- Team USA poops the proverbial bed
Well, things got off to a good start for the Americans. Brian Roberts hit a leadoff home run against Daisuke Matsuzaka. And then things kind of went downhill from there. The Japanese would score nine runs, only five of which were actually earned. Team USA’s defense was atrocious. Officially the Americans committed three errors, but unofficially it was probably closer to five or six. Obviously they didn’t want the Venezuelan record of five errors in a WBC game to stand (those commie ********!) and were trying their hardest to set a new standard in horrible defense. Either that or they simply forgot that this was a single-elimination game.
Japan now gets to defend its WBC title against Korea tonight. It’s kind of disappointing that the US didn’t make it to the finals, but this should be a very good game. These two teams are powerhouses of Asian baseball, sort of like the Yankees and the Red Sox of the far east. I don’t have a particular favorite to win it all, but I guess I’ll root for the defending champs. Which of course means that Korea is going to win. I mean, look at my track record so far.
- Twins beat Toronto, 11-6
The offense finally decided to score some runs in yesterday’s game against the Blue Jays. Justin Morneau had a three-run homer, his first big blast of the season. Morny had a very good day at the plate, going 2-for-2 with a walk (apparently Morny has been taking Harmon Killebrew’s batting advice). Actually, pretty much everybody had a good day at the plate, since Jays’ starter Matt Clement wasn’t very effective. The Twins knocked the righty out after 4 1/3 innings, pounding him for nine runs on six hits.
Our own Scott Baker wasn’t particularly sharp either, giving up four earned runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings. He didn’t give up any homers though (for once), and recorded five strikeouts and no walks. Jose Mijares continued to struggle, giving up two earned runs in 2/3 of an inning, and also injured his ankle while trying to cover first. It’s looking more likely that the lefty is going to spend the season in Rochester (although Gardy is stubbornly insisting they can turn him around before the team heads north in two weeks). This might give Brian Duensing an opportunity to make the team if the Twins decide they need another lefty in the ‘pen. Duensing has been a starter his entire career, and did struggle a bit early in the season while in Rochester last year, but has looked really good in his relief appearances during spring training. At least he can get hitters out, anyway.
- Wild shutout Oil at the X
Owen Nolan scored a couple of goals, the Oil scored on themselves, and Niklas Backstrom made himself worth every penny of his four year, $24 million contract extension in one of the closest games the Wild have played all season. They got off to kind of a slow start in the first, though they weren’t helped by some awful officiating. Mikko Koivu got called for a phantom interference penalty on Ales Hemske (that was a beautiful piece of diving), and Dan Fritsche got called for boarding when he barely touched Ladislav Smid. I don’t normally complain about officiating, but this was ridiculous. Luckily the penalty-killers (and Backs!) stepped up to prevent any sort of ill-gotten gains by the Oilers.
Marian Gaborik made his triumphant return to the ice after having surgery on his hip. Though he didn’t score any goals, it was just really good to see him out there again. Unfortunately, captain Mikko Koivu suffered a knee injury when he was pulled down by Ales Kolatik and will be out the rest of the week. He might even miss the rest of the season, which means the Wild might as well forget about playing hockey past April. Come on, Mikko. Just rub some dirt on it and you’ll be fine.
If you think Vancouver sucks, clap your hands
If you think Vancouver sucks and they’ll never win the Cup
If you think Vancouver sucks, clap your hands
I really shouldn’t mock the Canucks for this hilarious piece of epic fail. They are a lock to make the playoffs after all, and my
Mild Wild will be lucky if they manage to sneak in as the eighth seed (although beating the Oil certainly helps). But there is nothing quite as satisfying as watching a hated rival do something so ridiculously dumb. Especially when your own team has been doing so many ridiculously dumb things as of late.
Scott over at I’m Not a Headline Guy wrote a lovely entry explaining his devotion to the New York Yankees. And it got me to thinking about my beloved Twinkies, and, well, why they’re my beloved Twinkies. Of course, a lot of it has to do with the 1987 World Series, which I am just barely old enough to remember. Nobody expected the ’87 Twins to win it all, and with good reason I might add. They finished with a mediocre 85-77 record, which was good enough to win the weak AL West division, but was the worst winning percentage of any playoff-bound team in history (a record that would stand until the 83-78 Cardinals won it all in 2006). The 98-64 Detroit Tigers were heavily favored to win the AL pennant, with most analysts predicting a sweep of the supposedly hapless Twins. Instead it was the Twins who nearly pulled off a sweep of their own, beating the Tigers four games to one to clinch the ALCS and advance to the World Series for the first time since 1965. Once again, the Twinkies were up against a heavily-favored opponent in the St. Louis Cardinals, who were about to make their third World Series appearance in six years. And once again the Twins would pull off a stunning upset, beating the Cards in seven games and clinching their first World Series title since moving to Minnesota in 1961 (and second in team history). Frank Viola, Kirby Puckett, Dan Gladden, Gary Gaetti, all those guys on that team would become great heroes in Minnesota sports history.
And then there was the ’91 World Series, the greatest World Series of all-time. This Series had everything: dramatic walk-off home runs, fantastic pitching performances from youngsters Tom Glavine and John Smoltz and veteran Jack Morris, wrestling (Braves fans still haven’t quite gotten over that one), a new MLB record for extra-innings WS games, and two teams that had finished in last place in their respective divisions the previous season. This time around the Twins weren’t exactly considered underdogs, having finished the regular season with a 95-67 record. They steamrolled over the Blue Jays in the ALCS, winning four games to one on the way to their second World Series title in four years.
The Braves would prove to be a much more challenging opponent, however, and the Twins would have to grind out five one-run games and three extra-innings games before clinching the title. The most dramatic game of the series, however, had to be game six. The Twins were facing elimination, having dropped three straight games to Atlanta, including a 14-5 blowout in game five. The Twins took a 3-2 lead into the seventh inning, when Atlanta 2B Mark Lemke scored on a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded to tie the game. The score remained even until the bottom of the eleventh, when Kirby Puckett untied the game with a solo shot off of Charlie Leibrandt to left-center field. That shot, and Jack Buck’s now-famous call, has to be the single greatest moment of my entire childhood. The Twins would go on to win game seven in ten innings, with a walk-off bloop single by Gene Larkin. Jack Morris pitched a ten-inning masterpiece (yes, you read that right, ten innings) in that game, which to this day is one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen. Good times.
There’s been a lot of other good stuff since then, too. The 2002 team was amazingly talented, and looked like they were going to bring us another championship. Alas, it was not to be. The Angels made sure of that. The 2006 team made an incredible late-season run to win the division. Unfortunately that was as far as the Twinkies would go, as they would then get swept by Oakland in the ALDS. They really got under Ozzie Guillen’s skin that year, too. That’s always fun.
And of course, there’s this guy:
Come on, admit it. You know you love him. Even if you aren’t a Twins fan.
- I love the Wild, too, even though I complain about them a lot
Hockey in Minnesota is like hockey in Canada. Or football in Texas. It’s just what you do. It’s what we’re good at. If your hockey team has any Americans on it, chances are pretty good that they’re from Minnesota. Or that they once played for the Golden Gophers. I started off as a North Stars fan when I was a little kid. They weren’t very good for the most part, though they did make a run for the Cup in 1991. But then a very bad man decided to move the team to Dallas after the 1992 season. I was heartbroken. I cried like a little girl (of course, I was a little girl, but that’s beside the point). And I was also torn. I wanted to cheer for my Stars, even though they weren’t really my Stars anymore, because they took Mike Modano with them. And I loved him. But, like any other bitter divorce, the animosity I felt for my ex-team was too great and I just couldn’t get over it. I couldn’t bring myself to cheer for any other NHL team either. It just didn’t seem right. I was a die-hard hockey fan without a team.
So I decided to fill the hockey void in my life with my hometown Gophers. I mean, they’ve done some good things:
It just wasn’t the same as having a professional hockey team, though. So when the NHL granted Minnesota an expansion franchise to open for the 2000-2001 season, I was absolutely thrilled. Though I wasn’t crazy about the team name (what the heck’s a wild?), or the logo (or the home unis, blech), I was excited to have an NHL franchise back in Minnesota. And though the team itself hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations, it’s been better than most of the old North Stars teams. And we have new heroes now:
- I root for the Vikings, and to a lesser extent, the Wolves, too
Why? Because somebody has to, that’s why. Oh there was a time when the Vikings were good. The Vikings of the late ’60s and early ’70s were some of the best football teams to never win a championship, but that was before my time. I remember the 1998 Vikes, though I’ve spent the past ten years trying to forget the NFC Championship game. And the current team is actually pretty good, it’s just missing a few key pieces. Like a starting QB. And special teams that can, um, not give up so many touchdowns (I mean really, when your punter is trying to make a tackle you know you’re in trouble). And some decent play-calling (which, by the way, helps out the starting QB a lot).
I’m not a huge basketball fan, but I do have a soft spot for the Timberwolves. I kind of feel sorry for them because they suck so bad. It’s not their fault, they’ve been mismanaged for years. And before Al Jefferson went down they had a pretty good shot at being a mediocre team this year. At least they aren’t the worst team in the league, so there’s that.
In keeping with the tradition of dedicating my ranking on the leader board to a notable Twin, number 38 goes to Rick Aguilera. Aggie came over from the Mets in 1989 as part of the Frank Viola trade, and would later play an important role in the Twins’ incredible 1991 championship run. He was the Twins’ closer for the greater part of eleven seasons and is currently the franchise saves leader, having recorded 254 of his 318 career saves with the club (though he will probably be surpassed by Joe Nathan sometime in the next couple of seasons).
Aggie never really wanted to be a reliever in the first place. He was a starter with the Mets, and although he helped them win the 1986 World Series pitching out of the bullpen, he still really considered himself a starting pitcher. But then-manager Tom Kelly had no choice; when then-closer Jeff Reardon signed with the Red Sox after the 1990 season he had to shift Aggie to the bullpen. And for a guy who was reluctant to move he really took to his new role and put up some great numbers. Career-wise, Aggie has a 3.57 ERA with 1030 strikeouts. His 318 career saves are enough to make him number 14 on the all-time MLB saves leaders list. He was a three-time All-Star too, representing the Twins in the ’91,’92, and ’93 seasons. Aguilera would later express his change in attitude towards being a reliever to the Star Tribune: “I enjoyed being a closer because I came to the park every day
knowing I had the opportunity to pitch,” he said. “So with that came a
little more discipline, making sure I wasn’t out late at night, taking
care of my body and resting.”
And then there was his part in helping the Twins win the 1991 World Series. Aggie was having a great year as it was that season, posting a 182 ERA+ with 61 strikeouts in 63 relief appearances. As good as he was during the regular season, Aggie was phenomenal during the postseason. He didn’t even surrender a single hit in his three appearances against the Blue Jays as the Twins rolled over Toronto four games to one in the ALCS. He would then go on to convert three of his four save opportunities during the World Series against the Braves, his lone loss coming in game 3 when Mark Lemke singled and scored David Justice in the twelfth inning.
The Twins acquired Aggie (and four other players) in 1989 as part of the Frank Viola trade. At the time, fans thought this was the worst trade in Twins history. Viola was a superstar who had helped the team win its first World Series title in Minnesota and at the time nobody thought any of the five players would amount to anything (I believe that pitchers Aguilera, Kevin Tapani and David West had a combined 154 innings of big league experience). And really, other than Aguilera and Tapani most of the other players did end up being a bust. Of course, both Aggie and Tapani played an important role in the 1991 World Series victory so the trade was more than worthwhile in the end.
It’s also kind of funny that a guy who was as important to the team as Aggie, and who was acquired through a controversial blockbuster trade, was traded twice during his time with the Twins. Aggie was first traded to the Red Sox during the 1995 season for pitcher Frankie Rodriguez and outfielder J. J. Johnson. The move made a lot of sense at the time, as the Twins weren’t going anywhere and had little use for a closer and Rodriguez was a top prospect. Aguilera ended up re-signing with the Twins as a free agent prior to the ’96 season, and remained a Twin until he was traded to the Cubs for Kyle Lohse and Jason Ryan. This trade worked out much better, as Lohse was actually a decent third starter until his temper got the better of him.
Although he pitched well during his stint with the Cubs, Aguilera decided to retire after the 2000 season. He wanted to spend more time with his family, and now coaches high-school baseball for Santa Fe Christian. The Twins honored Aggie by inducting him into the franchise Hall of Fame on June 21 of last year in a ceremony prior to the game against the Diamondbacks. He even threw out the first pitch and actually still looked pretty good out there. Hmmm, maybe the Twins should invite him to Spring Training?