ALCS Game 6: Twins @ Red Sox

June 27, 2008

Twins 11, Red Sox 10 (11 innings)

In a comeback of epic proportions, the Minnesota Twins have taken the American League pennant.  And Kent Hrbek is your ALCS MVP.

Building a two-run lead early wasn’t enough for Les Straker.  Known for tiring early in games, he ran out of gas in the 5th inning.  After getting two outs, the Twins starter allowed five runs before being pulled for Roy Smith, who promptly gave up two more runs on Ellis Burks’s second homer of the series.  The Red Sox weren’t done either, as they added two more off a struggling Berenguer.  Down 9-2 entering the 8th, the Twins began their miracle push towards the World Series.

Bob Stanley, in relief of Boddicker, had the first bad postseason game of his career thanks to an error by Marty Barrett.  With two outs, Greg Gagne belted a three-run shot that put the Twins within three.  But not ones to lay down, Rich Gedman led off the 8th with a homer off Berenguer, extending the lead back to four.

After John Moses singled off Stanley to begin the 9th, McNamara went to his closer, Lee Smith.  But the Twins batters paid him no mind.  After a walk to Bush, a fly out by Puckett, and a single by Gaetti, the Twins were within three runs with just one out.  And then Hrbek came to the plate.  After working the count to 3-2, Hrbek turned on a fastball, depositing it around Pesky’s Pole.  Smith escaped the inning, but the game that was all but over was now headed for extras.

The 10th went by without much fanfare, but the Twins got to Sox southpaw Bolton in the 11th.  Tim Laudner pinch-hit for Bush and somehow beat out an infield hit to second.  Puckett, second only to Boggs in batting average this season, laid down a perfect sacrifice.  And for the second time in the game, Gaetti came through, singling Laudner home.  Reardon would try to get through his second inning but would make things interesting.  Spike Owen walked before being pinch-ran for by Kevin Romine.  But Romine, after watching Boggs pop out to short, was caught dead to rights by Brian Harper trying to swipe second.  Barrett extended the game with a single and apparently Tom Kelly had seen enough.  Instead of trusting his closer with the game, he went to German Gonzalez, who got Darrell Evans to an 0-2 count when Barrett stole second base.  But Barrett remained in scoring position for just one pitch, as Gonzalez got Evans to swing and miss to end the series.

Kent Hrbek, who batted .400 in the series with two homers, including the game-tying blast in tonight’s game, is the easy choice for MVP.

In the 100 series simulated, the Twins won 60 times.  Below is the breakdown:

Twins in 4: 10                Red Sox in 4: 4
Twins in 5: 11                Red Sox in 5: 9
Twins in 6: 21               Red Sox in 6: 15
Twins in 7: 18              Red Sox in 7: 12

Stay tuned, as at some point in the future you may see the results of the hypothetical 1988 World Series between the Twins and the Dodgers.

Boxscore and play-by-play below the fold

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ALCS Game 5: Red Sox @ Twins

June 26, 2008

Red Sox 9, Twins 8

If Kelly felt uneasy about how he used his pitching staff last night, he is wallowing with full regret tonight.  Building an 8-0 lead off of Clemens by the 6th inning, the series was all but wrapped up.  But with Anderson tiring in the 7th, Kelly went to a depleted well that took only three innings to go dry.

The Twins offense was relentless for the first two thirds of the game.  Twelve hits, culminating with a solo shot by Randy Bush put the hometown nine just nine outs from their second consecutive World Series berth.  But with one out in the 7th, Rick Cerone tripled to right, sparking the so far uninspired Sox bats.  An error by Gagne only further fueled the fire.  With two runs already across, Kelly went to Roy Smith.  He walked the bases loaded before getting Greenwell to line out.  Needing only one out to escape the jam, Smith allowed a double to Burks and a single to Rice, cutting the lead to just two runs.

Possibly flustered by the turn of events, the Twins bats went 1-2-3 for the first time in the game.  Berenguer, who had to be used last night in the blow out, came in and couldn’t retire a batter.  Leaving with the bases loaded, Kelly stubbornly went to German Gonzalez instead off his closer.  But the rookie did his job, allowing only a sacrifice fly to Marty Barrett.  After walking Greenwell intentionally to load the bases with two outs, Kelly finally went to the Terminator, who struck out Burks to preserve the 8-7 lead.

But Reardon, overworked himself, collapsed in the 9th.  Benzinger lined a pinch-hit single to begin the inning.  But after striking out Parrish, Cerone got his second huge hit of the game, a double to deep left.  Reed and Boggs followed with singles and the lead had evaporated.  Lee Smith did his job in the 9th, allowing a single to Jim Dwyer but no runs.  With the tying run on second, Gagne struck out to slam the final nail in the Twins’ coffin.

Heading back to Boston with momentum, the Sox will try to take two at home to pull off a miracle comeback.  Meanwhile, the Twins bullpen will rest, and Les Straker will try to bounce back from his previous outing.

Boxscore and play-by-play below the fold

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ALCS Game 4: Red Sox @ Twins

June 25, 2008

Red Sox 5, Twins 10

For the first time in this series the hometown fans had something to cheer about. Hurst got shelled again, this time the victim of Kirby Puckett’s grand slam in the 4th inning. Gene Larkin added a two-run double in the 6th off Sellers to extend the Twins lead to 10-1. With the huge lead, Kelly removed Viola for Atherton. He became uneasy about his decision as Atherton proceeded to give up four runs, thanks in part to a three-run blast by Ellis Burks in the 8th. Not taking any chances, Berenguer and Reardon got the last three outs to seal the victory.

With a 3-1 lead in the series, the Twins will try to wrap things up tomorrow in front of their home fans.

Boxscore and play-by-play below the fold.

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1988 ALCS Game 3: Red Sox @ Twins

June 23, 2008

Red Sox 10, Twins 4

The Sox scored one off Les Straker in the first, thanks to the bat of (guess who) Mike Greenwell. Count ’em six runs in the series for the Sox and six RBI for Greenwell. The Twins would tie it in the bottom half thanks to a two-out single by Hrbek, but it was all downhill from there. Straker never looked comfortable, and the Sox bats finally came alive. An error by Gagne led to two unearned runs and Straker couldn’t shake them off. Jim Rice sent him to the showers with a three-run bomb in the fifth. Roy Smith replaced him and didn’t fare much better, though he did save the bullpen by finishing out the game.

The Twins bats did manage to score four times off Mike Boddicker, but with the lead safely in hand and a low pitch count to boot, he completed the game on his own. With new life, the Sox will see if Hurst can outduel Viola tomorrow.

Boxscore and play-by-play after the fold.

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1988 ALCS Game 2: Twins @ Red Sox

June 20, 2008

Twins 4, Red Sox 3

With the best and fifth best pitchers in E.R.A. squaring off, a pitching duel was almost a forgone conclusion. And that’s what we got today at Fenway Park. Thankfully, a short rain delay early on didn’t stiffen any arms and we got to see two great hurlers pitch their hearts out. Clemens was a little wild in the second, issuing two one-out walks that would both score. But Mike Greenwell would again wreak havoc, doubling home two runners in the third and singling home another in the fifth. Anderson was lucky to get out of the fifth alive. After Greenwell’s RBI single, he loaded the bases with one out by beaning Burks. But Jim Rice hit a weak pop-up and Larry Parrish flew out to end the threat.

Clemens continued to roll but was pulled after just six innings with a high pitch count. Bolton and Stanley helped load the bases in the 7th, but Lamp cleaned up the mess. Puckett and Gaetti failed to come through and the score remained 3-2. Berenguer relieved Anderson in the bottom half, and got into some trouble of his own. With two outs and two on, he committed a balk, his 6th of the season. Thankfully for Juan, Harper remembered what happened in game four of last year’s ALCS. With Darrell Evans on third, Laudner caught him napping and picked him off third base. This time, it was Dwight Evans on third, but the same result. Parrish took a 1-1 fastball, Harper jumped out his crouch and made a picture perfect throw to Gaetti.

If that didn’t take the wind out of the home team’s sails, Kent Hrbek went ahead and put tore them to shreds, lining the first pitch of the 8th inning into the seats. Though it only tied the game, one could feel that the game was already over for the Sox. The 9th saw John Moses double off Lamp, and after a balk, score on Randy Bush’s sacrifice fly. Reardon needed just seven pitches to nail down the save, inducing three flyouts from the heart of the Red Sox lineup.

Down two games to none and leaving their home park, the Sox have dug themselves a deep hole. They have managed just five runs in two games, and Greenwell has driven in all five of them. They’ll need help from the other eight spots in the lineup if they want to make their second World Series in three years.

Boxscore and line-up below the fold

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1988 ALCS Game 1: Twins @ Red Sox

June 19, 2008

Twins 11, Red Sox 2

Like last year’s World Series, Frank Viola started in game one, but this time without the guilt from missing his brother’s wedding to motivate them. He still pitched brilliantly. His only bad pitch through the first five innings was deposited by Mike Greenwell into the right-field corner for a two-run blast. Despite this, he was losing thanks to Bruce Hurst’s superior carving of the Twins’ lineup. The visiting nine had only two hits through five, one of them on a bunt single. But when Tommy Herr made a marvelous unassisted double-play to end the fifth (on a line shot by Ellis Burks), one could almost see the sparks ignite.

In short, the Sox were singled to death. Over the next four innings, the Twins banged out fifteen hits, thirteen of the one-base variety. Gagne himself had four of them, and every Twins regular except Gaetti joined the parade. When the dust settled, they had a nine-run victory in their cap and a dispirited Beantown fanbase sulking out the exits. Tomorrow night, the Twins will send out Allan Anderson to duel with Roger Clemens

Boxscore and play-by-play below the fold

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1988 ALCS: Red Sox vs. Twins?

June 18, 2008

ED: It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks for me and my family, and finding time to keep daily posts here is going to be difficult. I thought this would be a great time to bring in a pinch hitter, and frequent commenter Beau was gracious enough to accept the invitation. His series will run into next week, and hopefully I can talk him into other contributions down the road.

With the entire core of their ’87 World Championship team intact (and in the prime of their careers), the Twins were expecting to build upon their success from the year past. And indeed, they did. In a year where league scoring plummeted by almost ninety runs per team, the Twins scored only thirty fewer runs. Additionally, the pitching staff allowed 134 fewer runs, marking a dramatic improvement for the hometown nine on both sides of the diamond. All this added up to an eleven win Pythagorean improvement and six actual wins in the standings. Unfortunately, those pesky A’s improved their Pythagorean by a whopping seventeen games, obliterating the AL West and wrapping up the division with two weeks yet to play.

The year before, the Twins were fairly lucky to be in the playoffs, sporting only the fifth best record in the American League. This year, the Twins finished second in the league and were not even granted a suspenseful finish. Meanwhile, the AL East Champion Red Sox had the league’s third best record, and only three and a half games separated them and the fifth place Yankees. The Sox were a solid but underwhelming team, and the Athletics proved it by destroying them in four games on their way to the World Series. But what if the Twins’ fortunes had been reversed and the A’s had finished with just ninety wins?

To answer this question, I have asked our Diamond Mind simulator to run this ALCS 100 times. Over the next four to seven days, you will see the results of this series. But first, I have to set up the teams. The Red Sox are easy. I simply plugged in their real playoff roster, rotation, and usual platooned lineups. Other than an injured Oil Can Boyd (who had suffered a terrible year), the Sox were healthy and rested. Surprisingly, John McNamara decided to pitch Bruce Hurst in game one, despite Roger Clemens being even more rested. Perhaps he was looking at his hurler’s 3-0 record in the ’86 playoffs as a barometer, but Clemens had a far superior season and was right-handed (the A’s were not very heavy on the lefties). Whatever the reason, ’tis none of my business to question the manager’s decision, so I left the rotation as is, with Clemens pitching game two and Mike Boddicker game three in his three-man rotation.

Meanwhile, what to do with the Twins? One would guess Kelly would stay with the three-man rotation he employed in ’87, but after Sweet Music and E.R.A. title holder *cough cough* Allan Anderson, who would have pitched third? I can’t believe he would have sent Blyleven out there given how dreadful a season he had. The only other Twins’ starter who had a good E.R.A. was Les Straker. Given he had pitched quite well in the World Series, I gave the nod to him.

Setting the 25 man roster is tough as well, as the Twins have several options. I left Blyleven in as a reliever, as I believe history and sentiment would have kept him with the club. That leaves Charlie Lea headed for home, but I gather neither will be that crucial to the series anyway. Filling out the bullpen are German Gonzalez and Roy Smith, sending Mark Portugal packing as well. Unfortunately, the only decent southpaw reliever is Dan Schatzeder (1.74 E.R.A.), who joined the team on September 1st and is not eligible. When all is said and done, the Twins begin the series with fifteen hitters (including lefty masher John Christensen and the embittered Steve Lombardozzi) and ten pitchers.

Deciding the Twins’ lineups is practically impossible, as Kelly juggled players around all season, but I tried to stay consistent with his managerial tendencies. For example, the Twins would benefit from starting both Tim Laudner and Brian Harper against lefties (with a Hrbek/Larkin platoon at first), but Kelly never left the bench without a catcher and wouldn’t dare sit Hrbek at all. Additionally, Gary Gaetti was struggling with injuries, and mostly DH’d or pinch-hit in September. Would he start at third with the playoffs on the line? I am guessing so, leaving Larkin to handle DH duties.

The Twins will be traveling to Beantown, as home field advantage goes to the AL East this year, regardless of record. Come back tomorrow to see Viola and Hurst face off in game one of this exciting series that finally gets a chance to happen.