Just saw this at Alright Hamilton!.
It would be difficult to have a more perfect logo. I think, however, I could think of a few better names for the field.
Just saw this at Alright Hamilton!.
It would be difficult to have a more perfect logo. I think, however, I could think of a few better names for the field.
Thanks to Denny Green for the inspirational words used in the title
Given a few days to recover from the debacle that was the Yankee series, I have had some time to put the season and the finish in some perspective.
For five and a half months I thought of the 2009 Twins as nothing more than a slightly better than mediocre team with a catcher who was having a season for the ages. As the team’s record hovered around .500 for the bulk of the summer, the only thing that kept me going to games and following the team closely was the desire to see every single plate appearance by Joe Mauer. The division and the playoffs, it seemed, would be closer than it should be thanks to a poor division, but would remain just out of reach. When Justin Morneau was shut down for the season, the last little bit of hope I had for a late season run seemed to be squashed.
The Twins, of course, proved that a late season surge was not out of the question, and did just that, catching up to and eventually overtaking the Tigers in a thrilling tiebreaker game. I got swept up in the run as much as anybody, and had high hopes for the team’s first appearance in the postseason since 2006.
Game 1 was a bit of a throwaway game. Nobody expected the Twins to beat the Yankees when, less than 24 hours ago, they had finished an exhausting extra-inning game and had, no doubt, celebrated even later into the night. The team was flat and the Yankees took advantage. That was expected. We’ll get ’em in Game 2, I thought.
It looked as though the Twins might do it in the second game. Even with a base running mistake that erased a Twins run, a two-run lead in the ninth seemed safe, and the Twins looked as though they would make it a best-of-three series with home field advantage until the unfortunate turn of the ninth inning. Two days later, another base running mistake highlighted a game that was close until the final inning, but the Twins and the Metrodome finally succumbed to the highest payroll in baseball.
I tend to not put as much mystique around playoff wins as your typical television announcer might. I’m not sure that a three-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees means that the Twins are chokers, or that they can’t win the big one. What I think it means is that a better team was able to win three straight games. Play the series again and things might be different, with the Twins even winning the series somewhere in the neighborhood of 40% of the time.
The fact is, however, that the Twins didn’t win, and are 1-5 in playoff series since 2002. Even more grating was that the loss came at the hands of the Yankees, and looked on the surface to prove the cliches that the TBS announcers loved to lean on, particularly the one about the Twins having to work extra hard to get a run, while the Yankees just had to swing the bat once. While true in the series, over the course of the season (a much better measure of a team), the Twins weren’t this band of piranhas that had to make productive outs to get runs. They had four players with more than 25 home runs, hit 172 throughout the season, and had a team slugging percentage of .429 (better than league average).
The most ridiculous statement, however, was Caray’s assertion that as Punto goes so go the Twins. I won’t bother the break down the numbers that he presented. He loses all credibility for that statement, if he had any to start with.
What didn’t change about the Twins, however, was the overall performance of the team. Except for a blip in late September, this was an average team. That is how they looked against the Yankees, like a team that made the postseason thanks in large part to a mediocre division. I hope that fact is not lost on the front office as they go about their offseason business.
Still, it was a fun couple of weeks, and the Twins will be able to hang another banner in Target Field when it opens next April.
“(Baseball) breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring when everything else begins again and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it. Rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”
-A. Bartlett Giamatti
I didn’t have the heart to comment on Friday night’s game after it happened. As much as I like seeing my favorite team play meaningful baseball in October, I don’t know how much longer I can take it. My only saving grace was that my son was sleeping in the next room during the final innings, forcing me to keep my comments about the Yankees and the umpires under my breath.
Quick note on that: lets put to rest this meme that the Twins have to play mistake-free baseball to beat the Yankees. The Twins made dozens of mistakes on Friday night, and were still in a situation where they could have won had one more break gone their way. The 2009 Yankees are a very good team, but they are far from invincible.
As I started to compose my thoughts Saturday morning, I was interrupted by my wife, who is 37 weeks pregnant and was having fairly regular contractions. She called the doctor, who basically told her that it was up to her whether she go in to the hospital or not. We decided to wait, make sure it was the real thing. About six hours later the contractions continued at regular intervals, and we were advised that it would probably be a good idea to check in to the hospital.
We put the plan into motion, getting the two-year-old (who was alternating between excitement that his baby brother might be coming and frustration that he had to miss a cousin’s birthday party) and the Schnauzer to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and checked in to the hospital at about 5:00 PM. We waited and waited, and nothing changed. At about 9:30 we checked out, baby still healthy and seemingly happy (except for his tendency to kick the heart monitor), contractions still pretty regular, and one very tired woman.
I thought that I might be watching the Game 3 from the hospital, hoping that I could share a Twins win with my youngest. Now I just have to figure out how to explain to a two-year-old that his baby brother wasn’t quite ready to come out yet, and we’ll do it all again sometime soon.
With all of the excitement of the Twins’ late season comeback to overtake the Tigers, it has been easy to overlook the historic nature of the season that Joe Mauer posted in 2009. There will certainly be more time for this later, after what hopefully becomes a deep run into the playoffs, but it is worth taking an initial look at some numbers.
Twins single-season VORP leaders (taken partially from SBG’s work):
1. Chuck Knoblauch 1996 – 99.3
2. Rod Carew 1977 – 92.4
3. Joe Mauer 2009 – 91.0
4. Rod Carew 1974 – 75.4
5. Harmon Killebrew 1969 – 75.2
6. Kirby Puckett 1988 – 75.1
Mauer is in good company in a number that only measures offense. Knoblauch’s 1996 campaign was off the charts, and I still don’t think that he gets the credit for just how dominant he was that season (part of the reason, of course, is what happened after). One would guess that this list would be littered with Carews, Killebrews, and Pucketts. Now, some more traditional numbers:
1. Carew 1977 .449
2. Knoblauch 1996 .448
3. Mauer 2009 .444
1. Killebrew 1961 .606
2. Mauer 2009 .587
3. Killebrew 1969 .584
So not only is Mauer right up there with the two seasons you would expect on the OBP list, he is right up there in the all time great slugging seasons, eclipsed only by some guy named Killebrew. Interesting…
1. Mauer 2009 1.031
2. Carew 1977 1.019
3. Killebrew 1961 1.012
4. Killebrew 1969 1.011
I wasn’t aware that Joe Mauer’s 2009 season was the top OPS season in Twins history. I guess you won’t hear that from Dick and Bert. What about if you adjust those numbers relative to context.
1. Carew 1977 178
2t. Mauer 2009 177
2t. Killebrew 1969 177
Just about indistinguishable from the two seasons that are largely considered the best in Twins history.
So it is safe to say, then, that Joe Mauer’s 2009 season ranks right up there with the greatest in Twins history. Among the four that popped up in most of the lists above (Killer 1969, Carew 1977, Knoblauch 1996, Mauer 2009), Mauer had the fewest plate appearances, 88 fewer than the next closest due to missing the month of May:
Killebrew 1960 709
Knoblauch 1996 701
Carew 1977 694
Mauer 2009 606
Some of Mauer’s counting stats, including VORP, are going to look a little less impressive due to the time off. Still, he stacks up favorably in many of those categories.
Still, none of the stats above take defensive value into account. Given that Mauer plays the most demanding position on the defensive spectrum, you would think that accounting for defense might put him over the top. WARP3 does account for defense (flawed as is might be):
Killebrew 1969 8.7
Carew 1977 9.4
Puckett 1988 8.9
Knoblauch 1996 9.9
Mauer 2009 10.5
It is not hard, looking at these numbers, to jump to the conclusion that we just witnessed the greatest individual season by a position player in Twins history. I would imagine that Mauer in 2009 compares favorably to the greatest pitching seasons in team history as well.
I didn’t expect much from this game, and that looks to be exactly what I got from the Twins. After last night, I would expect them to be a bit hungover, if not from the marathon ballgame then from the champagne in the clubhouse.
Whatever the reason, it proved to be a losing effort for the Twins in Game 1.
I am taking heart in the fact that the last two times the Twins played the Yankees in an ALDS, they won the first game. In both series, they went on to lose the next three games. Let the Yankees bask in their own Yankee-ness and buy into the hype that this series is only a small speed bump on the road to a championship. Perhaps the Twins have them right where they want them…
It’s not much, but it’s something.
In any event, I expect a better showing in Game 2.
1. Joe Mauer 2009 .365
2. Mike Piazza LA 1997 .362
3. Bill Dickey NYY 1936 .362*
4. Mickey Cochrane PHA 1930 .357
5. Spud Davis PHN 1933 .349
6. Mickey Cochrane PHA 1931 .349
7. Joe Mauer MIN 2006 .347
8. Mike Piazza LA 1995 .346
9. Ernie Lombardi CIN 1938 .342
10. Gabby Hartnett CHC 1930 .339
*Bill Dickey was a few plate appearances short of qualifying for the batting title in 1936 (3.1 PA’s per team game required; Dickey = 3.06 PA’s per game)
I gave up trying to figure out a couple of days ago. I mean, this was a .500 team in just about every sense for 5 1/2 months of the season. The Twins didn’t win more than a couple of games in a row, and wouldn’t lose more than a couple of games in a row. Then, one of the best players on the team goes down and suddenly we have the hottest team in baseball. A few thoughts from tonight’s marathon:
-Baseball is the only major sport in which winning the division is a major accomplishment. After 162 163 games, the Twins have proven to be the best. Sure, it isn’t a strong division, but getting into the playoffs in baseball is a big deal, and the Twins have now done that five out of the last eight years. If they do nothing in the playoffs, this has been a successful season.
-I’m pretty sure that the manager made it tougher for the Twins to actually win the game in the bottom of the ninth. With Nick Punto on after drawing a walk (I like to call it a freebie when Punto gets on base), Gardy took the bat out of Span’s hands by asking him to bunt, but simultaneously took the bat out of Joe Mauer’s hands as well. The manager needs to think several moves ahead, so he must have thought about what the sacrifice bunt would mean in that spot: that it would be on OrCa and GoGo to win the game (interestingly, it was ultimately the combination of GoGo and Casilla that would get the job done).
-On the other hand, it is amazing how much the team got out of a thin bullpen. I don’t think that the team would have made it through another inning.
-I generally like the TBS crew, but Ron Darling started on the wrong foot with the “big players make big plays…” cliche and seemed to just rattle one cliche after another throughout the evening. I guess that I ought to get used to it, the same team is traveling to New York for tomorrow’s game.
-I just heard Jim Rich from FOX9 warn Joe Mauer to keep his language clean for the camera. Outstanding stuff.
-Bring on the Yankees!
*until the next game at the Metrodome
My mom had the foresight to exchange some of the season tickets for Sunday’s “finale” at the Dome. Throughout the season it looked as though the game would be meaningful only to the extent that it would be the swan song for the teflon beast. The game, of course, ended up carrying a great deal more meaning.
The seats were in row 29 of Howard’s section, high enough that it was prudent to take care of all of the essentials before scaling the steps so as not to require multiple trips up and down the mountain of stairs. The view, filled mostly with vendors and people in line to get out after every half inning between occasional glimpses of the game, was another reminder why I really won’t miss this building.
Still, it seemed like an appropriate way to say “goodbye” to the Metrodome. A full house of homer-hanky waving, scoreboard watching excitement. It’s still hard to tell which was louder, the noise for Joe Mauer’s introduction (how he managed to draw two walks with all of those flash bulbs is an MVP feat in and of itself) or the reaction to Chicago’s two-run rally in the eighth inning of the game in Detroit (I still am not over the “lets go White Sox” chant in the Metrodome).
The game was everything you could ask for in a must-win situation for your rooting interest – full of homeruns and lack of just about any bit of tension (save the little hiccup that put the Royals within four late in the game). The only thing that could have made the afternoon better was a White Sox win (again, who am I) and an unscripted on-field celebration.
The program after the game was just about what was expected. There were a few surprises (namely that RD was introduced, and I heard no boos), but for the most part it was your standard collection of team legends. I can’t help but thinking that if there was no tomorrow for the home team (or the stadium), there might have been some more sentiment behind the ceremony, though that would have come at the price of less excitement surrounding today’s players.
It was telling that the “legend” who got the loudest applause during the ceremony was Joe Mauer, with perhaps Jason Kubel in at a close second. Despite how this day had been billed by the Twins, it wasn’t about the legends of Metrodome past, it was about the legends of the 2009 season. The boys of summer who, once again, have elbowed their way into autumn baseball.
That is what my son said in protest when told that he must wear his winter coat on Wednesday. He went on to get a harsher sign of the season later in the day when he picked up the influenza-like illness that has been going around.
The final reminder of the season happens this weekend, however, as baseball’s regular season wraps up. It also happens to be the final games played at the Metrodome. With a forecast calling for cool and rainy, the utility of the building might be on display one last time, but I don’t suspect there will be many tears shed when the Hump closes its doors for baseball.
It is, at least, a meaningful series, at least on paper. The Twins have done enough to be mathematically alive for the Division title, though I fully expect that will change by the time I go to the game on Sunday afternoon. Still, it is more than was expected a few weeks ago, and it has been fun to follow the team and scoreboard watch for the past few weeks.
I will file a report from the last game sometime next week. In the meantime, here’s another list of top Metrodome moments (with what is easily one of the worst pictures I have ever seen).