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Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Knoblauch’

Note to Triple In the Gap readers: I have joined the Peace Corps and have been living in Thailand since January and will be here until around opening day, 2013.

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Rogers Hornsby

Living without baseball hasn’t been as difficult as I thought.  The number one question I was asked from friends and family before I left was, “What are you going to do without baseball?”  This made me wonder if people thought I was so shallow that all I thought about was baseball.  No, I also enjoy good literature and films like Shoeless Joe and The Natural.

Like all the other luxuries I enjoyed in the states (peanut butter, toilet paper, comfortable weather, libraries with English books) I don’t miss what I don’t have.  If I was in the states and was barred from going to baseball games, then I’d miss it.  But there’s no one here asking me if I saw the play that Denard Span made last night or what a great time they had at the Saints game, so I’m apathetic.

Honestly, I am!

“If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base.” – Dave Barry

However, I am getting small fixes now and then through the games I have saved on my computer and the computer game Baseball Mogul (I’m currently playing a full season as the Billy Martin-led Twins of 1969.)  As for reading the news on the internet, I’m pretty satisfied simply checking the Twins box score and then the standings to see what team’s been hot lately (as of today, the Twins!).

Now that the season’s in full swing, I keep getting the comment, “It’s a good thing you’re not here with how bad the Twins are.”  I strongly disagree.  No, I don’t want to go back just to see a Twins game, but I have honestly missed bad Twins teams over the last decade.  We Twins fans have been spoiled.  We are not Yankees fans – we do not need to go to the World Series to be satisfied with our team.  We take what we get and I think the last decade has spoiled us  to the point where they’re a little more like Yankees fans, but still light years away from their egotism.

“This is a game to be savored, not gulped.  There’s time to discuss everything between pitches or between innings.” – Bill Veeck

Last season was frustrating for me.  For my entire life I could always count on going to the Metrodome by myself or a friend on game day and finding a seat to watch the greatest major league baseball organization in the history of Planet Earth.  Last year, the fair-weather fans flocked to the brand new Target Field like it was a 1994 Garth Brooks concert.  Twice I showed up by myself hoping to squeeze in somewhere – no go.  Meanwhile, there were 40,000 people inside about to see the game and 5,000 of them would leave early because their short-attention spanned kids consumed too much cotton candy and Mountain Dew and wouldn’t stop crying for two innings while witnessing one pitch through six innings … the first one.

“I believe in the Church of Baseball.  I tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones.  I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan.  I know things.  For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball.  When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance.” – from Bull Durham

I’ve watched some of the best baseball of my life when the Twins were “bad” (https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/06/06/best-of-the-best-greatest-games-attended-6-10/).This year, 2011, the novelty of Target Field has worn off and the Twins are horrible with their number one draw, Joe Mauer, on the bench with owwy legs.  I think I’d be able to get a seat on game day now.  I don’t care if the team’s bad.  One of my favorite Twins teams was from 1996 with Paul Molitor and Chuck Knoblauch leading off the lineup with matching .341 batting averages (Molitor’s was slightly higher) and a pitching staff that couldn’t strike out Babe Ruth (present day).

If there’s something I miss most about baseball at this point, it’s that everyone at the games speak English.  I miss it, but in the same way I miss my friends, family and book stores – it’s what I signed up for and I was prepared for that sacrifice.

As for the 2011 Twins, I don’t care how bad the team is, I just want to be able to see them without having to buy a ticket four months in advance.

“The other sports are just sports.  Baseball is a love.”  – Bryant Gumbel

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In terms of baseball, the 1991 World Series was the best ever played.  Critics can turn to others and make a case based on TV viewership, large-market teams or national security, but when it comes down to the best possible baseball being played, 1991 runs away from the pack.

The main story behind that World Series was both teams, the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves, were in last place in 1990.  No team had ever come from last place to the World Series in one season and in 1991 two teams did it.  Most people love an underdog and 1991 had two of them.

Many point to 2001 as the greatest ever with 9/11 less than two months old and the New York Yankees at center stage.  It’s true, it was a great World Series and one of the best.  There were four games decided by one run, three in the final at bat and two that needed extra innings.  Most of the nation, for once, was rooting for New York.

In 1975 the Boston Red Sox looked as though they might end their championship drought against the Big Red Machine, Cincinnati Reds.  This series contained five one-run games and two decided in the final at bat.  Games 1, 3 and 7 contained comeback wins for the Reds while Game 6 remains one of the greatest World Series games ever with Bernie Carbo and Carlton Fisk carrying Boston to victory and keeping hope alive.  The vastly talented Reds, however, won an exciting seventh game to win it all. 

In 1955 the Brooklyn Dodgers final beat the Yankees for their first and only title.  The underdog Cardinals and Pete Alexander defeated the Yankees in 1926.  The “bad guys” New York Mets won a thrilling sixth game at Shea Stadium to propel them to the 1986 championship.  The Red Sox and New York Giants needed eight games (one ended in a tie) in 1912 to decide it all with the Red Sox winning one of the greatest final World Series games of all time (it’s certainly the best Game 8 of all time).

Any World Series involving the Yankees or Red Sox tend to be over publicized.  This isn’t to say 2001 and 1975 didn’t have great World Series, but they don’t match up to 1991 – here’s why.

There is nothing more exciting than a walk-off win.  The suspense is held and the game is decided in the final at bat and the home team and fans go home happy.  This happened four times in 1991.   Over half of the final seven games weren’t decided until the last batter of the game.  All four of those games were decided by one run along with one other: five games decided by a single run.  There was little room for error in the 1991 World Series.

For the first time in World Series history, three games needed extra innings.  The Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves were the most evenly matched teams in World Series history.

The series started slow enough in Game 1.  The Twins won 5-2 thanks to home runs from Chili Davis and Kent Hrbek.  Jack Morris earned the win.  Although it was a well played game, this would be the Twins’ most boring victory.

The pitchers took over for the second game.  The Twins’ Kevin Tapani and Cy Young winner Tom Glavine battled.  With the game tied at two in the eighth inning, the Twins third baseman Scott Leius went deep off Glavine.  Rick Aguilera struck out the side in the ninth for the save to preserve the 3-2 win.

Gregg Olson took Dan Gladden's spiking at home plate with good sportsmanship.

It was the third game were things started to get really exciting.  Down two games to none, the Braves needed to win.  The franchise hadn’t been in the World Series since the Milwaukee Braves in 1958 and had never been in the Series since its move to Atlanta in 1966.  Down 4-1 in the seventh inning, the Twins stormed back to tie the game at four with a run in the seventh and two in the eighth.  In the bottom of the 12th, with two out and David Justice on second, Mark Lemke stepped to the plate.  Lemke was a .234 hitter that year, but had 10 hits in the Series and batted .417.  His single scored Justice to give the Atlanta Braves their first World Series win ever. 

Jack Morris returned to the mound for the Twins in the fourth game.  A 24-year old John Smoltz pitched for Atlanta.  A 2-2 tie followed the Braves into the bottom of the ninth.  The night before a .234 hitter was the hero.  In Game Four, a .214 hitter with 16 plate appearances was the hero: Jerry Willard.  With Lemke on third, Willard drove a shallow fly ball to Shane Mack in right field.  The throw was on time, but Twins catcher Brian Harper could only get an elbow, not his glove, on the sliding Lemke.  The Braves won 3-2 and evened the series at two games apiece. 

The fifth game was the anomaly for the 1991 World Series with Atlanta crushing Minnesota 14-5.  This only set up the notion that the Braves might run away with the title in Minnesota.

Atlanta had their two walk-off wins.  Now it was Minnesota’s turn.  In the first five games, Kirby Puckett was batting .167 (three-for-18).  Puckett foreshadowed how his night would go in his first at bat with Chuck Knoblauch on first base.  The centerfielder tripled down the left-field line to score Knoblauch and put the Twins on top.  Both starters (Steve Avery and Scott Erickson) were taken out after six innings.  Both bullpens proceeded to go into Operation Shutdown.  It was Mike Stanton and Alejando Pena for the Braves and Carl Willis and Rick Aguilera for the Twins.  Manager Bobby Cox decided to put left-handed junkballer Charlie Leibrandt on the mound to start the 11th inning with the score still tied 3-3.  Puckett took three pitches and then launched a hanging changeup into the left-center field seats sending Minnesota into dome-controlled chaos. 

“It’s a storybook World Series,” Tom Kelly told reporters after the sixth game.  “What’s going to happen in Game 7, Chapter 7?  Oh my, God, I can’t wait,” the Twins manager said as he turned his cap backwards to a throng of giggling reporters.  How could you not giggle?  Not only were you about to watch the seventh game of the World Series, but you were about to see the final game of a World Series that had already been spectacular.  How could the final act not be spectacular?  But at the same time, many must have wondered, how could it top the last game?  Or the third game?  Or the fourth game?  Thanks to a grizzled veteran and a young, unestablished pitcher, the seventh game of the 1991 World Series was the greatest in history.  In the words of the highlight film released in time for Christmas that year, “It was a beautiful dream and a tension-filled nightmare all wrapped into one.”

Another great aspect of the 1991 World Series worth noting was the sportsmanship shown by both teams to begin the final game.  As Lonnie Smith stepped into the batter’s box for the first at bat, he stuck his hand out to Twins catcher Brian Harper and they shook hands.  I still have never seen a gesture like than in professional baseball. 

Jack Morris and John Smoltz traded one scoreless inning after another.  Neither team posed much of a threat until the eighth.  In the eighth inning of the 1991 World Series, every real fan of the Atlanta Braves and the Minnesota Twins lost five years of their life.  The Braves had runners on second and third with no out in the top half.  No one really knows why Lonnie Smith didn’t score from first on Terry Pendleton’s double, but there are theories.  One is that Smith simply lost the ball as Dan Gladden and Puckett chased it against the left-center field wall.  Another is Smith fell for shortstop Greg Gagne and second baseman Knoblauch’s decoy which made it appear they were fielding a double-play ball.  My theory is a combination of the last two along with God and/or the baseball Gods wanted the Twins to win the World Series.

Morris managed to get Ron Gant to ground out weakly to first base.  Then, after walking David Justice, Sid Bream hit into a 3-2-3 double play to end the inning.

The Twins had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom half before Kent Hrbek lined into an unassisted double play to the shortstop.  Even in the ninth Minnesota started the inning with two singles before Mack hit into a double play and later Paul Sorrento struck out to strand a runner on third. 

And still, Jack Morris kept pitching.  He pitched a scoreless ninth and 10th inning.  In the bottom of the 10th inning, the Twins showed the world how baseball was played in Minnesota.  Dan Gladden broke his bat on a bloop single to left-center field.  His hustle stretched it to a double and the Twins thought they might see a light at the end of the tunnel.  Knoblauch put down a sacrifice bunt and Gladden was on third with one out.  The Braves walked Puckett and Hrbek to face … Jarvis Brown?  No, but he was due up.  Manager Tom Kelly put in of his best pinch hitters through the years: Gene Larkin.  With the infield and outfield playing in, Larkin poked a single over the leftfielder’s head to send Gladden home to a waiting Morris.  The starting pitcher had just thrown 10 shutout World Series innings and faces don’t get happier than Morris’s when Gladden touched home plate.

There may be bigger names names in other World Series and others may be more historical.  Names like Ruth, Mantle, Jackson, Jeter and Clemente come to mind when many fans think of the World Series.  There was one hall of famer in the 1991 World Series (Puckett) and two or three others who hope to make it (Glavine, Smoltz and Morris).  But the Series wasn’t defined by them.  It was defined by great baseball games.  If every World Series was compared to each other with a blindfold to the fan – not knowing what the teams, players, cities, fans or ballparks are – there was never a more evenly matched and enjoyable World Series than 1991.

This celebration was part happiness and part tension release.

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I love baseball and I know a lot about it.  I know a lot of facts.  I know Kirby Puckett batted .356 in 1988.  I know Chuck Knoblauch and Paul Molitor batted .341 for the 1996 Twins.  I know Cristian Guzman led the American League in triples in 2000 and 2001.  I know these things off the top of my head. 

What I don’t know is if the Twins would do better with J.J. Hardy in the No. 2 spot or the No. 9 spot.  I don’t know the best way to motivate an English-as-a-second-language player like Luis Rivas.  I don’t know when to pull Francisco Liriano in terms of his arm’s health and how he’s pitching. 

No one knows these things.  They’re matters of opinion.  Some people have better opinions than others, but this is also a matter of opinion.  I am pretty sure I – a baseball fan who has never worked in the game aside from playing it as a kid – don’t have the best opinion on how to manage a game.  I am also sure Twins manager Ron Gardenhire knows a lot more than I do and is doing a fantastic job. 

I didn’t think this opinion needed to be said, until I read Joe Posnanski’s latest column: http://joeposnanski.si.com/2010/09/17/my-annual-gardy-rant/ . 

If you don’t feel like reading the entire thing, here’s the main point: 

In 2008, I wrote a series of columns stating what I believe — that Ron Gardenhire is the best manager in baseball. This led more than a few people to believe that I was completely off my rocker and many of those people were Minnesota Twins fans who watched the man manage every single day and, as such, could recite hundreds and hundreds of reasons why Gardenhire was, in fact, a dreadful manager.

That’s a wide gap — best in the game (me) to dreadful (most of the people writing in). The 2008 Twins, despite hitting the fewest home runs in the league (and having the 10th best slugging percentage) and having a mediocre pitching staff somehow won 88 games and forced a one-game playoff with Chicago, which they lost 1-0. I thought it was another pretty impressive managerial run for a guy who had led his Twins to the playoffs in four of his first six years as manager. Others thought it was another lousy managing job.

Who are these Minnesota Twins fans?  What games are they watching?  More importantly, what standings are they looking at?  I think Gardenhire has done a fantastic job since taking over for the 2002 season.  He’s won every year with the exception of 2007.  But my opinion is not the main point here.  My question is how do these critical fans make themselves experts on the subject?  Managing is so much more than filling in the lineup card and calling for hit-and-runs.  A manager has to keep everyone motivated and happy, deal with the media, communicate with upper management, work with the fans, scout the opposition and his own team and farm clubs and then he has to manage big league baseball games.

Gardenhire has taken a small-market team and made it into a perennial playoff team.  The Twins have been in the playoffs six (I’ll count this year) of the last nine years, or seven if you count the one-game playoff against the White Sox in 2008.  With the exception of the last few years, the Twins have played a totally different kind of baseball than the rest of the American League.  While the other teams were winning with three-run home runs, the Twins were playing small-ball like it was 1982.  Take a look at the lineups of the 2002-2005 Twins: there’s really nothing to be scared of if you’re an opposing pitcher.  

If you’re a Gardenhire hater and this doesn’t convince you, that’s fine.  I’m just a non-professional baseball writer who has never worked in the game.  I don’t have much credibility … but neither do you.

Ron Gardenhire - a much respected man among peers and my family.

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