Thursday, September 14, 2006
This Crazy Game
As a Twins blogger, and particularly as 'just a Twins fan', I am really struggling with how to write about what happened on Wednesday afternoon. People can talk about how, compared to football, baseball is not a contact sport. Compared to basketball, baseball players don't need to be in quite as great of shape. The game looks so easy sometimes when we're sitting on our couches watching a single ball game.
And then we get reminded of how anything can happen in baseball. What baseball has that no other major sport has is a 162 game regular season. All teams have things happen to them throughout the year. The great teams have depth and the wherewithal and the heart and the courage and so many positive attributes that make them able to fight through the long, grueling season. I know that in the past, I used to cringe or roll my eyes whenever I heard or read Tom Kelly or Ron Gardenhire talk about playing one game at a time. However, as this 2006 season unfolds, I am learning more and more to appreciate that it is more than a cliché. It is very true. You just never know what is going to happen.
In a 162 game season, there are several ups and downs, and the Twins have experienced so many of each already this year. The first six weeks of the season, the Twins were one of the worst teams in baseball. Since early June, they have been one of the best teams. That's on a big scale. However, take the 24 hour period from about 9:00 on Tuesday night until about 5:00 on Wednesday evening. Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau hit back-to-back doubles to help the Twins go from down 5-3 to up 7-5. Soon after, Joe Nathan closed out the game with the save. The Twins were just 1.5 games behind the AL Central leading Tigers, and 2.5 games ahead of the Chicago White Sox in the AL Wild Card. The White Sox lost an 11 inning game to the Angels. The Tigers were struggling. And the Twins had young Francisco Liriano slated to start a noon game for a shot at sweeping the Oakland A's. He was coming off of a dominant AAA rehab start, and reports indicated that he was stronger than ever.
If you watched the first two innings of yesterday afternoon's game, you saw some vintage Francisco Liriano. He was throwing hard, his change up was hitting its spots and his slider was sharp and nasty. He was making the A's hitters really work, and in some cases look really bad. In his second inning at bat, Frank Thomas was made to look like a replacement level player.
And then in the 3rd inning, he gave up his first hit, a bloop single to center field. Up came former Twin Bobby Kielty. Liriano threw a fastball... and his season was over.
I was sitting at my home computer watching the game on my lunch break. I was watching his every pitch. When he let go of that fastball, he fell off to the 3B side of the mound, as he frequently does. Except this time, he just kept walking, toward shortstop before turning back toward the mound. 2B Luis Castillo got to him first and the trainer and Ron Gardenhire were both there quickly. Within a couple of seconds, Liriano was walking off the mound. And my stomach sunk, but probably not for the reason you would think.
Sure, a part of the sinking feeling was because one of the best pitchers in all of baseball was likely done for the season. The next thought was that he could need Tommy John surgery which would then cost him the 2007 season as well. I am one of many who believe that a playoff rotation that involved both Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano would be hard to beat in any series. Suddenly, the Twins pitching rotation is full of more questions. A big part of the Twins September success was now done, and that is unfortunate.
No, the sunken feeling that I got was for Francisco Liriano, the person. Not even really the pitcher. Sure, the "pitcher" is likely a big part of Francisco Liriano as a person. But, just think about the work that Liriano did to get up to the big leagues. Think about how much success he had this season. Then think about the initial injury, and how hard that he must have worked to get back to being able to pitch for the Twins. And he did it in six weeks. I am concerned about his left arm, but I am just as worried about his psyche, his mental well being. Francisco Liriano has experienced some wonderful high points this season. I'm sure he also felt a huge low spot when he was initially hurt. But through the hard work, he had to be feeling very good again following his start in Rochester last week. Now that his season is over because of this injury, you have to assume that he is now at a new low point.
I'm sure he'll be ok, but I can only imagine how down Francisco Liriano is right now anticipating the results of an MRI. I'm sure thoughts of an offseason of rest and rehab is not a positive. I am sure that thoughts of Tommy John surgery and no less than a year of rehab and future uncertainty is completely scary.
Was it a wrong decision to bring Liriano back? I don't think so. Because of what he did in Rochester last week, there was no reason to think that he couldn't throw 50-60 pitches. He said he was strong. He said he felt good. Could he have just been saying that because he wanted to get back with the Twins? Maybe, but I choose to believe that he really felt fine, and that he didn't feel elbow pain until those final two pitches he threw.
The bigger question for me is why Mike Redmond had Liriano throwing so many sliders. That made no sense to me either.
So although from the mind of a Twins fan, it is disappointing that Liriano is out, my thoughts are totally with Francisco Liriano the person, and I hope that he has the strength to get through whatever is next in his life and career.
Secondly, when Liriano walked off the field, and really for the next inning (maybe more, I did have to go back to work, so I didn't watch after the top of the 4th), the Twins bench was just somber, quiet. Many had some depressed looks, almost just staring into space. I am sure that like Twins fans, the teammates were excited to have someone as electrifying as Liriano back on their team. Now, I don't mean to take away anything from A's starter Danny Haren because he was terrific, but you have to ask if the Twins as a team were just down to the point where they were done for the rest of the game. Again, this isn't an intentional thing, and you don't want to happen, and you try to not let it happen, but the reality is that it does. The fact that the Twins lost 1-0 was really a background story to the Liriano situation. To me, the game just didn't matter much after the injury. I will give the team a free pass on this game.
However, the key is for the players, and for us as fans, to remember that they got to this point, in part, without Francisco Liriano. Yes, the season turned around, again in part, when Liriano was added to the rotation. But let's not forget that when the Twins lost Liriano on August 7th, they were 10.5 games behind the Tigers and seven or eight behind the White Sox. In other words, in the five or six weeks without Liriano, the Twins have made up even more ground. They got to just 1.5 behind the Tigers, and were now 2.5 ahead of the White Sox.
As I have asked and said several times in the last couple of months, I don't know how they are doing it. But this is a tenacious team, a young, energetic team full of players who care a lot. They play with such enthusiasm, and after a rough game mentally yesterday in which they had to be hurting for their teammate and friend, I fully expect that the Twins will come back and continue to play the brand of baseball that they have in the last month or three. They will be fun to watch.
Oh, and whose spot in the rotation did Liriano take over? That's right, Matt Garza's. Well, Garza came into the game to replace Liriano in the 3rd inning. He went the next 5 2/3 innings and gave up just one run. The frustration there is that the run should not have even happened. Mike Redmond easily threw out Milton Bradley attempting to steal 2B, but somehow the 2B ump called him safe. That would have ended the inning, but instead, Jay Payton doubled him in. I say this, not be be pro-Garza (which I obviously am), but to say that in reality, they are returning to what they had for the last month, and the guy that 'would have' started in that spot yesterday if not for Liriano, pitched very well and should step right back into the rotation next start.
Wednesday was a tough day for the Twins and for their fans. The excitement of everything positive happening for the team and the return of Francisco Liriano was torn down with the Liriano injury and the news that he is out for the season. Twins fans and the players too (if they're feeling this way), just need to take in what all this news means, and then step back and realize where they are now. They should see that they are still in a great position. They are still leading the way for a playoff spot, and that does not change with this news.
Any thoughts on Liriano or the Twins chances the rest of the season? How big is the mental aspect of the game, and the 162 game season? I think it's huge. Let me know what you think. Please leave some comments below, or if you prefer, send me an e-mail.
First things first, the Rochester Red Wings beat Toledo 6-1 last night to even the Best of 5 series at one a piece. The story was Kevin Slowey, making his first AAA start. He went 7.2 innings and gave up just one run on five hits and a walk. He struck out six. 79 of the 105 pitches that he threw went for strikes. Interestingly, of the 17 non-strikeout outs he recorded, two were ground balls and 15 were fly outs. Two of the hits came off the bat of former Twin Dustan Mohr including a solo home run. Kevin Cameron got the final four outs for the Wings. Andres Torres gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead when he led off the bottom of the 1st inning with a solo homer. Garrett Jones gave them some breathing room with a three run shot in the 3rd inning. Jones was 2-2 with two walks. Quinton McCracken, Tommy Watkins and Glenn Williams each went 2-4. Glen Perkins will start game three tonight in Toledo.
Are you like me and think that the Twins Justin Morneau should be the current front runner for the AL MVP? Maybe you are just a big fan of Morneau's. Maybe you are from Canada? I don't know. However, take a look at the t-shirt to the right. 33 for MVP. I like that slogan! And, it looks like a very nice t-shirt. Also, the price seems very fair (just $9.99). If you are at all interested in purchasing one (or several) of these t-shirts, click on the picture itself (or here) for for information. If you do purchase one (or some), be sure to tell them that you heard about this from SethSpeaks.net in the Comments when you check out ... Please!
The Twins will now send Boof Bonser, Johan Santana, Carlos Silva and Matt Guerrier to the mound against Cliff Lee, Fausto Carmona, CC Sabathia and Paul Byrd. The Cleveland Indians have been playing much better of late, although losing Travis Hafner for the remainder of the season is not good for them. The Santana/Carmona matchup would appear to be a lock for the Twins, but I have to remind people that the beauty of this great game of baseball is that you just never know. Likewise, logic would tell us that Sabathia should be favored over Silva. But, that's why they play the games. It will be a fun series to watch.
That is going to be it for today. I thank you for taking your time to visit my site. I have a feeling that most of the Twins blogs and forums will be full of talk on Francisco Liriano. It hurts as a Twins fan for the team, but as I said, I just hope that Liriano is ok mentally and psychologically. But we must remember that the Twins have been without Liriano for the last five or six weeks and have played well. He is an amazing talent and would have been a nice boost, but this team is good enough to keep battling and still get into the playoffs.
Again, if you have any thoughts, please feel free to e-mail me or leave some Comments below. Have a great day!