was going to happen.
John: He has the power of foresight.
Kyle: He doesn't believe in premonition, but has a feeling he will someday.
[Owens singles through Punto into left.]
John: ...Punto "lost the ball in the shirts"? What does that mean?
Kyle: I'm going to knock back another Alou, as opposed to wrestling with that thought.
John: A fair choice. Makes Silva 14% easier to take.
Kyle: Bookers and Gedney were truly made for each other.
[Iguchi grounds out to short.]
John: Scoreless inning!
Kyle: Nice throw by Bartlett and the Twins escape the inning unharmed.
John: It should always be so easy.

TOP OF FIFTH
Twins 2, White Sox 5


[Cirillo singles to center.]
Kyle: Cirillo with another seeing eye single for the Twins.
John: The offense is a machine.
Kyle: A very small one, yes.
John: I'm not sure what kind; maybe a cotton gin or something.
Kyle: And simple. More like an inclined plane, or the wheel.
John: That would imply the possibility of momentum, though.
Kyle: Zing! Remember folks, John is here all week and the 7:30 show is completely different from the 9:00 show.
John: Tip your waitresses, and enjoy the veal.
Kyle: You know Reyes does.
John: [Rimshot.]
[Punto singles to right, Cirillo to second.]
Kyle: Two singles. Slap-hitter rally!
John: Punto=Pete Rose.
[Castill sacrifices to catcher, Cirillo to third, Punto to second.]
Kyle: Castillo with a sac bunt. He's quick enough to leg that out if it's a better bunt, but I don't know how I feel playing for one or two runs with Silva struggling on the mound in the fifth.
John: I suppose we should take what we can get.
[Bert takes a break from the game to observe a jet overhead.]
John: I'm surprised that Bert knows what a jet stream is. I figured he would think it's the exhaust that a 474 leaves across the sky.
Kyle: 2-2. Big at-bat for Bartlett.
[Vazquez misses for a ball.]
Kyle: 3-2, could be a pivotal moment in the game.
John: If he wanted to slap a double down the right field line, I would allow it.
[Bartlett fouls back a close pitch in on his hands.]
Kyle: Good job just fighting off that two-seam.
John: Bert is having trouble stealing AJ's sign.
Kyle: I think he's a Virgo.
[Bartlett strikes out looking.]
Kyle: Ooh... that's the same two-seam called against Hunter.
John: Yeesh.
Kyle: At least I'm noticing some consistency from the umpire.
John: He looked completely frozen.
Kyle: ...even if the ump is giving Vazquez the 1992 Greg Maddux treatment on the outside corners.
John: No kidding.
John: 2-0 to Mauer. Really, really could use a hit here.
Kyle: 3-0, first base open, Cuddyer up next. Though call for Chicago.
Kyle: 3-1, hitter's pitch. "Pour it on, Joe."
John: Full count--pressure's on now.
[Mauer strikes out looking.]
John: That was absurd. Called "third strike."
Kyle: Can't we get some Ted Williamseque, "If that was a strike, Mr. Mauer would have let you know," going on here?
John: Where's QuesTec when you need it?
Kyle: Kidnapped and secretly locked away in ministorage owned by Curt Schilling.
John: Curses.

BOTTOM OF FIFTH
Twins 0, White Sox 5


John: As Dick said a few weeks ago, if any pitcher is used to watching his team squander chances, it's Silva.
Kyle: Thome at the plate. Silva misses low for ball one. Looks like the negative reinforcement he received in their last battle made an impression.
[Thome singles to right.]
John: Oh goody, more base runners.
Kyle: The real problem is, with Thome on the base paths, he's guaranteed to score with just three or four more White Sox hits.
[Thome advances to second on a passed ball.]
John: You're being pretty generous.
[Konerko grounds out to the second after the ball deflects off Silva's glove, Thome to third.]
Kyle: Nice play by Castillo.
John: Very solid throw.
Kyle: He gets rid of the ball so fast.
John: Now even Thome can score on a base hit, though.
[Pierzynski hits a sacrifice fly to deep center field, Thome scores.]
Kyle: Good job fighting the wind by Hunter there. Just like burrito night in the clubhouse.
John: Yeesh. We need to keep Reyes away from the post game spread.
[Fields bunts out to the pitcher.]
Kyle: Silva helps himself with the glove to get out of the inning. Now if he'd only do the same with his pitching...
John: That would probably be more efficient.
Kyle: As bad as things are, at least I'm tuned into Fox 29 and not WGN. We've avoided three "put-it-on-the-board-yeses" and a slew of "he-gones".
John: Always nice, if you want to be driven insane.

TOP OF THE SIXTH
Twins 2, White Sox 6


[Cuddyer flies out to right.]
John: I'm guessing the Twins missed their chance there in the 5th.
[Morneau homers to deep right center.]
Kyle: Get out!
John: ...he showed me.
Kyle: Put that on the board, Hawk.
[Hunter grounds out to short.]
Kyle: Come on, Buckets!
John: The bottom of the order is money in the bank. The Sox might as well just give up now.
Kyle: A pre-Black Tuesday bank, with fractional reserves?
John: Good point. Perhaps giving out a few sub-prime loans.
Kyle: Hat tip to Ludwig von Mises and his Theory of Money and Credit.
[Kubel strikes out looking.]
John: Whee for called third strikes.
Kyle: The ump is very anxious to start his three day vacation as well. (With his strike-zone I can't imagine he'll be officiating the all-star game.)
John: Maybe he has a fishing trip with Cuddyer planed.
Kyle: If that's the case he'd better BYOB, because I don't think Kubel will be sharing after that call. Only nine outs left with which to stage a thrilling come from behind win.
John: The Twins have a flair for the dramatic.

BOTTOM OF SIXTH
Twins 3, White Sox 6


Kyle: Enter the Racoon. He just hasn't been the same since he got off the juice.
John: We should see what we can do to fix that.
[Mackowiak strikes out swinging.]
Kyle: I've got a lot of spam e-mails I think could help him. And how the hell do these people know I need so much help in the bedroom?
[Terrero grounds out to third.]
John: The internets are amazing things.
Kyle: Although, they're not a big truck.
John: Good point. You don't want them to get clogged up.
[Uribe fiels out to right.]
Kyle: Ron Gardenhire just wants to know why it's always a flashing 12:00 in Japan.
John: He's pretty sure it has something to do with time zones and the metric system.
Kyle: Morneau could help explain the latter to him. "Did you see that 150 KM/H heat?!?"
John: "Ooftah, that was a good one."
Kyle: At this point, if my knowledge of kids sports movies serves, the Twins need to bring in a ringer to turn things around. Somehow, I don't think RonDL White will do it, though.
John: I smell Tony Batista.

TOP OF SEVENTH
Twins 3, White Sox 6


[Cirillo grounds out to first.]
John: Literally. I smell Tony Batista.
Kyle: Is his reputation that he's a gamer, or just gamey?
John: "Gamey" sounds like undercooked "gamer."
Kyle: I don't think health conscious cannibals would touch him. Too much gristle.
John: How many times can Dick say "Punto with a pair of hits"?
Kyle: You hear that "Go back to the minors!" from the stands behind the plate?
John: I'm ready to hire that guy. He knows what's up.
Kyle: You think that's a Southsider, or a Twins fan on a weekend getaway?
John: In any case, I'm hoping Ryan can hear him.
[Punto grounds out to first.]
Kyle: Two down. If the Sox get a nutty two-out rally, it's only fair the Twins do.
John: Seems reasonable.
[Castillo grounds out to second.]
Kyle: Not to Javier Vazquez, it doesn't.
John: Vazquez=Cy Young.
Kyle: He's been good of recent, even dodging his reputation for turning into Carlos Silva after 90 pitches.
John: Like the worst Cinderella ever.
Kyle: I wonder what kind of drop a pumpkin gets on a change-up... let's ask Dennis Reyes.
John: He's the font of culinary knowledge.
Kyle: I want to see an all-singles ten run rally next inning for the Twins. I'm going to cue up some Benny Hill music in advance.
John: That should only require about three trips through the order, right?

BOTTOM OF SEVENTH
Twins 3, White Sox 6


Kyle: Rincon wishes he was on the juice with Jerry Owens at the plate. I don't understand why Gardenhire isn't putting him on. There's no point in taking these senseless risks.
John: He's liable to launch a 16-run homer at the drop of a hat.
[Owens grounds out to second.]
Kyle: Fortunately for Gardenhire, Rincon beats the odds and Owens grounds out.
John: I pity the bullpen catcher that has to warm up Neshek.
[Iguchi strikes out swinging.]
Kyle: No way, that guy has the best gig on Earth. It's like third string quarterback, but you don't ever have to worry about winding up in a game gone horribly wrong.
[Thome singles to center.]
Kyle: Thome with his second single. I bet Morneau holds him really close.
John: Thome's 4000th career hit against the Twins. Congrats, Jim!
[Neshek relieves Rincon.]
Kyle: I'd like to send out a thank you to Ron Gardenhire for letting me get my Neshek fix in, as despite the best efforts of the Twins Blogsphere, Deadspin, and a few others, he won't be pitching in and blogging about the all-star game.
John: Humanity has suffered a great loss.
Kyle: It has been said that democracy gives the people what they want, good and hard.
[Konerko strikes out swinging.]
Kyle: I can't fathom why everyone wouldn't want to see the nutty sidearm antics of Pat Neshek in what has become an increasingly boring string of all-star games.
John: He should pitch the Home Run Derby. To everyone. Neshek strikes me as the kind of guy who calls everyone "dude."
Kyle: With Neshek, I'm thinking it's more "dood".
John: Good point. d00d.

TOP OF THE EIGHTH
Twins 3, White Sox 6


Kyle: I promise to knock back an Alou for every run the Twins score this inning. I figure, what the hell, I'm only six feet from my bathroom right now.
John: I don't think you'll have too much trouble meeting that goal.
Kyle: Bartlett, Mauer and Cuddyer due up. Six outs left for the Twins. Vazquez being left in.
[Bartlett singles to third.]
Kyle: Nice leather from Fields, and a smart decision to put the ball in his pocket.
John: I saw a replay of Pedro Martinez's meltdown in the 2003 ALCS the other day--I'm feeling lucky today.
Kyle: Now begins the reign of singles. Assuming the umpire contains his strike zone to three feet on either side of the plate...
[Mauer pops out to second.]
John: Getting a few guys on base for Morneau wouldn't hurt.
Kyle: I will say this for Vazquez, his slider has been on today. Cuddyer wasn't even close on that last whiff.
John: That last ball was closer than the third strike to Mauer in the 5th.
Kyle: Wow, I can't believe the ump didn't ring Cuddyer up on that 0-2 fastball just feet off the plate.
[Cuddyer grounds into a 6-4-3 double play.]
Kyle: Wish he had though... GIDP.
John: Ack. Well, I'm all for extra degree of difficulty.
Kyle: It's what the Twins roster construction is all about.

BOTTOM OF THE EIGHTH
Twins 3, White Sox 6

[Reyes relieves Neshek.]
Kyle: Big Sweat!
John: I would hate to be anywhere near him in this heat.
Kyle: "Reyes has spent some time on the disabled list with an inflamed shoulder." How could the Twins medical staff tell?
John: He was slower getting through the buffet.
Kyle: Only carried two plates with that arm.
[Pierzynski strikes out swinging.]
Kyle: Strikeout to start the inning.
[Fields flies out to deep right center.]
[Mackowiak grounds out to short.]
Kyle: One-two-three inning for Brunswick.
John: The stage is set!
Kyle: Down to the final three outs. Can we get a pinch umpire behind the plate?

TOP OF THE NINTH
Twins 3, White Sox 6


Kyle: Any chance Jon Garland or Gavin Floyd will be out to finish the game?
John: I'll put in a call to Ozzie and see what I can do.
Kyle: Make sure to drop two-dozen expletives. He'll respond better.
John: Vazquez coming back out?
Kyle: Nuts, although hopefully the Twins hitters are familiar with his stuff by the ninth.
[Morneau pops out to shallow left.]
Kyle: Okay, down to a pair of outs. This just makes the comeback all the more thrilling, right?
John: Of course.
[FSN airs a breif interview with Hunter about his odds of robbing another Bonds homerun in the coming All-Star Game.]
Kyle: Did Hunter just drop a "psyche" ?
John: I'm a little freaked out right now.
Kyle: He's got a neon green Hypercolor tee-shirt and a fanny pack waiting for him back in his locker.
John: The poll on ESPN.com asking who will win the Home Run Derby does not include Morneau as a choice.
Kyle: That's probably a good thing from the people that brought you the productive outs and "player rating" metrics.
[Hunter strikes out swinging.]
John: Whee, final out! Where's the rally monkey?
Kyle: Somewhere in Anaheim. 0-2 to Kubel. The Twins want to get out of town as much as the umpire.
[Kubel strikes out swinging.]
Kyle: And that does it for the Twins.
John: Well then. Can we borrow a few extra runs from Friday?
Kyle: Or count Morneau's homeruns from tomorrow?
John: If ESPN allows him to show up, I guess.
Kyle: Morneau is one of the plaintiffs in the Woody Page sexual harassment suit.
John: Eeek!
Kyle: I think it was Kubel that got groped by Harold Reynolds, though.
John: You gotta be careful on those trips to Boston Market.
Kyle: Buerhle signs a four year extension with the Sox. Let's hope it's for a payroll-crippling sum of money.

FINAL
Twins 3, White Sox 6