Monday, October 12, 2009

Turn Out the Lights

I remember thinking last Tuesday how I wished the Twins' 2009 season could be like the movie "Major League:" come back to win the division on the last day of the season, kiss the girl, roll credits. Instead, before the champagne buzz had a chance to subside, they were thrust into the lion's den, the site of 4 rough May losses, against a team the Twins hadn't beaten all year. The Yankees were well rested, and their rotation was set up, beginning with their innings-munching, Cy Young, mega-contract ace, CC Sabathia. The Twins had to overcome all this minus their All-Star, former MVP 1B, their battle-tested 3B, and 3/5 of their original starting rotation, necessitating a Game 1 start from a guy who'd been in the Majors for only half a season, and a lineup that featured a handful of guys who had been bench players in August.

This mismatch was almost comically huge. Maybe that's why the result doesn't sting too badly. Did I really expect this Twins team to beat the Yankees? No, I don't think I did. But did I expect them to win at least one game? Yes. And, the way things developed, did I expect them to be able to win Game 2 and/or 3? Definitely.

The lack of precision that the Twins got away with against the Tigers was fatal against the Yanks. Overzealous baserunning cost the Twins a run in each of the last 2 games. Had Carlos Gomez prudently stopped at 2B, unwisely continued to 3B, or even gotten himself caught in a rundown, the Twins would have outscored the Yankees in the first 9 innings of Game 2. Had Nick Punto put the brakes on in the 8th inning of Game 3, the Twins could have gone into the 9th inning tied, and with momentum and the crowd behind them.

That might not have been enough, however, because the Twins' pitching, though rather good for most of the series, had a terrible habit of giving runs back as soon as the offense could produce them. The Twins scored first in each game, only to find Derek Jeter or A-Rod waiting to answer in the subsequent half-inning. Nick Blackburn and Carl Pavano gave the Twins everything they could ask for, but the offense didn't show up. Delmon Young and Orlando Cabrera, so hot down the stretch, couldn't knock anyone in, and Jason Kubel struggled against the Yankees' LHP. Perhaps most egregiously, Joe Nathan couldn't get big outs. Yes, Mark Teixeira and A-Rod are great hitters, but Nathan is a great pitcher, just as reliably an All-Star, just as highly paid for his position. The 9th innings of Games 2 & 3 are why the Twins pay Nathan the big bucks, and he failed to do his job.

So ends the story of the 2009 Twins, a team that was mostly worse, but briefly, gloriously better than we had a right to expect them to be. I'll take another few days to savor the good things that happened in September, then analyze the whole season, then begin looking forward to 2010.

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