Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hey, That's a Winning Streak

Seconds after Jon Rauch nailed down the Twins' 5-1 victory over Detroit this afternoon, I texted my buddy T-Spoon. My message simply said "Winning streak!" His response, which actually made me laugh out loud (LOL, if you will), was "Remember this feeling."

Hilarious, right?

But there's some validity to that. The win over the Tigers gave the Twins their first winning streak since another two-gamer June 19-20 at Philadelphia.

In between, they've been atrocious. And, as promised, I will retain a respectful amount of bitterness until they win three straight. Which could happen Thursday, with Carl Pavano's mustache slated to take on the Rays' Jeff Niemann at Target Field.

I've talked about Pavano's mustache for too long without providing photographic evidence of the P-stache's charm. That ends now. Photo courtesy of Google search (That's not proper attribution, but, honestly, roughly 2.5 persons read this blog on a daily basis, so ... I feel safe).



Just ... wow. A caterpillar is crawling across Carl Pavano's upper lip.

The NBA free agency period begins in 90 minutes. Technically, then, LeBron James could sign with the Timberwolves anytime after 11 p.m. Consider it done. It's gonna be awesome!

Best-case scenario: James re-signs with the Cavs. Teaming up with Dwyane Wade in Miami or Chris Bosh in Chicago will do little for James' long-term legacy. But if he stays in Cleveland and leads the Cavs to a handful of titles? That legacy is polished to a sheen and he forges his way into the "greatest player of all time" conversation.

Joining forces with fellow all-stars like Wade or Bosh — or both — on the other hand, is kind of ... well, lame.

Should be interesting to see how it all plays out. And to see whether the Wolves' David Kahn can re-sign the dubious Darko Milicic.

If Darko Milicic is the Wolves' big free-agent splash, I will become a Lynx fan.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

David Kahn is Wearing My Shirt ... From Third Grade

It's the fifth inning and Nick Blackburn is still pitching. This is like two starts rolled into one for Blackburn, who's grown accustomed to throwing an inning or two at a time.

I really question the logic of having Michael Cuddyer play third base. He's decent there, and I understand it enhances the offensive firepower, but I don't think Cuddyer feels comfortable at third. Consequently, his offense sputters.

The Twins have tried moving him around countless times over the years — third, first, second, center field, etc. (well actually there's no "etc." because I think I named 'em all). But Cuddyer has been at his best when he's the everyday right fielder. Just seems like he settles into a groove and relishes the stability.

David Kahn, the Timberwolves president of basketball operations, is being interviewed on FSN right now. Apparently he shops in the boys section at Target. Kahn is wearing a plain orange T-shirt, the fat-kid kind with a pocket on the chest. Well-played, David Kahn, well-played. If I was a free agent being courted by David Kahn and I saw him at a professional sporting event wearing a plain orange T, I'd have second thoughts about signing with the Wolves. Come on, David!

OK, back to Cuddyer. Actually I pretty much said everything I had to say on that topic. There may have been additional thoughts, but David Kahn wearing the same shirt I wore for my third-grade school picture has clouded my memory.

The Twins are winning 10-4. They're trying to climb back into first place. That sentence sucks. After they got off to a sizzling 19-9 start, I honestly believed a 100-win season was within reach. Not a sure thing, but I thought there was a chance the Twins were about to take the next step, from little-engine-that-could status to a bona fide juggernaut. Now, considering their swollen payroll and star-studded roster, they're the big engine that couldn't. Or at least the big engine that isn't.

I haven't seen much of tonight's game because I was writing a column for the Budgeteer. Over the weekend, I did a freelance article for the News Tribune. The topic was lacrosse. For the Budgeteer, I kind of piggybacked that topic and compared the uptick in lacrosse interest to that of 1990s-era soccer. You know, because nothing drives up readership like lacrosse and soccer.

I don't have grand plans to take over the world with my weekly Budgeteer column, but I would like to make it an anticipated read each week and provide authentic commentary on the area's sports scene. Perhaps stir the pot from time to time. So if this hard-hitting lacrosse/soccer piece doesn't jumpstart that process, well I don't know what will.

It's probably the only time I'll willingly write about soccer. I really detest that sport.

Interesting story about the U.S. soccer team. Well not so much about the team, but ... kind of. After the U.S. men beat Algeria to advance out of Group C (mildly ashamed I know which group they were in), a Hawaii newspaper — Star-Advertiser, I think is the name of the paper — made "USA OMG" its big headline.

Seriously, that headline sucks worse than Mike Trombley. Have some newspapers just quit trying? Or are they simply targeting that ever-expanding 12-14-year-old-girl demographic? As my buddy Chuck recently asked, how are some of these newspapers skirting child labor laws, because they're obviously employing elementary school students to write their stories and headlines?

Did I just see that Denard Span has four hits, including three triples? I'm happy Span has four hits in his return to the lineup. Wait, he's been playing all along?

This post is flowing about as well as mud in a crockpot. I'm all over the place. No rhythm.

I blame soccer and lacrosse.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Twins Win! No They Don't!

The Twins are no longer in first place.

Losing seven out of eight will do that to you.

Question: When was the last time a Twin not named Carl Pavano turned in a quality start? I honestly have no idea.

Also, I caught a quick glimpse of Jon Rauch in the bullpen tonight. I completely forgot he was a member of the Twins.

Wouldn't mind seeing him pitch in a save situation one of these days.

And remember last week when I said Francisco Liriano was a likely all-star?

That was dumb.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Power of the P-Stache

I look at what Carl Pavano's done the past month and I think one thing:

I'm growing a mustache!

Pavano twirled his second consecutive complete game this afternoon, this one a three-hit shutout of the Mets. Over his past two starts, Pavano has allowed just seven hits in 18 innings.

Even more impressive? He's been magical when the Twins needed it most. Last Sunday, he was matched up against Roy Halladay. Today, Johan Santana.

Pavano's ERA has dropped to an impressive 3.33.

Again, I'm growing a mustache.

Sweet Jesus I'm Rich

Just when I think my day can't get any better, an e-mail arrives saying I'm entitled to a Class Action settlement from a recent verdict against Classmates.com.

The best part?

AS A SETTLEMENT CLASS MEMBER, WHAT AM I ENTITLED TO?

In addition to injunctive relief, as a Settlement Class member, if you do not exclude yourself from the Settlement and if you timely submit a Valid Claim Form, you are entitled to receive a credit of $2.00 off of the purchase or renewal of a w ww.classmates.com Gold Membership. Under the Settlement Agreement, Settlement Subclass members are entitled to receive either a cash payment of $3.00 or a credit of $2.00 off of the purchase or renewal of a w ww.classmates.com Gold Membership.

In addition to its cash and credit components, the Settlement also provides, on a non-opt out basis, for Defendants to provide injunctive relief to all Settlement Class and Settlement Subclass members. A description of the injunctive relief that Defendants are providing is set forth at the following website: www.cmemailsettlement.com.


Sweet Jesus that's good news.

I may have registered with Classmates.com years ago, like when I was still a classmate. Regardless, I'll be laughing all the way to the bank with that two bucks. Suckers!

Twins Shoot for One in a Row Against Mets

There are few things in life more enjoyable than country oldies and strong coffee on a Saturday morning. A little Sunday night bingo at the VFW and this would be a great weekend!

And, though I need to do a little more research to verify, there is a circular, yellow object in the sky this morning, which I believe to be the sun. Naturally, thunderstorms are forecast for this afternoon. It was good to see you, though, sun.

The underachieving Twins hook up with the properly achieving Mets at noon today. It's Johan Santana vs. Carl Pavano. What's more significant in this pitching matchup, the porn 'stache (we'll call it the p-stache in homage to Proctor, or P-town) or a filthy changeup?

Let's call it a draw.

Ron Gardenhire apparently delivered a pep talk to his team following Friday night's 5-2 loss, the Twins' fourth straight setback. No word yet on whether he also took the squad out for ice cream cones and soda.

A pep talk? What is this, Little League?

Here is what Gardy told Twinsbaseball.com:

"As I told the guys after the game, it's just not working out for us right now," Gardenhire said. "You've just got to play through it. You go through stretches where the ball doesn't go your way, it doesn't bounce your way and when you hit it hard, it seems to be at somebody. It's just happening right now that we're making a couple mistakes where we're shooting ourselves. So we just have to keep playing and work our way through it, get back on the good side.

"But there is a lot of character out there. These guys are feeling it a bit right now, they're disappointed. [It's] a long season and we've just got to keep grinding."

That's coach-speak for, "We're really playing like garbage, and because my team has the intestinal fortitude of a perch, I feel it necessary to massage their fragile egos. Also, I think some of them would cry if I said what I really feel. I need to get drunk."

This bitterness aimed at the Twins will continue until they win three consecutive games. Or until Jim Thome puts a ball in play.

Friday, June 25, 2010

It's Groundhog Day ... Again

My world has evolved into an ongoing edition of Groundhog Day.

It rains, the Twins lose and I go to bed feeling a little cheated by a summer day that includes rain and a Twins loss. June has featured three "officially sunny" days — I'm pretty sure the number is three, but it might be two. Also, I have no effing clue what "officially sunny" entails. Probably means the sun has to be visible for a certain number of hours for a day to qualify. Which is hard with daily fog advisories.

The Twins are in New York. Wish Kevin Slowey would have made the trip. Actually, I wish he wouldn't have. They are now three games under .500 over their past 45. Tonight it was Mike Pelfrey icing the Twins. It's Johan Santana's turn Saturday. Just a disastrous road trip so far.

On the plus side, Brendan Harris was sent to Triple-A Rochester this afternoon. Quick, who knew Harris was actually still playing for the Twins prior to today? I can't recall his last at-bat. Was he on the roster all spring? Wasn't he supposed to platoon at third base with Nick Punto? Seriously, what happened to Brendan Harris' major league baseball career? Hang in there, big guy!

The Arizona Diamondbacks' Edwin Jackson tossed a no-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays tonight. It was one of those no-hitters that kind of suck. Jackson walked seven and threw 69 pitches through three innings, and ended up with 149 pitches and, I believe, eight walks. If you walk that many batters, you shouldn't get credit for a no-hitter. Or, at the least, it should be accompanied in the record books by an asterisk.

There have now been five no-hitters this season (if you include Armando Galarraga's perfect game). What is this, fast-pitch softball?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Twins Morphing into Sellers Instead of Buyers?

Forget chasing Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt at the trade deadline — at this rate, the Twins will be sellers instead of buyers.

Perhaps there's a trace of sensationalism (or maybe "anger" is a better word) there, but it's not beyond the scope of reality, right? The Twins are a mere eight games over .500. They are two games under .500 over their past 44 games — a pretty significant sample.

Denny Green's infamous line needs a makeover: "They are (NOT) who we thought they were!"

I don't think it will happen — I fully expect the Twins to regain their mojo and find a groove — but if they did slink out of contention, they have a ton of intriguing movable parts: Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson, Carl Pavano, Michael Cuddyer, Brendan Harris and maybe even Jason Kubel.

That's a nice list of contributors for a potential contender. Starting pitching, potent bats, ammunition off the bench, steady defense. Again, the Twins likely will recover. But we've been waiting for them to take off for the past month.

It hasn't happened.

Which brings me to my next point: Is Nick Blackburn headed to the minors?

It's a valid question after the righty scuffled again this afternoon during the Twins' 5-0 setback to the Brewers, which capped a Miller Park sweep. And apparently, the Twins had the collective zeal of a tree stump.

"I didn't like our energy today," first baseman Justin Morneau said, according to Twinsbaseball.com. "We got down early and we didn't show much of a fight. Obviously you give some credit to their pitcher, but at the same time, our energy in the dugout wasn't very good."

Oh-oh. That's not a positive sign. No fight? No energy?

Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo tossed a five-hit shutout, by the way. Excuse me while I find out who the hell Yovani Gallardo is.

Conversely, Blackburn has "now allowed at least five runs in four of his five June starts, resulting in an 0-4 record and 12.05 ERA this month."

Those numbers would suck for a pitcher on the Players Sports Bar Class D team.

Cue the broken record.

"It's getting pretty old going out there and putting out efforts like that, not even remotely giving us a chance to win," said Blackburn [Editor's Note: Yes, yes it is]. "It's pretty frustrating [Editor's Second Note: agreed]. I just have to keep going out and working on whatever it is we're finding wrong and keep going at it."

Well I'd guess a major aspect of the problem is giving up home runs the way grocery stores give away free food samples. But that's just me.

So the Twins head to New York to face the streaking Mets with roughly the same amount of vigor as Larry King.

I hope in a month they're still in the market for Cliff Lee and not courting potential trade partners for Carl Pavano and Jim Thome.

***

It rained in Duluth. Well, rain is an understatement. It was more like a monsoon.

Quick story. I was driving along Grand Ave. in West Duluth, by 63rd Ave. W., and the road was under some serious water. Traffic was crawling, so I rolled down my windows as I was inching through about 4 inches of water. With my cell phone in hand, I started snapping photos. But then I noticed an approaching van that wasn't moving very slowly. It was going in the opposite direction, in the lane right next to me. And there were fountains of water spraying up from its tires.

Which is when it hit me: I'm about to get soaked. Again, I had my window open. So I slouched way down, leaning over the passenger seat while I jammed my index finger down on the button that raises the driver's side window. No dice ... the window was too slow.

I got doused by the van wizzing by, right through my window. It was actually pretty hilarious. Here's a picture of the chaos.



And another ...



Finally, one more ...



Good times all around.

***

The Timberwolves participated in the NBA Draft tonight. Talk about weak membership standards. Anyhow, they drafted some guy out of Syracuse. I think his name is Wesley Johnson. He's an athletic guy who can shoot a little.

But he will play for the Wolves so any hope he had for a promising professional career pretty much died tonight.

RIP, Wesley Johnson's dreams.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Is Lou Brown Still Available?

Couple of bizarre decisions by Ron Gardenhire this evening. First of all, he lifted Liriano in the top of the sixth for pinch-hitter Jim Thome. At the time, the Twins were down 3-2 with runners on first and second and two outs.

Liriano, who had thrown just 77 pitches, was still effective. In fact, he looked sharp in the bottom of the fifth. Is the top of the sixth inning really the ideal time to bring in, for all intensive purposes (courtesy of Doug Heffernan), your only pinch-hitter — unless you count Matt Tolbert as a viable threat off the bench ... and I don't. And was there any doubt how Thome's appearance would unravel?

I didn't see Thome's clutch homer Saturday against the Phillies, so the last time I saw him make solid contact I'm pretty sure he was wearing a White Sox uniform. Needless to say, he struck out. Of course he struck out.

Fast-forward to the top of the eighth. The Twins were down 4-2, and Delmon Young was on first base with two outs and Tolbert at the dish. For some reason, Young tried to steal second. My brother's dog, Carson, had a better chance of stealing second base than Delmon Young. Now maybe Gardenhire didn't give the steal sign, but I don't think Young would have went on his own there. So we'll chalk that one up to Gardy.

The out at second base didn't thwart any kind of rally, but Tolbert was up to bat. Because Young was out, Tolbert had to lead off the top of the ninth. If there's a guy you don't want leading off a crucial inning, it's Matt effing Tolbert.

Hey, he's up now, and it's a 3-1 count! Let's pick it up live!

Tolbert walked (you know he's thinking so this is what first base looks like ... I like it!). Denard Span just hit into the 114th groundout for the Twins tonight. Prince Fielder, by the way, moves with all the grace of a coffee table. He really did eat another human being — I'm convinced of it. And not just any human being, but a fat one. Hudson is up ... and a lineout to left for out No. 2. Can Mauer extend the game? Morneau, the tying run, is on deck. And Mauer drives an RBI double to the gap in left-center to make it a 5-3 deficit. Morneau struck out to end Tuesday's game. That at-bat started with the worst strike call of the modern era (that stat gets Jim Joyce's stamp of approval). No wonder Brewers games are among the longest in the league. Every other batter, either the catcher or the pitching coach, sometimes both, is trotting out to the mound. Morneau just laced a rocket down the right-field line. Barely foul ... damn. He ripped that ball. Reminds me of myself in my bar-league softball glory days. No it doesn't. Morneau stays alive with a foul tip (as you can see, we're forgoing the "return" button). Come on, big guy. Wow, Morneau just took a called strike three to end the game. Umm, swing the bat? No? It was probably a ball, but bro, take a cut. Well that ends it. Boy did that suck. I even went into full no-return-button mode and everything. And for what, I ask? Was it worth it?

The Twins have now played sub-.500 baseball over their past 43 games. That is mind-boggling to me. No, really, that stat boggles my mind.

Stanley McChrystal Endorses this Post (with a few F-bombs and off-color remarks, of course)

Francisco Liriano takes the hill tonight against Milwaukee's Manny Parra. Liriano is 6-4 with a 2.98 ERA, Parra 1-5 with a 3.91 ERA.

The AP is reporting that Liriano, unlike teammate Scott Baker, doesn't mind early run support. In fact, in a tidal shift from Baker's approach, Liriano would actually relish a reprisal of the Twins' three-run first inning from Tuesday night.

JJ Hardy is still a ways away from returning, according to Twinsbaseball.com. The shortstop apparently has a bruised wrist. Perhaps "bruised" is code for "missing," because no bruise should relegate a professional baseball player to DL perpetuity. Really, the only Twin that works for is Joe Mauer, who has made a habit of disappearing for months at a time with random ailments like miscolored toenail and aching eyelid.

Wow, I'm still bitter from last night's poop platter of a loss to the Brewers. That setback cost me a TV remote as I repeatedly slammed it against my chair after Kubel lined into the eighth-inning double play that curtailed (by "curtailed" I mean "murdered") a promising rally. The remote still works, but the little gadget that keeps the batteries in place has seen better days. Like Monday ... Monday was a better day for my TV remote battery gadget.

Anyone watch the U.S. in the World Cup this morning? People have likened it to a mircale. You know, because beating a team 1-0, when you're the overwhelming favorite and playing for your World Cup life (while the opponent, Algeria, has already been eliminated), is miraculous.

I was really pulling for Algeria. Wait, that's who the Americans played, right? I ain't looking it up, but I do know that I hoped the U.S. bowed out so the soccer coverage would begin to taper off until 2014. No luck. Go Ghana! (I think that's their next opponent.) God I hate soccer.

Finally, there was a 10-hour tennis match today at Wimbledon. It was tied 59-59 in the fifth set before darkness delayed the conclusion to Thursday. Ten consecutive hours of tennis? That's unfathomable. Those dudes are tough. Not Stanley McChrystal tough, but still, pretty tough. In a related story, Joe Mauer was scratched from tonight's lineup with a "flimsy belly button." Not true.

Some guy just walked, impossibly slowly, in front of the DAYBA office holding a guitar in front of him like he was playing it. He wasn't. That's my cue to sign off and head home.

Go Twins, go Ghana, go epic, five-set tennis matches that last two days, go crazy guitar-holding-but-not-guitar-playing old guy in front of DAYBA office, and go Stanley McChrystal — in your pursuit of tact.

Twins Embracing Their Inner Mediocrity

So much for staking Scott Baker to an early cushion. Baker again made it painfully clear — in the Twins' come-from-ahead 7-5 loss to the Brewers on Tuesday night — he hates pitching with a lead, and will make every effort to avoid doing so in future outings.

Really, the best way to win with Baker on the mound is to score later in the ballgame, lest the pitcher feels insulted by run support.

After last night's agonizing loss to the Brewers, the Twins are 40-30, 10 games over .500. They were 10 games over on May 5 when they completed a three-game sweep of the Tigers. Thus, for their past 42 games, the Twins have been exactly a .500 club.

There's a word for that — mediocre. Underachievers works, as well.

In a related story, Joe Mauer is hitting .301 with three home runs and 31 RBIs.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Twins off to Nice Start Against Brewers

There's a headline on Twinsbaseball.com that reads "Twins running into a Crew rotation on a roll."

Umm, I beg to differ. Or maybe they were on a roll, but the Twins' top of the first inning provided some anti-roll medicine. That doesn't make any sense.

They sent nine batters to the plate en route to three runs and a healthy cushion for Scott Baker, who is coming off a 12-punchout blitz of the Rockies. Let's see how he fares with tonight's early lead.

The Twins can climb 12 games over .500 with a win in the series opener, a mark that's kind of been their "Everest" all season. A bevy of times, they've had a chance to move 12 games over, only to get waxed. Hopefully they're doing the waxing tonight.

The Twins lead the all-time Interleague series 43-30 over the Brewers. But, interestingly enough, neither team has swept the other. The Twins have, however, won four straight series in Milwaukee (home to the worst ballpark this side of Irving).

Did Prince Fielder eat another human being? Didn't he become a vegetarian or some nonsense? If so, this drastically alters my opinion of vegetarians. I thought they were suppose to be super healthy. And looking at Fielder, "healthy" is not the first word that comes to mind.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt? With the Twins? Why Not!

Interesting article on the Twins' team website (Twinsbaseball.com) over the weekend discussing their potential as a big-time player at the trade deadline.

Many within baseball apparently think the Twins could be among the most active clubs, given their infusion of cash, relatively deep farm system (though not as deep as in recent years) and the reality that they're a player or two away from being a truly elite squad.

Two names bandied about include the one-of-a-kind Cliff Lee, the best pitcher in baseball the past two-plus seasons, and Roy Oswalt. Lee becomes a free agent after this season, while Oswalt's current contract runs through 2011.

Who is more intriguing as a top-of-the-rotation starter? Lee's singular dominance, along with his ownership of the Yankees (a likely postseason foe in October should the Twins qualify) in last year's World Series, make him the headliner. But there's virtually no chance the Twins would be able to lock him up beyond 2010, meaning they'd be forced to part with two or three highly touted prospects for a half-season of Lee.

The pricetag to fetch Oswalt likely would be a bit steeper, simply because his contract runs an additional season. And the longtime Astros ace isn't exactly immune to DL stints. He's far from a sure thing, whereas Lee appears downright invincible.

The key question is whether or not the Twins want to part with a couple young studs, including, in all likelihood, Wilson Ramos, for three months of Lee or a season and a half of Oswalt. Is it worth it, to throw all the chips in the center of the table in pursuit of that elusive World Series crown, while at the same time mortgaging the future?

Ramos is made expendable because of Joe Mauer, but no organization ever can have too many blue-chip prospects, especially a mid-market one like the Twins. Still, I think we're all ready for more than the annual one-and-done flameout, where the Twins rocket into the playoffs only to be brushed aside like a pesky gnat by the Yankees.

They have the prospects, they have the cash, but do they have the desire to go out and get a pitcher of Cliff Lee's caliber?

Why not take a chance? With a potential three-man playoff rotation of Lee, Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano, wouldn't the Twins have all the pieces in place for a lengthy postseason run?

Or will they continue to be content merely with division titles and abbreviated October showings?

***

Another rumor has the Twins showing considerable interest in the creaky Mike Lowell. Quick question: why? Lowell is hitting a wisp over .200 and can barely bend over to field grounders. Great guy, but there's not much left in his tank. And when Orlando Hudson and JJ Hardy return to the everyday lineup, the Twins can sacrifice some offense from the position in the name of defense.

***

Dumbest thing I've read in a while, courtesy of Vikings vice president of personnel Rick Spielman, who was touting sixth-round draft pick Joe Webb, an athletic quarterback. Spielman told the Star Tribune:

"His hands are 11 inches long. How we measure them is from the tip of the thumb all the way out to the end of the pinky, and he, by far, has tremendous sized hands. [That's] a huge asset not only as a receiver, but what we found out is, as we were going through that rookie minicamp, he was out there working as a receiver, and coach [Brad] Childress said, 'Let's just throw him and throw some 1-on-1 drills and see what kind of arm he has.' And he was very impressive that one day we put him out."

... "We decided to go ahead and move him and let's take a look at him through these OTAs and this minicamp to see if he can potentially be a quarterback, as well.

"So we'll see what we decide to do with him when we come back at training camp. But again, you can't deny, you can't teach the athletic skills that Joe Webb has."

So apparently the Vikings are banking on Joe Webb because he, by far, has tremendous sized hands. Can he throw the football? Can he read a defense? Can he learn a complex NFL offense?

Who cares, dude has tremendous sized hands!

You know what they say about guys with big hands? Big gloves.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Aces Abound

If the Twins were playing Blackjack, they'd be riding a crest of good fortune.

They keep stumbling across aces.

Last week it was the Braves' Tim Hudson. Thursday, they felt the wrath of the incomparable Ubaldo Jimenez. Roy Halladay looms this weekend in Philadelphia, and some dude by the name of Johan Santana is slated to pitch against his former team next week in New York.

It's reminiscent of 2008, when the Twins ran off a 10-game winning streak that aced (pun intended) the degree-of-difficulty test. Included in that stretch, which the Twins used to turn their season around and announce their candidacy as playoff contenders, were wins in games started by Micah Owings (he was a can't-miss phenom at that point ... he missed), Randy Johnson, Brandon Webb (when he was still alive), Jake Peavy (before he took pitching lessons from Jesse Crain) and Greg Maddux. When you beat four former Cy Young winners in the span of a week, it's a pretty good week.

One of their wins in San Diego also featured a rally against all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. And if I'm not mistaken, win No. 10 in that surge came against Ben Sheets and the Brewers. Oddly, I watched that game at a bar in Iron River while on vacation from New Mexico. The Twins lost the next day, but picked up a series victory in the Sunday finale.

Lots of useless knowledge right there.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kobe: First Player to Capture LVP and MVP Honors Simultaneously

The death of all Kobe-MJ comparisons died June 17, 2010.

The obituary will simply read: Game 7, 2010 NBA Finals.

Never — absolutely never — would Jordan have played as atrociously, as mind-blowingly bad, as Kobe did in the Lakers' Game 7 win tonight. L.A. won despite Bryant, not because of him. He shot 6 for 24. Let that sink in: Bryant missed 18 of 24 field goal attempts. In a Game 7. At home. Against arch-rival Boston. With his legacy teetering on a tight-rope.

Again, 6 of 24.

First, Jordan never let an NBA Finals reach an anything-can-happen Game 7. But if he had, we'd still be talking about that contest today, because Jordan would have absolutely killed it. Like a fat kid at an all-you-can-eat buffet. He most certainly wouldn't have put up a 6-for-24 stinker.

Kobe's Game 7 was a travesty, a defiant slap at all those ridiculous "Has Kobe reached MJ's level?" questions. Kobe Bryant is not MJ. Nor will he ever be MJ. He proved that tonight.

I know, I know, the Lakers won. But even that's not accurate. The Celtics lost. Their old legs finally caught up with them. Ray Allen? No life, no lift. Paul Pierce? Couldn't elevate, never really attacked the rim, settled for impossibly difficult jumpers. Kevin Garnett? Slow, at least on defense.

And the way Boston played after grabbing a commanding 13-point lead in the third quarter was unparalleled in the putrid department.

Update: Kobe just won the Finals MVP. How on Earth can a guy who shot 6 for 24 in the decisive game be the MVP of a series. Perhaps that says more about the quality of this showdown, which started with all the makings of an epic clash between bitter rivals, but quickly morphed into a dysfunctional display of basketball brutality.

Kobe had one solid game. Actually, he had one solid quarter.

They're showing him now in the celebratory locker room, and his interactions with teammates is telling. Their collective reaction seems to be: "Wait a minute, you dogged us, mocked us and insulted us for two weeks on national television, and now you want to hug? This is awkward, but I am drinking cheap beer out of a plastic cup, so let's hug."

On a lighter note, Grandma's Marathon is less than 36 hours away.

I haven't been this excited since puberty arrived.

Like Most of America, Twins Hate Sweeping

Another day, another shot at a sweep for the Twins, another crapfest.

How can a club that's 10 games over .500, in first place and juiced with talent be this frustrating to follow?

Also, what has gotten into Ubaldo Jimenez? He's the greatest pitcher in the history of the world. It's not even up for debate. The list goes like this: Jimenez, Jesus Christ (nasty slider and some serious heat), Joseph (awesome control) and Sandy Koufax.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Which Twins are Headed to Anaheim? Let's Break it Down!

Who should represent the Twins at the All-Star Game in July?

The Mid-Summer Classic is less than a month away, and a handful of Twins can claim they warrant inclusion on the AL squad.

The no-brainer camp:


Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau

The no-chance camp:

Nick Punto, Brendan Harris, Jim Thome, Alexi Casilla, Drew Butera, Matt Tolbert, Danny Valencia, Trevor Plouffe, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Jesse Crain, Ron Mahay, JJ Hardy, Jose Mijares, Alex Burnett, Brian Duensing

The time-will-tell camp:

Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, Denard Span, Orlando Hudson, Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Jon Rauch, Kevin Slowey, Matt Guerrier

If the teams were picked today, it's a good bet the Twins would be sending four players to Anaheim — Mauer, Morneau, Liriano, Rauch.

Let's skip Mauer and Morneau. They're in.

But what about these guys?

(All stats entering Wednesday's game.)

Liriano: Probable. The lefty has shown flashes of brilliance, including the eight-inning, 11-strikeout masterpiece he twirled against the Braves last week. Liriano ran into a condensed funk in May, but he pulled himself out of it (something the old Liriano may not have been able to do) and has blossomed into a top-of-the-rotation anchor. He's 6-3 with a 2.90 ERA, good for sixth-best in the American League. Even better, especially considering last season's poopfest of walks and short starts? Liriano has fanned 87 while walking just 21. Those numbers say he's an all-star.

Rauch: Probable. When picking all-stars, you can't factor in the degree of difficulty in replacing the all-world Joe Nathan, but Rauch should be lauded for worrying only about converting saves — and not trying to be Nathan. He's tied for first in the AL with 16 saves, and sports a healthy 2.52 ERA.

Young: Possible. Young came into the season missing 40 pounds, and his rebirth (can you have a baseball rebirth at the age of 24?) has thrust the right fielder's value into the spotlight. He's quietly hitting .295 — with a .500 slugging percentage — eight homers and 41 RBIs. And remember the feeling of watching Young track down a flyball. It was, for lack of a better word, interesting. An adventure. But he's improved his defense, is running the bases better (not great, but better), and has been a monster in pivotal situations at the dish. Even more surprising? The previously free-swinging Young has walked 14 times — yes, 14! He walked 12 times in all of 2009.

Hudson: Possible. Hudson has solidified the No. 2 spot in the lineup, with a .305 average and well-greased wheels. But he's missed too much time with a wrist injury that surfaced just as the second baseman was catching fire. Plus, second base has morphed into the 1990s version of shortstop — that is, there's a plethora of bona fide studs at the position (the 90s crop of shortstops included Jeter, Garciaparra, A-Rod, Tejada, etc.). Robinson Cano is the shoe-in starter, and other all-star candidates include former MVP Dustin Pedroia, Ty Wigginton and Ian Kinsler. In other words, Hudson probably won't make it.

Kubel: Doubtful/Possible. This is likely a case of too little, too late. With the exception of Morneau and Young, Kubel has been as good as any Twin in June. But a designated hitter needs to, well, hit. And Kubel didn't do that in April or May. His late charge has provided a much-needed boost for the injury-plagued Twins, but still, .246/9/38 won't cut it. Now, Kubel's a streaky hitter. What if he's somewhere around .275/14/50 at the end of the month? It's a long shot, but not impossible.

Cuddyer: Doubtful. If you're a power hitting corner outfielder, you need more than seven home runs and 31 RBIs to crack the lineup. Barring a late-June takeoff, Cuddyer will fail to make his first all-star team.

Span: Doubtful. The center fielder has defined the word "erratic" through the season's first two and a half months. He's turned in web gems and brain farts, clutch hits and head-scratching miscues — both on defense and while running the bases. He's an upper-echelon leadoff guy, but at .278 and .350 (on-base percentage), Span will get a mini-vacation in early July.

Pavano: Doubtful. (The porn 'stache, on the other hand? Yes, yes we can!) Pavano is 7-6 with a pleasantly surprising 3.92 ERA. But he's been more steady than spectacular. A proven veteran, Pavano continues to crank out quality starts and chew up innings. But there's a name for those guys. They're called fourth and fifth starters, not all-stars.

Slowey. Doubtful. Who can figure out Kevin Slowey? He strings together two scintillating starts, then bails out in the fifth inning. He's up, down, up, up, down, down ... you get the idea. There's no consistency. He and Denard Span are roomates at Camp Frustrating.

Guerrier: Doubtful. If you're going to make an all-star squad as a setup guy, you better rock some ridiculous numbers. Guerrier's ERA of 1.88 is pretty, but not pretty enough. He's out.

So there you have it. Four players and a mustache will represent the Twins at the All-Star Game.

***

If you have a picture of the sun, please e-mail it to me at: Louie.3@hotmail.com.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

They Must Have Forgot

Memo to the Boston Celtics:

Game 6 was Tuesday night.

Also, Game 7 will be Thursday.

You guys should definitely check it out!

Twins Defense has Been Kind of Offensive

Over the past few weeks, it's felt like the Twins have sprung a few defensive leaks.

Like a colander, the defense has shed its air-tight persona. Balls typically parlayed into outs are finding holes. They're slipping through the infield or finding unprotected real estate in the outfield. Even worse — and an absolute anomaly for a team addicted to fundamentals — has been the mental lapses: throwing to the wrong bag, missing the cutoff man, etc.

There's a method, however, to this madness. Well, maybe not a method, but a reason. Two of 'em, actually, and their names are Orlando Hudson and JJ Hardy. Missing their two middle-infield anchors has had a disarming effect on the team's defense. Nick Punto is good, but he's struggled, uncharacteristically, in place of Hardy at shortstop. Matt Tolbert has made nobody forget second baseman Hudson.

(Quick tangent: The Cubs are reportedly entertaining the notion of trading former shortstop Ryan Theriot, and one of the Fox Sports columnists listed the Twins as a potential suitor. To which I ask: why? The columnist said the Twins haven't gotten much production from the position, which is true, but even with Hardy's less-than-stellar hitting, I'd take him over Ryan Theriot in a heartbeat. When healthy, Hardy's value is tremendous, as evidenced by the team's defensive struggles in his absence.)

The past week was filled with especially shoddy play. From Twinsbaseball.com:

"Against Kansas City, the Twins committed four errors — three in one game. And in their next series against Atlanta, the Twins had two games with one error each.

The Twins hadn't had a multiple-error game prior to this past week."


Here's what the skipper had to say: "The middle guys is what it's all about," Ron Gardenhire said. "Not that the other guys don't get it done, but those guys are comfortable out there and they've proved that when they're out there. There's a lot of different guys out there and that's going to happen when guys aren't comfortable with each other."

In other words, the manager is eager for the injured Hardy and Hudson to return to the field. He's probably just as eager to bid farewell to Tolbert, a hustler who would struggle to notch hits in bar-league softball.

It was Tolbert and Punto who led the charge in that error-plagued kick-fest against the Royals. Really, with how much the duo kicked the ball around in that contest, it looked like they were merely priming the pump for the looming World Cup.

The Twins are torching the Rockies, by the way. Hopefully, Carl Pavano's porn 'stache, which should hire its own PR staff and make promotional appearances at the Mall of America, can finish this baby off and keep the lid on the Rocks.

Remember a few weeks ago — late May, I believe — when I predicted a Jason Kubel resurgence? You don't remember that? Wait, you've never read this blog before? You hate me? Well, I did. And Kubel, on cue, has started pushing his average north. He belted another homer tonight. Those absurd pleas to bench Kubel in favor of the swinging-and-missing Jim Thome should pretty much die out.

Alright, it's time to watch Game 6 of the NBA Finals and do a little reading. Side note: The AP is reporting that Kobe Bryant has actually committed a foul before.

He denies it (the Celtics are getting hammered).

If this is Summer, I Don't Think Much of it

From the Duluth News Tribune:

"Assuming today’s forecast for ample clouds and rain holds true, June has offered zero officially sunny days in Duluth so far."

Our "summer" reminds me of an episode of Seinfeld, the one where George discovers a white "discoloration" above his lip. The blemish arrives on George's plucky face just as the pilot for "Jerry" is springing to life.

George is convinced it's cancer. And his reasoning is that God won't ever let him be successful. Thus, a potentially lucrative career as a writer for a hit TV show has to be met — absolutely has to — with some kind of crippling, and possibly deadly, disease. Hence his certainty that cancer is ravaging his body.

In a nutshell, that's how I feel about Duluth's summer. Sun and unseasonably warm temps invaded the city starting in March. And they continued — minus two ugly weeks in early May — right up until June. But it's Duluth, and God won't let us get comfortable with these balmy conditions.

In other words, God hates us.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fans Flocking to Target Field

The Twins announced today that they've cleared 3 million in advance ticket sales. They're well on their way to shattering the club attendance record of 3,030,672, set in 1988, a year after their first World Series triumph.

Averaging just more than 39,000 fans a game (the actual number is 39,001), the Twins rank sixth in MLB. Target Field has obviously been a boon.

I feel like I should write more, but I'll be honest — I don't want to.

I woke up this morning at 3:30, tossed and turned for an hour before deciding to head to the office at 5:30. Except the office doesn't open until 6:30, so I sat in the hallway and read for an hour. I'm a big fan of reading and all, but not so much when I'm downtown at 5:30 a.m. on a Monday. Realistically, there's probably 6,146 things I'd have rather been doing.

Needless to say, I'm spent.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

It's Grandma's Week!

If you live in Duluth, how confident were you that the sun would make an appearance this evening?

So typical, right? Shitty weather rolls in Friday, blankets the city for the duration of the weekend, and once Sunday evening beckons, the sun reappears.

Looking forward to an awesome week, a Grandma's week! There's such a buzz in Duluth during the week of Grandma's Marathon. There are so many people, so much activity, it's just a neat experience.

And the race-day forecast? Sunny and a high of 75. Well played, Mother Nature, well played.

My goal this year is 3:35, which would be 14 minutes faster than 2009 and 24 faster than 2008. But I've felt phenomenal all spring — and knocked five minutes off my '09 time for the Eau Claire Half-Marathon — minus a nagging bruise on the back of my ankle/lower calf, so I'm confident 3:35 is doable.

And then I will consume enough calories to kill a small goat.

Have a stellar week.

Another Reason to Hate Soccer



Umm, wouldn't 1-1 qualify as a tie?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gold Nuggets on a Gray Morning

Interesting nuggets from the Twins' box score following their 2-1 triumph over the Braves:

• Jason Kubel is hitting .246. It was only a matter of time before Kubel found his stroke. He's swinging about as good as any Twin right now, and his average continues its gravitational pull toward .300.

• Francisco Liriano lowered his ERA to 2.90 following the gem against Atlanta. He's gonna get his name in the paper (by the way, has that saying gone the way of Zubaz? ... maybe it should be "he's gonna get his name on the Web").

• Joe Mauer is hitting .318. It still kind of feels like he's been misfiring this season, though, right? I mean, .318 is a nice number, but a far cry from 2009 when Mauer was cranking out two hits every single night. And does it feel like the Twins have committed to paying roughly $23 million a year for a guy who's gonna produce something like .330/12/80 for the rest of his career? Also, shouldn't Mauer have more homers than Willie Bloomquist?

• Jim Thome is hitting .238. Seems like Thome started with a bang and is progressing toward a prolonged whimper. He still puts fear into opposing pitchers and is a nice bench weapon, but his pinch-hit appearances inevitably go like this: Thome is announced, crowd starts buzzing, crowd works itself into frenzy, Thome strikes out, crowd emits collective groan, Thome lets out an "aw-shucks, golly gee," and bounces back to the dugout.

• Jon Rauch has piled up 16 saves and boasts a 2.52 ERA. I keep waiting for Rauch to regress. He keeps converting saves (find a piece of wood, knock on it). Against the Braves on Friday night, he made it look easy, striking out the side in order.

• Nick Punto is hitting .232. I've always been a huge Punto fan. Brings a ton to the table — speed, high baseball IQ, super competitive, good bunter, phenomenal defense, etc. But the guy doesn't hit. It's like saying about a driver, "uses the blinkers really well, always aware of his surroundings, doesn't talk on the cell phone, doesn't speed, but man, he just can't steer."

• Do JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson still play for the Twins? Seriously, dudes, your participation in the 2010 season would be much appreciated. At least send up a smoke signal so we know you're OK, wherever you are.

***

Big golf tournament today. Four-person scramble at Pattison Park. Here's the formula I'll use to determine if my play is successful: take the number of strokes over nine holes, subtract number of Coors Lights consumed, add number of F bombs, subtract half the number of balls lost, and multiple by two. If the final figure is less than 80, it's a good day. Educated guess: 84.

Will I be able to remember that formula following our round this afternoon?

No chance.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Blast from New Mexico Past

About three weeks ago, the question of who was the Twins' ace was a puzzle.

Nick Blackburn was threatening to wrestle that title away from Francisco Liriano, who slumbered through the month of May. Blackburn, meanwhile, was grooving his way into the top spot.

Now? Blackburn would simply like to get out of the fourth inning one of these starts, while Frankie has been as stingy as a senior citizen at a rummage sale. Liriano baffled the Braves for eight innings tonight, matching the franchise record with seven consecutive strikeouts midway through. He allowed five hits — all singles — while yielding a lone run.

All of it led to a 2-1 victory.

Speaking of the Twins — which we do frequently considering this blog's namesake — interesting story and a chance for me to take a stroll down memory lane.

When I was in Farmington at The Daily Times, I had a chance to cover a dynamite ballplayer by the name of Grant Muncrief. A senior in 2007, Muncrief put together an eye-popping senior campaign, but struggled to draw the attention of Division I coaches. One day in early June, I got a call from Farmington High's AD, asking me if I could cover Muncrief's signing. He was headed to Wichita State on a baseball scholarship.

Wichita State? One of the premier D-I programs in the country? Yep, that's the one.

I was ecstatic. You know that saying: So and so will never be as good on the field as he is off it? That applies here. Muncrief, belying his age, oozed class. He was just a good dude — respectful, articulate, humble, smart, hard-working ... the whole package. Case in point: I covered probably 50 college signings at The Daily Times. Typical attire for the signing athlete included shorts, flip-flops, a T-shirt and a pair of shades. Muncrief, however, showed up wearing a shirt and tie (and cowboy boots, no less). Firm handshake. A heartfelt "thank you" (for coming).

When I asked his mom how Grant went from lukewarm interest from the college level to a top-tier program like Wichita State, she said it was thanks to an article we ran shortly after the Scorpions clinched their third consecutive state title.

Turns out an assistant coach from Wichita State was in town for a family member's graduation, picked up a copy of the Daily Times, and read about Muncrief's exploits. The assistant coach was impressed not only by the surreal statistics, but by Muncrief's character, which radiated like an early morning sunrise. The coach called his boss, and soon enough Muncrief had a scholarship offer to play for the Shockers.

Fast-forward a year, to the spring of 2008. I get an e-mail from Muncrief's father, who proceeded to tell me his son was just picked up by a wood bat summer league.

I think it's the Northwoods something or other. Anyways, the team is located in Minnesota, a town called Duluth. Just thought I'd pass it along because I believe you're from Minnesota. Don't know whereabouts, but maybe you've heard of Duluth. I think the team is called the Huskies.

Sure, I've heard of it. Actually, my old man spends many a summer night perched in the second row behind home plate, gulping down a soda while watching the Huskies. In fact, my parents have served as a host family for Husky players the past few years.


Small world, right?

So naturally, when I came home that June, I visited Wade Stadium and interviewed Muncrief — when I asked for his impression of Duluth, his response was "Sure are a lot of trees" — for a column that I wrote in a dark RV in Iron River on a family camping trip. E-mailed it back to Farmington, and it ran the next day, replete with a Duluth dateline. Not many Duluth datelines in The Farmington Daily Times, I bet.

Now, fast-forward two more years. Checking The Daily Times' website a couple days ago, I saw that Muncrief was recently drafted, in the 37th round.

The drafting team? The Minnesota Twins.

Again, small world.

It was one of those stories that made you feel good. Great kid, great family, and he's rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play professional baseball.

I've followed his college career a little. Nothing spectacular, at least in terms of stats. There's certainly more ballyhooed prospects. But I guarantee — without reservation — that none of them can match this kid's character.

Which is why I hope, one day, I'll get the chance to watch him pitch at Target Field.

There's trees there, too.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reverse Jinx? It Almost Worked!

Wow, that 20-inch essay on the Twins' lack of cohones almost blew up in my face.

They came back, at least, and made it interesting before Cuddyer slapped a liner to right that hung in the air a second too long for the third out of the ninth.

Royals win, 9-8.

If you're watching Game 4 of the NBA Finals, by the way, you've probably realized that Nate Robinson has the basketball IQ of a screwdriver.

Twins Frown on Killer Instinct

When the Twins win the first two games of a series, just plan on skipping the third. They're immune to sweeps. Total lack of killer instinct.

I think there's a definite parallel between their inability to complete sweeps and their struggles against elite teams. It seems that whenever the stakes are raised — if even just slightly — the Twins wilt.

Random analogy: When I was a sophomore in college, I agreed to live at my parents — rather than rent an apartment with T-Spoon — only if I could get a dog. My mom relented (we tricked my dad, who never would've been on board, only he ended up loving the dog ... go figure). So I hurried down to the animal shelter and browsed the kennels. It felt eerily like shopping — "no, that one doesn't look like the right size," "no, I don't like that color," "no, that one just pissed on its leg" and so on.

I finally settled on a beautiful springer/terrier mix. Her name was Autumn, and I never changed it. Autumn, though, had been beaten by her previous owner. I obviously don't know the severity of the abuse, but suffice to say it wasn't pretty.

She was skittish.

It took probably two or three years for her to act "normal" around me, that is, not slink to the ground when I first approached. And you couldn't blame her. She associated people with getting hit (sickening).

Thus, her instinct was to hover near the ground. Slink away. Make herself invisible. Again, she was skittish.

That's how I feel about the Twins when they hook up with the Yankees or Red Sox — really, any time it's a so-called "big game" (tonight's qualifies). They're skittish. They don't fully trust themselves, and seem a bit overwhelmed by their surroundings. Do they dare compete against the mighty Yanks?

Now you can definitely argue that playing the Royals on a Thursday night in mid-June is far from a big game. That's a valid point. But there's always just a little more of a buzz when a sweep is at stake. I guarantee Target Field felt different tonight than it did Wednesday. Fans adore sweeps. It's a machismo thing, perhaps, but the fans were no doubt amped up for tonight's ballgame.

But were the Twins? Probably. I just have a feeling they don't fully embrace challenges the way championship-caliber clubs should. Smack 'em in the face, and they'll wilt. Slink away ... "just beat us and get it over with." It's a tiresome trend that began to evolve in 2003.

The year before, of course, was the last time the Twins won a post-season series. They've been absolutely atrocious in the playoffs ever since. Why? Big stage? Too much pressure?

Sure, in a few of those series, they were simply out-manned. But even a blind squirrel finds a nut (I can never get that saying right, so if I butchered it, just know that it's about as close as I get). You have to win at least one of those series.

But not the Twins.

Maybe I'm reading way too much into a measly mid-season game. But I wanted to see a sweep tonight. Not a shoddy game rife with a nibbling pitcher who all of a sudden was afraid to challenge hitters, swear-out-loud defense and another Denard Span mental lapse. That's not what I signed up for.

But that's what I got.

It's a familiar story with these Twins.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

No, He Really is THAT Good

Carl Pavano's porn 'stache is back on the bump tonight against the Royals. And it's pitching splendidly.

He just looks silly with that patch beneath his nose. Actually, he looks like a Richard or a Larry. Guys named Richard and Larry typically have mustaches, right? I'm pretty sure it's understood that when little Richard and little Larry hit 30 — at the latest — they will embark on a well-manicured 'stache.

And Carl's just wrapped up its eighth inning of two-run ball, helping the Twins to a 5-2 edge.

So did everyone fully digest the Stephen Strasburg experience from last night? My God, he was absurd. Every fastball was at least 97, with a handful reaching the century mark. He struck out 14 — the electronic scoreboard at Nationals Park only had room for 12 Ks — including the final seven hitters he faced, and left the field to an electric standing ovation.

It was, by any measure, the single greatest night in the brief history of the Washington Nationals.

I typically don't agree with all the hyperbole spewed by the media when a youngster bursts onto the scene. But with Strasburg, I simply don't think it can be overstated just how dominant his repertoire is. It's not fair.

And for a 21-year-old a year removed from college, his makeup seems to be the icing on a pretty stellar cake. At this point, there's just nothing negative that can be said. He's that good.

And I will try to watch every single time he takes the mound. It's a similar scenario to Francisco Liriano's 2006 season and Johan Santana's 2004 campaign. You plan your evenings around the ballgame because, every time they take the mound, there's the possibility that something truly special is about to go down.

Another thing from last night: The NBA Finals are fan-tastic. The energy and rugged nature of Game 3 was straight out of the movie "Gladiator." It was brutally intense. And not just for the last few minutes, but from about midway through the second quarter until the final buzzer. Bodies flying, words being exchanged, a delirious, drunken crowd that was as hostile as a drunk being cut off at the bar, and a plethora of awful calls that only added to the frenzy.

This is from a guy who hates the NBA. But I'll definitely be watching Game 4 on Thursday.

Can't say the same about Saturday's U.S.-England soccer match. Go England! If for no other reason than, should the U.S. experience even a modest amount of success at this World Cup, we'll be saddled with four more years of "Is soccer finally ready to take off in the U.S.?" articles. I'd prefer what we're seeing now: for a handful of months leading up to the World Cup, articles appear that ask "what will it take for soccer to become popular here?" The answer is always, unequivocally: "The American men must contend at the World Cup." That would grip our youngsters' imaginations, they say.

Then, the American men fail, miserably, and the cycle repeats itself.

And everybody wins.

Twinkies win, 5-2.

Hopefully in the box score, after WP, it says "porn 'stache."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dude throws 90 MPH ... and That's His Changeup

Stephen Strasburg is filthy.

His stuff is electric, just a dizzying display of sheer power. A handful of times through the first four innings of the Washington phenom's debut, I've actually laughed out loud. A fastball that reaches triple digits and a curve that breaks violently, not to mention a 90-MPH changeup.

In fact, tonight is one of the rare nights I don't mind the shitty weather. For the third consecutive year, I've decided to run Grandma's Marathon, and although I know I should take a night off — after all, the race is less than two weeks away — like most runners, the prospect of skipping a workout is nerve-racking.

But it's raining. And windy. Kinda dark, too. And my legs are pretty much mush at this point. Seriously, they're like jelly. They need a little R and R. Which will be made easier considering the fact that tonight's TV lineup includes Strasburg's debut, Game 3 of the NBA Finals and the Twins game. You can't beat that. You could try, but you would fail.

Wowsers. Strasburg just gave up a two-run homer. I don't know who was more shocked — the pitcher or the dude who flung his bat meakly through the zone only to watch it propel the ball just over the wall in right field. He looked surprised to make contact, let alone watch the ball disappear into the stands.

Actually, the hitter (didn't see who it was and I'm too lazy to check) was nearly as stunned as I was after I got my hair cut yesterday. It's a little too short and I look like I'm 8 years old all over again. Maybe 9, but a young 9.

Twins game is ready to start and I have to finish cleaning my bathroom. It's needed to be cleaned since about April. Of 2009. Not a pretty sight.

Too much?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

And We'll See You Tomorrow Night!

Just watched the beginning of a show on the MLB channel that was breaking down the top nine center fielders of all time.

No. 9 was Kirby Puckett. I figured that was fair enough. Until I saw No. 8, which was Jim Edmonds. How is Jim Edmonds ranked ahead of Kirby Puckett, a Hall of Famer?

That doesn't make sense. I love Edmonds, but come on. The eighth-best center fielder of all time? I disagree. He's a fringe candidate for the Hall, and basically had about six awesome seasons. Not enough longevity to garner induction, in my humble opinion.

If I had to guess the other seven players on that list, they'd go like this, in no specific order:

Ty Cobb
Willie Mays
Ken Griffey Jr.
Joe DiMaggio
Mickey Mantle
Carlos Gomez
Brandon Borich

I ran out of names. I don't really think Gomez and Borich should be on the list.

Alright, time to get ready for a crazy night on the town. Crazy is code for "Roscoe's." I think it's the old Pioneer bar downtown, but I'm not really sure. It's for a birthday party, which I'm sure will be followed by a tour through P-Town.

Karaoke? At the Keyboard? Yes, yes we can!

I told Chuckster I'd be to his house about 6-6:30ish. He told me to shoot for 6 so I'd make it by 6:30. I have a horrible habit of being late. Not for work or anything like that, but when it comes to meeting people, I'm habitually tardy. If I do show up on time, people are surprised. Or they're not ready because they simply expect me to be a good 30 minutes late, and plan accordingly.

But I have a good feeling about today. Plus, Tom Skull told me I was his everything a little while ago.

So there's that.

Take a Break, Bro

I think this line, from twinsbaseball.com, adequately captures the basic building block of Justin Morneau's success:

Drenched in sweat after his postgame workout, Morneau said he doesn't know if he needs any more time off than Monday's designated off-day.

Drenched in sweat after his postgame workout?

Apparently, going 2 for 4, with a homer, double and three runs didn't constitute a full day's work. The first baseman almost single-handedly propelled the Twins to victory.

So Morneau headed to the weight room and underwent a familiar routine that is grueling enough to drench him in sweat.

That. Is. Awesome.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Man, Those Guys Can Paint

The Coors Light commercial, where the workers paint a tunnel exit on a brick building, and a Coors Light train — a silver bullet, if you will — comes screaming through, brimming with blue-mountain beverages ...

That probably could never happen in real life. Right?

But I would like to try.

Side note: Drew Butera should never, ever get to hit in the eighth inning of a tie game. Ever.

Back in the day, when I played — and then coached — senior league and VFW baseball, there were always two or three kids who simply couldn't hit. Just couldn't do it. They swung in the same location no matter where the pitch was. Like clockwork. Three pitches, three swinging strikes. Good morning, good afternoon, good night.

If it was a big situation, and one of those players absolutely had to hit, they got the "take" sign. On every pitch. Two strikes? Take. The chances of them drawing a walk, even on an 0-2 count, were far greater than the chances they would work their way on base.

Drew Butera is one of those players. Just take. Do not swing. Don't ever swing the bat. You're not going to get a hit. You know that. The pitcher knows that.

Best-case scenario: You'll get drilled in the back and walk gingerly to first base.

At which point, you'll probably be replaced by a pinch-runner.

Thanks for playing.

Oooh, it's almost time for Jimmy Fallon's thank you cards!

Cross Him Off, Then

John Wooden, the architect of the UCLA men's basketball dynasty, died Friday.

Wooden's passing reminds me of something I once heard/read regarding how newspapers always managed to get comprehensive coverage into the next day's edition when a prominent person died.

I think it was from Bill Simmons, who once interned (or maybe worked ... the facts are foggy) at either the Boston Globe or Boston Herald. Simmons said he got creeped out one night while searching through various files stored on the paper's computer network. Browsing, aimlessly, he stumbled upon a lengthy obituary for Red Auerbach.

The only problem? Auerbach was still alive, a living, breathing human being.

In the name of preparation, the paper had simply crafted the bulk of Auerbach's obituary. A man of his stature, it would be impossible to put together a quality and comprehensive story/obit if Auerbach were to pass away in the evening. Deadlines are deadlines.

Sounds crass, I know.

So his obituary was written, and when Auerbach did die, in 2006, whoever was working the desk that night at Simmons' old shop merely had to call up the already-written copy, tack on the final few details — how he died, age, etc. — and plug it onto the page.

Thus, it's no surprise that, if you go to any news site this evening (I noticed it with ESPN.com), you'll see a detailed and well-crafted recollection of the iconic Wooden's vast accomplishments.

As logical as that may be, it's still kind of bizarre, right? Can you imagine writing a thoughtful and articulate piece about a person who is still alive?

The point? There really isn't one. I just always think of Simmons' story whenever a prominent person dies and I read about it in a newspaper.

Along the same lines, the Washington Post — and various other news-gathering entities — reported Wooden's death. On Thursday. He died Friday. In the rush to be first to report a huge story, credible outlets brushed basic journalistic principles aside. Such as verification.

On a lighter note, Justin Morneau seems to be getting the hang of this baseball thing. Another night, another homer for the big Canadian. With the recent unpredictability of the Twins' offense, Morneau's early season tear has been a steadying force. Mr. Consistency, we'll call him.

At least until August rolls around and he starts flailing like a dazed infant.

One final thought: Did anyone else notice Carl Pavano's ridiculously awesome porn mustache during Thursday's game? I'm not a huge Carl Pavano fan, but if he can pull off that look?

I'm on board.

Well played, Carl. Well played.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Jim Joyce Called — He'd Like His Eyes Back

The NBA Finals started tonight, June 3. If the series goes the distance, it won't wrap up until June 17. Fifteen days for seven games.

Game 2 is Sunday, a full three days after the opener. Both are in Los Angeles, so there's no travel involved. Why do these dudes, who withstand a steady dose of back-to-backs throughout the regular season, all of a sudden need three days of rest between games? The NBA playoffs take roughly three months to complete. No wonder nobody watches the damn games. Nobody's even aware they're still going on.

The scheduling makes about as much sense as a cereal special I stumbled across minutes ago at the trusty gas station in Morgan Park: one box for $2.49 or two for $4.98.

Transcript of gas station conversation.

Umm, sir, you know that deal on cereal you guys are running? One box for $2.49 or two for $4.98?

Yes.

It doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Yeah, I don't think it's much of a deal.

Well, no, no it's not. Because if one box is $2.49, then two boxes — sale or no sale — would be $4.98.

Well, some people think they're getting a great deal.

Which further reinforces my basic belief about people: They're dumb.

Like people who threaten and admonish Jim Joyce's wife and kids. Dumb.

By the way, how long until Jim Joyce becomes a regular part of everyday lingo. For example, say you're playing horseshoes and your opponent thinks he's closer, when clearly he isn't. Couldn't you say, "Hey, Jim Joyce called, he wants his eyes back."

That's pretty funny. The only problem: I'd have to start playing horseshoes to utilize it.

For the record, I hate horseshoes. Detest the game. I'd rather have a blind person shave my face with a butter knife than play horseshoes for more than three minutes.

OK, time to watch some hoops and Twinkies. How ironic is it that on the night of Jim Joyce's blown call, the Twins lose, at least in part, on a horrible call at second base that led to the Mariners' winning run in the bottom of the 10th?

Watching Game 1 of the Finals tonight, it's apparent that Kobe Bryant has never committed a foul (at least outside of Colorado ... oh, zing!), and that he has never NOT been fouled while shooting.

I hate Kobe Bryant.

Lakers in six.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Perfectly Putrid Call

When is Ken Griffey Jr. retiring not the biggest baseball story of the day?

When a pitcher is one out away from a perfect game and he has that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity snatched away by an umpire's blown call. And not just any blown call, an oh-my-God-how-on-Earth-did-he-miss-that gaffe.

The Tigers' Armando Galarraga was one missed call away from becoming the 21st major league pitcher to twirl a perfect game. With two outs in the ninth inning, Galarraga got the Indians' Jason Donald to roll a swift grounder between first and second. Detroit's Miguel Cabrera deftly fielded the ball and flung it to Galarraga, who was covering the bag.

Out.

By a step and a half. At least.

The ump, Jim Joyce, had a different perspective.

Safe.

An emphatic safe call.

In a word ... stunning.

Galarraga raised his glove and looked, smiling, at the ump. Cabrera was already grinning and ready to bull-rush his victorious pitcher. The Detroit fans already had begun their eruption.

Safe.

There's really no words to fully describe the situation. Galarraga would have been the 21st pitcher — in roughly 120 years of major league baseball — capable of scribbling "threw perfect game" on his resume. He will never get that chance again.

Never.

There was one person in Comerica Park on Wednesday who thought Donald was safe, and that person had perhaps the best view.

"I just cost that kid a perfect game," Joyce told the Associated Press. "I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay.

"It was the biggest call of my career."

Following the "28th" out, Joyce left the field amid a volatile scene. Boos rained down. Tiger players expressed their displeasure.

"I don't blame them a bit or anything that was said," Joyce said. "I would've said it myself if I had been Galarraga. I would've been the first person in my face, and he never said a word to me."

I doubt there's a single person that feels worse than Jim Joyce. But the question remains, now and forever:

How did he get that wrong? He was so close, had such a perfect look at it. He will never, ever make a bigger call.

Umps dream of nailing that call.

Just like pitchers dream of throwing perfect games.

Neither happened Wednesday.

Father Time 1, Griffey Jr. 0

Apparently, Ken Griffey Jr. has retired.

Wait, didn't he basically retire, like, two years ago?

At least now he'll be able to catch up on that sleep he's been seeking in his team's clubhouse.

Has a professional athlete of Griffey's stature ever walked away to less pomp and circumstance? Kind of depressing, really. Dude's a mega-star, one of the top 15 players to ever pass through the game. This season, and even dating back to 2009, he was a shell of his former self. Slow bat, shaky legs, creaky bones, the range of a dazed turtle.

But back in the day? Griffey was the man. That backwards hat and those glitzy diamond studs stuck to his ear became the picture of cool. And it didn't hurt that a young Griffey could climb an outfield wall with as much grace as a leaping ballerina. His bat waggle was epic, causing thousands of young ballplayers across the planet to follow suit, even when such a stance was ill-fitting for mere mortals.

It's sad to see the greatest player of the 90s, a former global icon, revert to being a Mendoza-esque pinch-hitter. He should have retired after his teammates carried him off the field following the 2009 campaign — a Hollywood-like ending.

Instead, he's being dragged from the field by Father Time.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

PBR Me ASAP

Sorry for the dearth of posts over the weekend, but I was living the dream in the Eveleth/Virginia area.

When we were leaving the campground Monday, I personalized the Zac Brown Band's hit song, "Toes." Instead of "I'm leaving GA," it became "I'm leaving VA." Get it? Virginia ... VA?

That never happened, by the way. But can you imagine the laughs?

It was a good weekend, three days' worth of weekend. Coors Light was involved. And PBR, which coincidentally, has claimed one Best Beer of the Year award. Way back in 1893. Yes, they still advertise an award 117 years old. Hints at the quality of the product.

But back to reality. Work. Running. And the Twins' current West Coast swing kind of sucks. I hate games that start at 9 p.m. If I can last until the fifth inning, that's a moral victory.

In a related story, I drove the whole way home from work today with my blinker on.

Again, that didn't happen.

Blackburn's in an early jam, and I'd like to watch at least a few innings as the Twinkies take aim at their sixth consecutive win.

Hope you enjoyed your Memorial Day Weekend, and the unofficial, official start of summer.