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Archive for March, 2010

This will be almost pure Gonzo journalism as I just learned a few minutes ago that Joe Mauer has signed an eight-year, $184 million contract to play for the Minnesota Twins. I’m at the beginning of a 12-hour shift and this couldn’t be more pleasing to me. Joe Mauer is the greatest person to come out of Minnesota since F. Scott Fitzgerald. The next eight years won’t all be .365 batting averages and MVP awards, but they will be filled with satisfaction knowing that Minnesota’s own will be home. He will get injured and he may not even be playing catcher at the end of this contract, but he will be home and fighting the forces of evil.

I never had any doubt he’d go to the east coast. He’s pure Minnesotan and not only would the fans have burned down Target Field, but Mauer’s family would have disowned him. Hell, I heard his family had a hard time when he started playing for the Twins because they played in Minneapolis and not his hometown of St. Paul. That’s devotion. If they were tentative about him playing in Minneapolis, they sure weren’t going to let him play for a team that has beat the daylights out of their team in the playoffs or another team that took the whip to the Twins in 1967. Real Twins fans won’t forget 1967, even if they wouldn’t be born for another 11 years.

Joe Mauer to Minnesota is to what Bruce Springsteen is to New Jersey.

There will never be another Kirby Puckett, but Joe Mauer is now bigger than Kirby Puckett (R.I.P.).

Touch ’em all, Joe Mauer … touch ’em all.

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Bill Buckner was a great baseball player.  He also was only a spoke in the wheel that caused the Boston Red Sox to lose Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.  Immature Red Sox fans like to point at Mr. Buckner as the sole reason their team lost that game.  There is not one person to blame, but an entire team – two teams, in fact.  Not only did the Red Sox lose that game, but the New York Mets also won it.    

First, I’m going to place the blame around for the Red Sox loss besides Buckner’s error.  Then I’m going to point out the fantastic career that the first baseman had.  I don’t think he should be in the hall of fame, but he’s not far away.  Many believe the hall of fame should be reserved for the top 1% of all big league ballplayers.  Buckner falls in the top 2%.    

Recap
With the score tied 5-5 in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series and the Red Sox up three games to two, the Mets’ Mookie Wilson hits a moderate grounder about 10 feet inside the foul line to first baseman Bill Buckner.  Ray Knight is on second base.  Buckner makes the stereotypical little leaguer mistake when he doesn’t get his glove to the ground, it rolls under his glove and between his legs and Knight scores from second base to give the Mets the victory.    

Spreading the blame
The game was tied at a chaotic Shea Stadium.  Even if Buckner makes the play for the final out of the 10th, the odds are still in the Mets’ favor they’re going to win the game.  They were one of the greatest single-season teams ever, with 108 regular season wins.  Boston was good (95 wins), but they didn’t have the greatness of the Mets.    

Where’s the blame for Red Sox pitcher Bob Stanley?  After relieving Calvin Schiraldi with two outs in the 10th, the first thing he did was throw a wild pitch to Wilson to score Kevin Mitchell from third, the tying run.  Take half of Buckner’s blame and give it to Stanley.   

After a masterful regular season, reliever Schiraldi seemed to be spent in the World Series – at least in the sixth game.  Schiraldi relieved Roger Clemens to start the eighth inning.  In two and two-thirds innings, Schiraldi allowed four hits, two walks and four runs.  Now let’s take some of Buckner and Stanley’s blame and give it to Schiraldi.  The man was tired and the New York batters had figured him out by the 10th inning.    

Boston manager John McNamara deserves a bigger share of the blame than Buckner.

 

Babe Ruth also deserves some of the blame.  I believe in the Curse of the Bambino in Game 6 is a great example.  Schiraldi retired the first two batters in the bottom of the tenth – Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez.  Boston was up by two runs and only needed one more out to claim their first World Series title since 1918.  One out.  Gary Carter then hit a soft single to left field.  With a runner on first, the Red Sox still only need one little out and there’s two bases to get it now.  Mitchell pinch hit for the pitcher, Rick Aguilera, and lined a single to center field, sending Carter to second.  Now there are three bases to get ONE more out and send New England into a frenzy.  With Ray Knight batting, Schiraldi worked the third baseman to an 0-2 count.  Now the Red Sox not only need just one little out, which is available at three bases, but they can also get that one little out with one little strike.  Nope.  Knight singles to center field to score Carter and send Mitchell to third.  Mitchell will score on the wild pitch and Knight will score on Buckner’s error.  A story like this should have been featured in the opening sequence of Magnolia.  They just don’t happen, especially in World Series games.  Babe Ruth had a hand in it and part of the blame should be given to him.   

Why was Schiraldi still pitching in the 10th inning?  The middle reliever was working his third inning and had already given up a run in the eighth.  Boston managers have a history of leaving pitchers in for too long and John McNamara is no exception.  It may have been wise for a fresh arm to start the 10th inning and if not to start the bottom half, then after Carter and Mitchell delivered consecutive hits.  Now we’re really spreading the blame.   

Even more puzzling than leaving Schiraldi in the game is the decision by McNamara to leave Buckner in.  The first baseman was 36 years old and had terrible knees.  During the regular season McNamara would often replace his aging first baseman with a younger player more apt to play the position.      

Roger Clemens pitched a great game.  He allowed one earned run over seven innings and struck out eight batters.  He pitched well, but he still screwed up and it had nothing to do with what he did on the mound.  After Boston went ahead in the top of the tenth, Clemens retreated to the clubhouse to shave off his five o’clock shadow so he could be as pretty as possible for the post-game interviews.  When the jumbotron showed Clemens and his baby face, the Mets bench took notice and it gave them even more reason to get fired up.  Never give the other team, especially the 1986 Mets, a reason to get mad.  Now even the starting pitcher with the most impressive stat line has some of the blame.    

Roger Clemens' early shave helped fire up the Mets bench.

 

Clemens gave up only one earned run, but another run crossed the plate while he was on the mound and it wasn’t earned.  In the fifth inning, with Knight at first base, Wilson hit a single to right fielder Dwight Evans.  An error from the great Evans allowed Knight to reach third on the play and eventually score the unearned run.  It looks like Mr. Buckner wasn’t the only fielder to allow an unearned run.    

The New York Mets assembled one of the greatest teams in the history of the game and a two-run lead simply wasn’t enough to contain them.  Ever think of that?    

Good teams find a way to win and there are few better than the 1986 Mets.

 

Now that the case for Game 6 is over, let’s look at the other 2,539 games Bill Buckner played.
The man loved to hit a baseball and it’s obvious in his statistics.  In an age when on-base percentage wasn’t as highly valued, Buckner was the perfect player for the fan who hates to sit and watch batters take pitch after pitch looking for something just right.  A .289 batter, Buckner’s OBP was a lowly .321 for his career.  He didn’t like to walk, he liked to hit the ball and he rarely struck out.  Through 22 seasons, the most he even struck out in a season was 40 in 1984 when he split time between the Cubs and Red Sox.  Ryan Howard could cover that total this May.  Four times in his career Buckner led his league in at bats per strikeout.  In 1980 for the Cubs, Buckner struck out once every 32.1 at bats.  For his career, he struck out only once per 20.7 at bats.  Even Barry Bonds, known for having one of the greatest hitting eyes of all time, struck out once per 6.4 at bats in his career.    

This man did not like to strike out.

 

Buckner finished his career with 2,715 hits.  Remember last season when Yankees fans acted as if Derek Jeter found Osama bin Laden when he passed Lou Gehrig on the team’s hit list?  At that point, he only had seven more hits than Buckner.    

He played for five teams over his career with the most games played for the Cubs followed by the Dodgers, Red Sox, Royals and Angels.  His prime came on the North side of Chicago when he batted .300 over eight seasons and won the 1980 National League batting title with a .324 average.    

Like Fred Merkle before him and Chuck Knoblauch after, Bill Buckner should be recognized as a great ballplayer.

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The New York Mets are the dumb rich kid in your math class who couldn’t figure out long division.  They have almost every advantage the Yankees have, yet year after year they’re a let down.  Sure, they have two World Series championships and four National League pennants, but it’s as if those things happened because of a natural turn of events and not necessarily because they worked harder than the other teams.  

The Mets have the second highest payroll in the big leagues.  They sign big name free agents almost as much as their cross-town rivals.  The Mets also are filled with East coast drama and are written about to death.  So why do I find myself rooting for the New York Mets?  I should hate them like I do the Yankees and Red Sox, but there’s something loveable about them and not in the nauseating way people love the Cubs.  The Mets aren’t cursed like the Cubs and Indians, but they have a great ability to break the hearts of their fans. 

Citi Field
The 2010 Mets will be playing their second season in Citi Field.  Unlike the MGM Grand … uh, I mean Yankee Stadium, Citi Field is built more around the game than the event.  It was modeled after Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and features the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, a fitting tribute to the Dodger great and a faded memory of a true New York City ballclub.  Citi Field, like the Mets’ former home, Shea Stadium, is built for the pitcher.  This is a great change of pace based on the majority of ballparks built in the last twenty years (see also Comerica Park, Petco Park and Safeco Field).  

But what did the Mets do in the offseason to apparently complement their new pitchers’ park?  They signed free agent slugger Jason Bay and didn’t think to help Johan Santana in the rotation with another ace.  Yes, Bay will be a fine addition to a dangerous Mets lineup, but was it the best acquisition the team could have made?  Time will tell, but I’m doubtful. 

Unnecessary New York drama
During the postseason, Mets’ centerfielder Carlos Beltran had knee surgery.  Allegedly, he didn’t have permission from the team to do so and the New York press ran with the story.  More recently, the Mets have said there are problems with shortstop Jose Reyes’ thyroid, but the speedy leadoff man says that’s not the case.  There seems to be a major communication issues in the Mets organization and to the casual fan who’s No. 1 team isn’t the Mets, it’s great forehead-slapping entertainment.  The Mets franchise is like a junior high phy-ed class where the jocks are counting on the nerds to come through in the shuffleboard tournament – complete lack of communication followed by unnecessary drama.  At least that’s what the New York media leads us to believe.  For all the fans know, they could be the most normal team in the National League, unfortunately every whisper is written about as if it were a roar. 

So why does this keep me entertained?  I despise reality TV, but I find myself amused by an organization that seems as organized as the DVD section at Wal-Mart.  I don’t even read the articles about the drama; I just check out the headline, scratch my head, smile and move on to real baseball news.  The New York Mets are just the poorly educated, yet wealthy, drama queen of the big leagues.  They just don’t know any better, so when they do succeed, I feel good about them. 

Jose Reyes
In a recent column by Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski, Reyes was ranked as having three of the 11 most exciting seasons in the last 25 years.  Posnanski had a formula based on “exciting” plays like the triple, batting average and “exciting” defensive plays.  The man is exciting.  If he can stay healthy*, Reyes could accumulate 20 triples in the spacious Citi Field.  Although a bit cocky, he is a lightening bolt on the field.  Taking a lead off first base, there’s probably more eyes on Reyes than the pitcher or batter.  A line drive to an outfield gap adds to the excitement of the crowd as third base is a real possibility. 

* While writing I checked the headlines to find this: “Reyes Prescribed to Rest Thyroid, Out 2-8 weeks.” 

Baseball in general is better when Jose Reyes is healthy.

 

Johan Santana
Arguably the greatest pitcher to ever wear a Twins uniform, I still have to root for Santana even after leaving Minnesota.  I shouldn’t root for the lefty as he turned down a $80 million, four-year contract, opting to play for the big-market club.  The Twins also didn’t get much in return from the trade, but that’s not Santana’s fault.  But the memories with the Twins are too clear and, when healthy, he’s still as dominant as ever.  What the two-time Cy Young winner did in the second half of the 2004 season is mind blowing: 13-0, 1.21 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 104.1 IP, 129 SO.  He was robbed of another Cy Young award in 2005 thanks to poor run support, which could also be argued for his 2008 season with the Mets: 16-7, 2.53 ERA, 234 IP.  He’s one of the best pitchers in the game and I’m looking forward to his battles with Roy Halliday of the Phillies this season. 

If I had to choose one pitcher to win one game, it would be Johan Santana.

 

They’re not the Yankees
Most Mets fans are not Yankees fans, therefore, if you’re rooting for the Mets, you’re rooting against the Yankees.  Enough said. 

1986
It was, perhaps, the greatest World Series game outside of 1991.  Game 6 of the 1986 World Series was filled with drama – the good kind of drama.  Game 6 was Exhibit 1 pointing towards the curse of the Bambino and the fact that the Mets were one of the greatest teams in the history of the game.  The Red Sox are one out (one little out!) away from their first World Series championship since 1918.  They had a two-run lead with no one on base and the Mets stormed back thanks to timely hitting and poor mistakes by the entire Boston team to win that game and the final game to take the trophy.  The story of this team is perfectly encompassed in Jeff Pearlman’s The Bad Guys Won!.  

With a team of Daryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Gary Carter, Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell, Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda, Roger McDowell, Rick Aguilera and manager Davey Johnson, it makes sense the ’86 Mets won 108 regular season games.  What doesn’t make sense is that 1986 was their only World Series appearance.  They lost the 1988 championship series and weren’t in the playoffs again until 1999 when an entirely new team took the field.  How does this happen?  The short answer is drugs, alcohol, poor trades and a possible lack of effort from stars like Strawberry.  

They were two of the most talented players in the game, but they couldn't handle the pressure.

 

But it’s not as if they played poorly.  Over seven season from 1984 through 1990 the Mets won (are you ready for this?) 666 regular season games.  That averages to 95 wins a season.  They won their division twice and finished second every other.  This is good baseball drama.  As September rolls around and the fans’ attention turns to the standings with more concentration, the Mets tend to find themselves much like Apollo Creed in his rematch against Rocky Balboa: plenty of hype, but lost by a second in the 15th round. 

There’s also the 2006, 2007, and 2008 seasons.  In 2006, the Mets lost the final game of the championship series to the underdog Cardinals.  The next two seasons contained two September collapses to lose their grip on, what looked to be, a sure playoff spot.    

1969
As much more of a baseball fan than a science fan, I’d have to say the Mets’ 1969 World Series title is more of a miracle than Neil Armstrong walking on the moon that same summer.  After finishing ninth in 1968, the Mets somehow turned things around and won 100 regular season games in 1969, defeated the Braves in the first ever National League Championship Series and then the highly favored Orioles (109 regular season wins) in the World Series.  The best New York had done since it’s inception in 1962 was its 73 wins in 1968.  

The 1969 Mets celebrate their World Series championship - pure baseball bliss.

 

The 1969 Mets were the definition of underdog.  After six-straight losing seasons – and not just slightly under .500 – the Mets came out of nowhere to win 100.  The modern day equivalent might be the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays who enjoyed their first winning season since their inception in 1998, to win the AL pennant.  There’s also the 2006 Tigers who won the AL pennant after 12 consecutive losing seasons.  To put it in 2010 terms, imagine the Kansas City Royals winning 100 games and the World Series.  How do you not root for that team? 

1962
The 1962 Mets were, quite possibly, the worst big league team in the history of the game.  They finished the season 40-120.  Their best pitcher, Roger Craig, won 10 games, but lost 24.  They ranked first in the league with 210 errors.  But the Mets of the sixties weren’t about wins (luckily), they were about baseball and the fun it can be when fans can feel a connection to their team.  The Dodgers and Giants had hopped town following the 1957 season, leaving many New York baseball fans with an empty feeling that they refused to fill with the Yankees.  When the Mets came around, it didn’t matter they weren’t as dominant as the Giants and Dodgers, but they were the fans’ team and it showed in the attendance figures.  In 1962, despite their record, the Mets drew 922, 530 fans to the dilapidated Polo Grounds.  As the team got slightly better in 1963 (51-111), attendance grew to 1,080,108.  In 1964, New York’s first miracle happened.  Not only did they draw 1,732,597  to the newly build Shea Stadium, but more fans saw the Mets than the pennant winning Yankees despite the Mets’ 53-109 record.  

The worst team in baseball history, but possibly the most adored as well.

 

For the rest of the decade, despite winning less games (with exception to 1969), the Mets easily outdrew the Yankees in attendance every season.  From 1962 through 1969 the Yankees won 681 games to the Mets’ 494.  In that same time, 12,958,839 fans came out to see the Mets while 9,959,508 went to Yankee Stadium.  

Those are real baseball fans.  

Family
I shouldn’t like the Mets.  They’re a big-market team with a lot of overpaid players and a front office as competent as the Bush administration.  Should the Mets start winning like the Yankees, my opinion might shift, but that doesn’t seem to be their style.  My bloodline is also connected to New York. 

My dad and his mom grew up Brooklyn Dodgers fans.  When the team moved away, as the intelligent human beings that they are, they didn’t switch their allegiance to the Yankees.  My dad followed the Los Angeles Dodgers for a time, and then later the New York Mets.  From the stories I’ve heard, my grandmother was very excited in 1969. 

My dad’s brother, my uncle, has been a Mets fan since ’62 and I’m pretty sure he’s rooting for the Twins as long as they’re not playing the Mets.  It’s family: I have to return the favor.

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Continuing the list of baseball’s greatest plays …  

Triple
Forget the home run leader of the league.  The home run has become overrated in the last decade.  Let’s see Miguel Cabrera turn his double into a triple.  A home run is over before you know it.  The entire field is moving during a triple.  The triple is the longest play in baseball and from the moment the bat connects to the runner sliding into third, it’s filled with excitement and the questions that run through the fans’ minds are endless.   

Is he fast enough to get to third?  Will he go on his own will or take the advice of the third-base coach?  Is the ball deep enough?  How good is the outfielder’s arm?  How good is the cut-off man’s arm?  Why wasn’t he running hard the first 45 feet to first base?  Will that hinder his chances?  Will the throw be accurate?  Will he slide head first or feet first?    

Even more rare than the triple is the stand-up triple.  In other words, there’s almost always suspense with the triple.  I was happy to see the spacious outfield of the Mets’ Citi Field.  The first thing many think is the lack of home runs it will produce.  The first thing I think of is the increased number of triples.  My kudos also go to the architects behind Comerica Park in Detroit.   

The slower the runner, the more exciting the triple and they don't get much slower than Mike Redmond.

 

Favorite triple: August 30, 2009.  There was a pretty good chance it would be my last game at the Metrodome.  There was an even better chance I would not see backup catcher Mike Redmond get a triple.  Both would prove to be wrong.  Redmond had been in the big leagues since 1998 and up until the fourth inning that summer day, he had two career triples.  His line drive went into the left-center field gap.  As the outfielder threw the ball in I could see Redmond rounding second and I could only smile while thinking, Oh no.  If he would have been thrown out at third, it would have been worth it to see his effort.  I had seats in the lower deck just beyond third base, so my vantage point was perfect.  I think the Twins’ backup catcher set the major league record for slowest time from second to third base.  If the throw hadn’t been off to third baseman Michael Young, he would have been out.  Redmond slid head first into third base, pointed to his ecstatic teammates in the third-base dugout and screamed, “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”  Me too, Mike, me too.   

Inside-the-park home run
It’s the only thing more exciting and lasting longer than the triple, but it’s as rare as a day without politicians fighting.  It’s as rare as a Curt Flood error.  According to baseball-reference.com, of the 5,042 home runs hit in the big leagues in 2009, nine of those were inside-the-park home runs.   Not only does it take blinding speed by the runner, but it almost always takes a mistake, and not an official error, by an outfielder.  

Before managing the Rangers, Ron Washington played for the Twins.

 

Favorite inside-the-park home run:  Not only is it my favorite I’ve personally seen, it’s the only one.  Since it happened in 1986, I had doubts my memory was correct.  Thanks to baseball-reference.com, I was able to clarify that I was correct.  Most know of Ron Washington as the manager for the Texas Rangers.  I still see him wearing that very-eighties Twins’ uniform with a huge afro sticking out the sides of his helmet.  I can remember the chaos in the stands as Washington rounded third base.  I remember my dad telling me, “That was an inside-the-park home run!”  At the age of eight I thought, “Inside the park?  This isn’t a park.”  Even at eight years old I knew the Metrodome was a dump.  

3-2-3 double play (first base – home – first)
The bases are loaded with only one out and things aren’t looking good for your team.  But wait!  There’s a sharp single to the first baseman who throws it home for the force out (and the guarantee no one will score on that play) and the catcher throws back to the first baseman to complete the double play.  It’s a very rare play as the bases need to be loaded for it to happen and it takes both quick fielders and slow base runners.  You know that predictable scene in every bad action flick when the coward finally gets some courage and shoots the bad guy in the back moments before he’s about to kill off the main character?  It’s the moment when it looks like everything’s going to go bad for the good guys but then turns around at the last second.  That’s the 3-2-3 double play.       

Favorite 3-2-3 double play: I’ll admit, I can’t think of a lot of examples, but the reason I put this on the list is because the 3-2-3 double play is responsible for one of the five most exciting plays I’ve ever witnessed.  At the age of 13 on October 27, 1991, because of stress, I’m pretty sure I lost one year of my life solely based on the top of the eighth inning of the seventh game of the World Series.  With runners on second and third with no out, Jack Morris was able to get a weak groundout to Kent Hrbek at first base without any runners advancing.  Manager Tom Kelly came to the mound to ask Morris if they should intentionally walk David Justice to face Sid Bream.  Morris was worried his manager wanted to take him out.  Morris later said in a documentary on the series, “I just stood there like, I’m going to kill you if you take me out.”  They put Justice on first to bring up one of the slowest men in the game, Bream.  Bream hit a sharp grounder to Hrbek who threw to Harper to get Lonnie Smith going home.  Harper returned the throw to Hrbek to get Bream.  Televsion announced Jack Buck summed up the excitement of the play well.  “The play is to home … out there! … out there!”   

Hitter intentionally beaned
A great deal of hypocrisy needs to be delivered from my keyboard for this play as I consider myself a left-wing liberal who does not believe in violence to solves issues.  At the same time, I can’t help but get excited when a batter is beaned.  Brushbacks and beanings can be a great way to police the action without the help of rules or umpires if the two teams can handle the situation in a mature and calm manner, but this is rarely the case.  Tempers flare, dugouts and bullpens empty and the possibility of a brawl is real.  Brawls are rarely good, but some tense words and threats are great entertainment.   

A pitcher who is not afraid to intimidate a batter by pitching inside is a beautiful thing.  A fastball fanning the air before a batter’s chest says, This is my plate and my game.  Don’t get comfortable.  The rare batter will not be intimidated by a 94-mph heater swishing by his knuckles, but most will hold onto that fear during the rest of the at bat.  When a player is hit, and it’s obviously done with a purpose, it can turn a quiet baseball game at the park into a debate contest with the threat of 34-ounce bats, baseballs, helmets and fists as the sharp counterpoints as managers strategize like war generals: deciding who and when to strike back.  A beaning could create a new rivalry for years to come or it can just tell the other team, Now we’re even: let’s play ball.   

Torii Hunter believed in instant retaliation for his beaning.

 

Favorite beaning: Torii Hunter, Twins fans miss you and will never forget you.  Even if you never robbed a home run or knocked in one run for us, you did what every batter wants to do after being beaned, but held back from: you picked up the ball and beaned the pitcher right back.  Minnesota was in an always-tense game on the south side of Chicago when Hunter lost his temper after getting hit with a pitch and returned the favor to the White Sox hurler.  Hunter later apologized for his outbreak, but that didn’t stop fellow major leaguers from congratulating him for doing what they all wished they had the guts to do.   


Play at the plate
Much like the triple, a hundred questions run through fans’ minds when a player is running those last 90 feet from third to home base.  The throw from a fielder and the runner are on a collision course and rarely does the fan have a good enough vantage point to decipher if the runner is safe or out.  We collectively hold our breath as the runner hits the dirt while the catcher fields the throw and turns to the runner.  A cloud of dirt and dust obscure the action and all the fan can do is turn to the ump watching it all happen a few steps away and hope he spreads his arms apart instead of driving on arm down toward the runner like he has a hammer and the runner is the nail.  Fans will boo if the call doesn’t got their way, but it’s only out of disappointment.  At our position we can only take the ump’s word for it.   

Favorite play at the plate: Game 3 of the 1991 World Series in Atlanta.  In the bottom of the fifth inning with no out and Lonnie Smith at second base, Terry Pendleton launched a double off the center field wall.  Smith, thinking Kirby Puckett was going to catch it, tagged up at second.  The ball was over Puckett’s head (which didn’t happen often) and Smith hit the turbo button determined to score.  Charging around third, Twins catcher Brian Harper kneeled in his way.  Harper picked up the short-hop throw and turned to see a face full of Smith.  It was a clean hit, knocking Harper on his back, but the ball never moved from his glove – out No. 1.   

Moments later Harper dived to tag out Pendleton after a wild pitch – out No. 2.  Two spectacular plays at the plate in a tied World Series game – it doesn’t get any better.  

This wasn't the only baserunning mistake Lonnie Smith made during the 1991 World Series.

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Not considering the teams that are playing or the level it’s played at, I have compiled a list of the greatest plays in a game of baseball.  These plays could be done at the major league level or high school: either way, they don’t get much more exciting than this.  Of course, every play is more exciting if the game is close and the result favors your team.  With that in mind, we’ll consider every one of these plays benefit your team in a close game.  

These are also the reasons to never leave a ballpark early.  Sure, the game may be out of hand, but there’s always the chance of, not only a miracle comeback, but for your centerfielder to rob a home run or the opposing manager to get tossed for arguing balls and strikes.  I can remember a Twins game in 1996 against the Yankees.  The Yankees had the game in hand around the eighth inning and bench coach Don Zimmer came out to argue a call.  As the argument got more and more heated, my friend and I called out to the baseball great from a few rows back (most fans had left as the Twins weren’t going to win and it was the second game of a doubleheader), “Only the Yankees would complain with an 8-2 lead!!!”  Zimmer was eventually thrown from the game, causing the remaining 10,000 or so fans to erupt, not excluding my friend and I.  That’s why you should never leave early.  Here are some more reasons.  


Suicide squeeze
Baseball fans are much more likely to see the suicide squeeze at the high school level than by professionals.  The word “suicide” fits it so well because that is what happens to the base runner should the play not work.  The moment the pitcher makes his move to home, the runner on third breaks for home.  It’s the batter’s job to lay down a bunt so by the time the ball is fielded, the runner should have already scored or close to it.  What if the batter misses the pitch?  The runner is caught between home and third with the ball in the catcher’s hand: he’s dead.  If the defensive manager thinks the squeeze is coming he can call for a pitchout.  There’s so much danger that goes into the play and it happens so fast.  It’s like a fast break from half court.  If you’re talking to your friend and not paying attention, you’ll miss it and when the crowd erupts and you look back to see an assortment of uniforms clustered around home plate, all you’ll think is, What happened?  The suicide squeeze is not for the casual fan.  The casual fan tends to blink with a runner on third with less than two outs.  

With little to lose, Cristian Guzman pulled off a suicide squeeze with two outs against the mighty Yankees.

 

Favorite suicide squeeze: The squeeze is usually meant to surprise the opposing manager.  It surprises them even more if it’s done with two outs.  It’s August 21, 1999 and the World Series champs of the previous year and the coming October are in Minnesota.  I’d love to ask Tom Kelly if Cristian Guzman’s squeeze play to score Ron Coomer with two outs was actually planned by him, especially considering there was no score in the second inning with Roger Clemens on the mound.  Kelly must have seen a weakness the Yankees’ defense to pull off such a gutsy play.  My friend Teresa and I were a good 500 feet from home plate in the left field upper deck.  We were in conversation when it happened; my eyes were on the game, her’s were not.  “Squeeze!” I screamed as soon as I saw Coomer break for home and Guzman square to bunt to interrupt my friend’s thought on some drama in our lives.  In 1999, Guzman was one of the fastest players in the game, if not the fastest.  His bunt went past Clemens and between the first and second baseman.  Guzman was safe, Coomer scored and the next batter, Corey Koskie, would double home Guzman and another runner to help propel the underdogs to a 6-1 victory.  Although a casual fan, Teresa will never forget what a suicide squeeze play is after the giggles that followed my eruption.   

 
Steal of home
The steal of home is a lost art.  Sure, now and then a player sees an opportunity and goes for it, but there’s no one player who has mastered it.  The most recent player to have stolen home at least 10 times is Paul Molitor with exactly that – 10.  Hall of famer Rod Carew stole home 17 times in his career.   The all-time record is held by Ty Cobb with 54.  The next best is Pittsburgh’s Max Carey with 33.  Cobb also holds the single-season record with eight in 1912.  As long as we’re talking about the great (yet nasty) Cobb, he also holds the record for the most times stealing three consecutive bases with four times.  Honus Wagner did it three times.  Knowing the greatness of Cobb, he probably realized getting a single and then stealing second, third and home is much more insulting to the opposing team than one of those easy home runs where all the batter has to do it hit the ball really hard in the air.  Let’s see the fat *&%# Ruth do this!  The steal of home is such a gutsy, daring move, as a fan, I wouldn’t be too upset if the home team attempted it and failed: it’s that exciting.  

It's no wonder Ty Cobb has the all-time record for steals of home; catchers were afraid this might happen to them.

 

Favorite steal of home: I’ve never seen one in person, but can only imagine the excitement.  I’ll be casually watching a game at Target Field and hoping Justin Morneau can hit something in the outfield for a sacrifice fly.  I keep my eyes on the field, quickly look to the scoreboard for the count before the pitch and in that quarter of a second Denard Span breaks for home while the lefty on the mound pays no attention.  “Span’s goin’!”  It’ll be a curveball low and away from third base and A.J. Pierzynski won’t get his glove back in time to tag Span’s right hand as it swipes the corner of home plate.  

I do have to commend Philadelphia’s Jason Werth.  In a game last season (2009) he made a big step towards Cobb’s record when he stole second, third and home consecutively.  His steal of home was the less conventional way.  As Dodgers catcher Russell Martin lolligagged a throw back to the pitcher, Werth took off for home.  The pitcher threw it right back to Martin, but not before Werth could slide under a late tag for the steal of home. 
 

Strike three looking
Strikeout are always fun, but they’re even more exciting when the opposing batter either disagrees with the umpire or your pitcher fooled him so bad he wasn’t even able to get the bat off his shoulder.  A strike three looking is when the cocky jock next to you in class gets his research paper back and it’s a D while you aced it.  It doesn’t matter what he thinks of the paper, but it does matter what the teacher thinks.  The other comparison could be that same cocky student not filling in an answer on the math test because it’s all just too difficult.  Why try when you know you’re only going to fail?  A strikeout will kill any rally, but a strikeout looking will also kill the morale of the opposing team.  It’s failure without an attempt. 

With the Braves threatening, Jack Morris painted the outside corner with a fastball to freeze Ron Gant in Game 7 of 1991.

 

Favorite strike three looking: If it happened in the 1991 World Series (and a lot did), it’s going to be my favorite moment.  With runners on first and third in the fifth inning and two outs, Jack Morris had a challenge on his hands with Ron Gant at the plate.  With a full count, Morris stuck a fastball on the outside black edge of the plate.  Gant didn’t move, but the home plate umpire did as he rang up the Braves’ outfielder.  Gant just looked back in disbelief while Morris pumped his fist and Twins fans did their best to crack the Metrodome roof.  


Ejection
Even when the home team is down 10 runs, it can be worth the price of admission when an opposing player or manager loses his cool and is tossed from the game.  A called strike three is made and the batter turns to the umpire with a few choice words.  The crowd gives the batter a few choice words of their own, but then the manager joins the scuffle.  Now things are getting interesting.  What once began as a simple argument has turned into a shouting match between the umpire, batter, manager and the thousands in the stands.  The excitement builds as the tempers flair and the crowd is waiting for the umpire to make that magic gesture that says, “You’re out of here!”  The gesture can be more exciting than a home run, especially if the home crowd hasn’t had much to cheer about.  

During the close games, someone being tossed can be the momentum switch that wins or loses the game.  During the blowouts, an opposing player being tossed from the game is that one cameo appearance in an otherwise poor film … it almost makes it worth it.  

Favorite ejection(s): The Saint Paul Saints have the luxury of knowing the highlights of their games won’t be on national television.  Sometimes, the team is lucky to get on the local channel for 30 seconds.  What the argument was about, I don’t remember anymore and it doesn’t matter because after 15 minutes of arguments and ejections, I don’t think the Saints knew what they were arguing about anymore.  The manager, third-base coach and a number of players were ejected.  Once in the dugout, the third-base coach tossed as much equipment as he could get his hands on into the field.  The pitcher, who watched all of this happen on the mound with his hands on his hips, turned to one of the umpires and said something that shouldn’t have been said and was ejected.  In retaliation, the hurler chucked the ball over the left-field fence toward the railroad tracks.  The arguments and ejections lasted so long, the crowd eventually tired of it and began to boo the home manager – there was baseball to be played.
 

Robbing a home run / extra-base hit
Your heart drops with the game tied late in the game and the opposing batter just crushed a hanging curve high and deep to center field.  You hope it stays in the park, but there’s little chance.  As it nears the wall, you realize it’s going to be over the fence for a home run.  It’s over.  Then the centerfielder comes out of nowhere (or center field), jumps over the fence to make the catch to prevent the home run.  It’s like a call from the governor moments before your execution – you’re off the hook. 

There’s usually two rounds of applause: one for the catch and the second after the replay is shown.  The second round is normally louder as the first is usually more out of shock and the second is when the catch is truly appreciated.  

Favorite home run / extra-base hit rob:  I’ve been blessed in this category being a Twins fan watching both Kirby Puckett and Torii Hunter roam center field.  Who was better at patrolling center field will always be a great debate among Twins fans.  I’d have to give Puckett the slight edge based on one play: October 26, 1991.  With the Twins leading 2-0 in the top of the third and Terry Pendleton on first base, Ron Gant launched a screamer to the wall in left-center field.  With Pendleton racing around second base ready to score easily on either a home run or double, Puckett and left fielder Dan Gladden neared the wall.  Gladden called, “Feel for it!  Feel for it!” meaning to feel for the wall.  Puckett did feel for it … with his ass as his body slammed into the wall high enough to slam a basketball after catching Gant’s drive at the peak of his jump.  Puckett, in his excitement, tried to throw out Pendleton going back to first base without a cut-off man.  Pendleton made it back to first, barely, but Puckett stopped the Braves’ potential rally cold. 

Puckett's catch in Game 6 is one of the greatest defensive plays in World Series history.

 

My dad and I were sitting in the upper deck of left-center field during the entire series.  We had perfect seats to watch Puckett’s catch.  We had perfect seats if we would have been in them at the time.  We watched the greatest defensive play in Minnesota Twins history on the Metrodome concourse televisions as we got our Coke and nachos.  Like the description above, I remember feeling dread throughout my 13-year old body and then relief when Puckett made the catch.  I’d been watching No. 34 make catches like that for years on the news, but never saw one in person.  Close enough.

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