May 16, 2001, Metrodome, Twins vs. Red Sox
If you’ve never seen a knuckleball coming at you, there are two ways to envision it. One is to watch the movie 61*. In the film about Roger Maris’s chase to beat Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, Maris faces knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm. Director Billy Crystal portrays the pitch from the batter’s perspective as it floats through the air without any spin.
The other way is to imagine a wiffle ball coming at you.
This is what the Twins had to face the day Trevor and I saw them face Boston’s Tim Wakefield. Trevor told me as the game began, it usually takes teams a trip or two through the lineup to get their timing down to get some wood on the magical pitch. He was right.
After Wakefield left after giving up three runs in the fifth, the game was tied in the bottom of the eighth. The Twins’ Brian Buchanan stepped to the plate. There was plenty of anticipation for something to happen as we sat ten rows up in left field.
There is a great excitement when a fan sees his/her team belt a home run, but the excitement is very different when the ball is coming at you. Buchanan’s homer landed about three rows above us. If I’d had a glove, I might have been able to make a Torii Hunter-esque jump to snare it. I was just happy the Twins took the lead and eventually won.
Trevor was happy as well, but was also upset I didn’t go for the ball.
“What are you doing? You gotta go after those!”
“It was out of my reach,” I said, trying to contain my laughter from Trevor’s humor-filled freak out.
“If I’d been in your seat, I would’ve had that,” Trevor said.
“Whatever; you would not.”
“I’m disappointed in you, Jeff.”
I never lived that down in Trevor’s mind. Whenever that game was mentioned, I talked about Buchanan’s big home run. Trevor talked about my lack of ambition.
August 21, 1999, Metrodome, Twins vs. Yankees
Before getting to the game, I didn’t realize the draw the Yankees would have. I saw them as just another team, so I thought my friend Teresa and I would have little trouble getting good seats. The lower level was sold out, so we had to sit in the upper deck of left field – miles from the action.
Roger Clemens was on the mound that night. It was 1999, so the Twins were still in the doldrums. Looking back, the Yankees seem to have trouble with the “easy” games. They always had trouble with the Devil Rays, the perennial doormat of the AL.
The Twins surprised everyone and beat Clemens and the Yankees. The reason this game is in my top 30 is for one play that was so incredibly risky, yet pulled off to perfection, that it made the game one of the greats.
Clemens was still pitching, there were two out with Ron Coomer on third and Cristian Guzman was batting for the Twins. Teresa and I were in mid conversation when I saw it. “SQUEEZE!” I yelled and pointed to the field. I think I scared Teresa since I was in mid sentence — but I always keep an eye on the field. Another great thing about the game is it’s a social sport. A fan can have two great nights — one involving the game and the other the company.
Back to the game. Tom Kelly, the Twins manager, called a squeeze play! Against Roger Clemens! With two outs!!! For those who aren’t familiar with the squeeze play, the batter bunts while the runner takes off for home. If the batter misses the bunt, the runner on third is likely to be thrown out. If the batter does get the bunt, the runner usually scores, but the batter is thrown out as a sacrifice.
This means that the usual sacrifice can’t happen since there are two outs. If Guzman is thrown out, the inning is over and no runs score.
Guzman beat the throw and the run scored.
After the play, Teresa giggled for the rest of the night thinking of my random baseball freak out. The joke about the “Squeeze!” still lives on today.
August 2006, Midway Stadium, St. Paul, Saints vs. St. Joseph, MO
St. Paul lost by two runs. That’s not too important. What is in this game is the most exuberant, entertaining and drawn out ejections I have ever seen.
Kate and I were enjoying our fourth or fifth Saints game of the year in the top of the eighth and St. Joseph is threatening to score with runners on second and third, two outs and a 3-2 count on the hitter.
The Saints’ pitch is close as the batter checks his swing. The ump called a ball, loading the bases. Saints from all corners of the field and dugout begin to argue the batter swung and it should be strike three, end of inning.
First, it’s the St. Paul shortstop to get thrown out and leaves the game in disgust. The the manager gets in the face of the home-plate umpire and gets tossed, but he doesn’t leave the field. As he’s yelling, the Saints’ first baseman, former Twin Brian Buchanan, chimes in. Buchanan is tossed after about three words and he leaves for the dugout, screaming back in frustration as he walks away.
This entire time the pitcher stood with his back turned to the arguments with his wrists resting on his hips, one hand with his glove and the other holding the ball. After Buchanan was gone, the pitcher turns to the ump, who’s arguing with the manager and probably said something in reference to his mother, and was tossed. In retaliation to show the umps how well they were doing, the pitcher winds up and tosses the ball over the left-field fence on to the railroad tracks, a good 250 feet away. It was a toss that would have impressed Roberto Clemente.
After the pitcher got to the dugout, he found a bucket of balls and tossed it onto the field along with another empty bucket.
It seemed as if the arguing was done, but the already ejected manager was still on the field, arguing with one ump while two others held him back. Every now and then, one of the ones holding the manger would offend him and the umps would have to rotate so the two least offensive could hold him back while he screamed at the newly offensive ump. At this point, they were arguing about more than just a checked swing.
This went on for 15 to 20 minutes before the crowd got impatient with the home team and began to boo. After play resumed, St. Joseph went on a two-run rally and won 6-4.
Kate and I beat each other with rally flags as we walked back to the car.
April 26, 2006, Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Cardinals vs. Pirates
Many say St. Louis is America’s best baseball town and I can’t argue. I’d gone to the game the night before and I think I was one of ten in the capacity crowd not wearing Cardinal red.
I donned red for the Wednesday afternoon game.
The park was barely three weeks old, so I wasn’t the only one looking around in awe and snapping pictures. Mark Mulder was on the mound for the Redbirds and sophomore Zach Duke was pitching for the Pirates. After my trip to PNC Park the previous year, I’d become a bit of a Pirates fan.
Batting third for the Cards was Albert Pujols, one of the most talented playeres in the game. He is quickly becoming a Barry Bonds like player, without the nasty attitude, large ego and steroids. Pujols was walked intentionally twice that Wednesday afternoon. They should have walked him three times.
With the Cardinals winning 3-2 with two outs in the top of the ninth, I started to get sad. I’d really enjoyed my time in St. Louis and especially at the ballgames. I wasn’t ready to leave. Jose Hernandez made my day while angering the rest of the park when he launched a solo homer over the left-field fence to tie the game at three. More baseball!
In the bottom of the ninth, with one out, future World Series MVP David Eckstein singled for St. Louis. Hector Luna did the same sending Eckstein to second. Up stepped Albert Pujols. He is St. Louis’ hero. Pujols jerseys blanketed the park. There was as much excitement flowing through the park as there was fear through Pittsburgh’s closer Roberto Hernandez.
With a flick of his bat,, Pujols send a hit down the third-base line past a diving Joe Randa. Eckstein rounded third and scored the winning run. A crowd of teammates gathered around Pujols, smacking his helmet in thanks as if to say, We couldn’t have done it without you.
The great thing about this game is 25 years from now when Pujols is in the hall of fame, I’ll be able to say I saw the great Pujols the same way old men today talk of Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente or Sandy Koufax.
August 30, 2009, Metrodome, Twins vs. Rangers
It was supposed to be my last game at the Metrodome and I was happy to see it go. Thanks to one of the hottest September’s in Twins history, I managed one more game (No. 163 of the season, to be exact) at the football stadium, but didn’t see that coming at the time.
The decision was last-minute, which usually work out well. A Sunday afternoon game, I got a good seat just past third base, bought a scorecard and sat down to see what Kevin Millwood and Scott Baker could do. There were no memories of the friend I came with or the significance; it was just a great game. Of course, if the Twins had lost, there wouldn’t have been a game 163, but no one knew that at the time.
The highlight of the game may have been a play that had nothing to do with the outcome of the game with exception to a possible momentum shift for the Twins. With two outs and no one on in the fourth inning, backup catcher Mike Redmond stepped to the plate for Minnesota. Redmond had been in the big leagues since 1998 and up until then, 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. From my seat the vantage point was perfect. I think Redmond 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!”
Justin Morneau began that inning with a double and Jason Kubel belted a home run that barely cleared the right field baggie giving the Twins a 2-1 lead. The Rangers’ Nelson Cruz launched a two-run homer of his own in the seventh staking Texas to a 3-2 lead. The three runs the Twins put together in the eighth doesn’t get much better to a pure baseball fan.
Morneau led off with a walk followed by a single by Kubel. With one out, Brendan Harris singled past Young at third base, sending Morneau home to tie the game. Redmond stepped to the plate and hit a hard two-hopper to first base. Carlos Gomez was pinch running on third and came charging home. This is what is to love and hate about Gomez. He can be too aggressive. The man stole many extra bases for the Twins, but he was also thrown out by ten feet more often than he should have. My heart cringed when he took off for home as I thought he’d be out for sure. Safe!!! Twins lead!!! The throw was high and Gomez’s head-first slide went under the tag.
With Harris now on third and Nick Punto at the plate, the first pitch came in. Bunt! Squeeze!! Everyone’s safe!!! It wasn’t a suicide squeeze, but a safety squeeze and it worked to perfection as the Twins added an insurance run and were able to pull off the 5-3 despite a shaky ninth inning from Joe Nathan.
As I left the football stadium I could only smile knowing my last memory at the dome would be a good one.