So how good was that?
Frequently, when you get really fired up to watch a game, it lets you down. That was NOT the case last night with Twins-Tigers. As I said yesterday, only baseball gives us one game to decide whether a team reaches postseason after a 162 game season. We have now had 163 games the last three seasons and all three have been one run games: The Rockies long-journey-into-late-night 134 inning, 9-8 win over the Padres two years ago; the White Sox 1-0 victory over the Twins and then last night's 6-5 win for the Twins over the Tigers in 12 excruciating innings.
Even as a neutral observer the second half of the game was excruciating to watch. When the Tigers took a 3-0 lead, I felt bad for the Twins because I admire what the organization has achieved up there so much and because I knew if the Twins lost it would be The Metrodome's last game. Not that the Metrodome is Fenway Park or Wrigley Field by any stretch, but it is unique. I've been in the place when it is LOUD like last night and two of the great games in baseball history--game six and game seven of the '91 World Series--were played there on back-to-back nights.
Then when Orlando Cabrera hit the seventh inning homer to put the Twins up 4-3 I kept looking at Jim Leyland and remembering the pain in his voice on the night in 1992 when his Pirates lost to the Braves, 3-2 in game 7 of the NLCS after leading 2-0. He's a terrific manager and a wonderful guy. I thought about the city of Detroit and everything it has been through and what a downer it would be to lose the division after leading by seven with four weeks to play and by three with four games to play (!!).
Back and forth it went, momentum swinging, it seemed on every batter. I actually got chills a couple of times--on behalf of each team. Brandon Inge as hero--great story. Nick Punto not only had three remarkable at-bats late in the game--and would have driven in the winning run if Alexi Casilla (the hero two innings later of course) hadn't forgotten to tag up on his line drive in the 10th--but made one of the great defensive plays I've ever seen in the 12th. I'm telling you 99 out of 100 second basemen would have instinctively tried for the double play in that situation but Punto knew right away he couldn't pull it off and the go-ahead run would score. He made that split second decision and then threw a STRIKE to Joe Mauer to force Miguel Cabrera. As many heroes as there were in that game, if I was giving an MVP it would be Punto.
Tiger fans will always--justifiably--wonder what would have happened if Randy Marsh had seen the ball graze Brandon Inge's uniform on the first pitch of his at-bat (the one that produced the ground ball to Punto) in the 12th. Maybe the Tigers would have scored five. We'll never know. I will say this: if the Tigers had gone ahead 6-5 in the inning I do not believe Fernando Rodney would have gotten through the bottom of the 12th. He was clearly gassed and Leyland stayed with him because he had no other options.
I was fascinated watching Marsh's strike zone all night. It was, by today's standards, huge. It was also what strike zones once were before umpires decided that squeezing pitchers made them more important and powerful. Most important, it was consistent. When Orlando Cabrera struck out in the 11th, he almost got tossed for arguing on two pitches. Both were borderline--at best. But here's the point: they had been strikes all night.
It reminded me a little of a 19 inning game I saw years ago between the Indians and Red Sox. In the bottom of the 18th Mike Hargrove came out of the dugout to argue a called third strike on Mark Whiten with plate umpire Dale Scott.
"How can that be a strike?" Hargrove asked Scott.
"Because it's been a strike now for 18 f----- innings," Scott answered. "It was a strike six hours ago and it's a strike now."
After the game (this was when umpires were still easily accessible to the media) when Scott repeated the line to me he added, "Now THAT's a line I hope I don't have to use again anytime soon."
You couldn't not feel for the Tigers when Carlos Gomez dove into home plate with the winning run more than five hours after the game started. As Ron Darling--who has become a GREAT analyst--had pointed out an inning earlier: "One of these teams flies to New York to prepare for the Yankees, the other starts preparing for spring training two thousand and ten."
That kind of put it in perspective.
I loved the Twins victory lap. It was so sweet and spontaneous and even if the Yankees sweep the Division Series that's a memory all of them and all in the ballpark will carry forever. It was just a really cool sports moment. In an entirely different way it brought back memories of Cal Ripken Jr's victory lap on September 6, 1995 after he broke Lou Gehrig's unbreakable consecutive games played record. Nothing was planned--it just happened and if you were in the ballpark that night, you still get chills when you think about it. This will be the same sort of memory.
My only problem with the entire night--and this is a real nitpick--was hearing Denard Span tell the four letter network that the Twins 17-4 finish and their victory in game 163 was all due to, "The Good Lord. He took care of us. He looked after us."
Oh please. As if the Twins did something to deserve divine intervention that the Tigers didn't. God played absolutely no role in that game or that magic of the night. He was like the rest of us: sitting back and watching with a big smile on His face.
Some notes on recent posts: Great comment on the over-abundance of champagne celebrations in baseball. It is a little much when they hand out T-shirts and spray champagne after a team clinches the wild card. That being said, if ever a champagne celebration was appropriate it was last night...
Someone asked about PGA Tour fines: They are more closely guarded than Fort Knox. A player can actually be fine for revealing that he was fined! It's all about image. Tiger Woods is the most fined player in PGA Tour history (profanity, club throwing, his caddy's behavior et al). You think The Tour and Tiger's sponsors would want it in the paper every time he was fined? That's exactly why the fines should be published: if they were, you can bet Tiger would clean up his act in a hurry because he's so image conscious. Best fine ever: my pal Paul Goydos being fined for yelling profanities at a TAPE RECORDING in the tour's travel office because he was frustrated they had closed early on a Saturday...
One other golf note: Gunnar, one of our regular posters told a story about Curtis Strange telling his amateurs on the first tee that he didn't plan to speak to them until the 18th green after the photo was taken. Sammy, another regular, wrote in wondering if it was Bobby Wadkins or J.C. Snead--not Curtis. I'm inclined to think he may be right. I walked pro-am rounds with Curtis and he was always very nice to his amateurs, at least when I was around. The one thing he DID say on the first tee was: "I'll be glad to read putts for you, give you swing advice if you ask but I will NOT look for lost balls."...
Finally: Thank you to everyone who posted or e-mailed about Friday's blog regarding my mom. As I said to someone that day, unique is one of the most over-used words in our society (it is also mis-used constantly by TV and radio people who love to say, 'very unique,'--Mike Greenburg and Mike Francessa are two frequent mis-users--since you can't be very one of kind) but I think I can say without fear of being contradicted that my mom was unique.