I grew up in Minnesota and as a kid attended many Twins games at the old Met in Bloomington from 1977 through 1981.
I remember clearly, and somewhat sadly, being at the game in 1980 in which Twins center fielder Ken Landreaux’s 31-game hitting streak came to an end.
I remember going to the Mall of America for the first time and seeing where home plate for the Met used to be. I’d remember the games and players I liked seeing there—Bombo Rivera, Disco Dan Ford, Rod Carew—and then looking around to see a bunch of crappy mall stores.
The Metrodome years hold some fond memories for me because the Twins won two World Series, but the place was a drag. It felt like an empty greenhouse. There became a time in 2002, though, where I’d have been content with the Twins playing there forever. That was the year Bud Selig tried, or at least professed to intend, to contract the Twins.
I was so angry at Minnesota for a while, because they were slow to approve any ballpark measures, and worse seemed to have an undying love for the Vikings—the heartbreaking, stupid Vikings! The Twins had won two World Series, and it seemed nobody cared. Of course, that was just passionate anger stemming from fear of losing my team.
The chance of it began to seem real enough that I had to entertain the idea of a life without baseball. I enjoy the Giants because I live in San Francisco and they are a National League team that doesn’t compete with the Twins, but they wouldn’t be enough. It was then that I really developed empathy for Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants fans.
When the Twins clinched the division that year, the team celebrated in the locker room with champagne while Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” played (“Don’t worry about a thing/'cause every little thing’s gonna be all right”). It was cool to see that the players cared so much.
They felt it was a mission to win, figuring that if they did, it would be that much harder for Selig and the owners to get rid of them. That mission is one of the reasons that I will always be a Torii Hunter fan. He gave a crap.
So today, eight years after almost being contracted, I went to see my first Twins game at their new stadium, Target Field. I couldn’t tell you if the food was that great, though they did have walleye and pork chop on a stick. I couldn’t tell you how their new ballpark compares to all of the other modern ones. It isn’t better than the Giants' park, but I doubt that many are.
It is the Twins, in downtown Minneapolis, outdoors. It’s perfect.
(My uncle from Wisconsin came with me and assured me that Miller Park is better, but he also frothed at the mouth at the mere mention of Brett Favre coming back to the Vikings, so take that with a grain of salt.)
Kevin Slowey wasn’t perfect against the Oakland Athletics today, but he was really good. He threw 106 pitches in seven innings, allowing five baserunners but no hits. Clinging to a 1-0 lead, Slowey got into a little trouble in the seventh, but with two runners on and one out, he got out of it when Rajai Davis hit into double play.
There was a sustained ovation at that point, as if the crowd was finally letting themselves believe that there was now a good chance that they might be witnessing a no-hitter—something that hasn’t happened for the Twins since Eric Milton pitched one against the Angels in September 1999.
In the bottom half of the inning, the Twins opened up their lead to 4-0 after Jim Thome hit his 16th home run of the season, and 580th of his career, with two on. It was a line shot to right, and it just so happened that a guy in a Thome shirt caught the ball.
With the lead expanded, the buzz definitely built in anticipation of Slowey returning to the mound, but instead, Jon Rauch headed out there to pitch the eighth. The whole stadium was pretty confused. People were angry, and there were a lot of boos. You could see everyone looking on their iPhones and Blackberries for instant answers and finding none.
Only after Rauch had allowed the no-hitter and shutout to lapse did word spread that Slowey was removed just as a precautionary measure. He’d missed his last start with tendinitis, and Ron Gardenhire wanted to keep him on a short leash.
Okay, I suppose it makes sense. But I gotta admit being angry about it. I just feel like year after the year the Twins find success and then tighten up. I think not letting Slowey out there can also be seen as being symptomatic of a fear-based way of managing.
I know Gardenhire says it is the smart thing—and yes, I suppose it is—but it doesn’t make the thought it conjures invalid. The Twins have faced the Yankees in the playoffs multiple times in the past seven years and lost each time, and it seems that with each meeting, the Twins seems more and more intimidated.
That’s just mainly frustration talking. I know there is a wisdom to pitch counts and protecting pitchers, especially when the guy is already dealing with tendinitis. On the other hand, there does seem to be some undercurrent of wussiness at work when managers feel comfortable pushing pitch counts as the excuse.
There is a gap between the manager and fans that doesn’t seem to be going away, no matter how logical. Something stinks about it, and I think it is that it says to the fans that the manager, and in some cases the player, doesn’t care about winning as much as the fans do.
A no-hitter in August is of course nowhere near as important as a World Series Game Seven, but you gotta wonder if Jack Morris would ever get to pitch that 10th inning today (he ended up throwing 126 pitches).
In looking up the Morris pitch count, I found a 2009 baseball preview from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which interestingly enough focuses on the differing schools of thought on pitch counts, with Slowey being the center of the article and Bert Blyleven, who defended the decision today, making a case against the pitch count police 16-and-a-half months ago.
I do wish, though, that Gardenhire would have let him go out there. Saying that there is “no chance” Slowey would’ve finished is no reason, especially when it is Gardenhire himself who makes the decision.
Gardenhire said after the game that he thinks the fans had the right to boo. If that’s the case, then he should have let Slowey out there and then gone to remove him so that Slowey could tip his cap and Gardenhire could hear the boos, not poor Jon Rauch.