What to take away from this season

October 11, 2010 at 6:36 pm Leave a comment

Who here is tremendously disappointed with the way this season finished for the Minnesota Twins? Anyone?

Oh, right. Everyone already flew the coop immediately after Curtis Granderson’s double in game 1. It really is too bad, the way the playoffs have gone recently. Because the more the Twins lose, the less confidence they have, the more confidence other teams have in playing them in the postseason, and the faith of the fanbase diminishes even more.

This was supposed to be the year. This was the year we were prepared to make a run. The whole season seemed tilted that way. The division was never out of reach and in the end was won rather easily. We had a real shortstop, a real second baseman, almost a real left fielder even. It was a strange season around the league as well. The Rangers and Reds came out of somewhere and nowhere, respectively, the Padres competed without an offense for 5 months, there were 2.9 perfect games, pitching was up and hitting was down (To what degree of amazing that is is entirely subjective). Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan were out, Jim Thome was back in a tremendous way. This season was full of weird. And in my sentimental view, that would seem to imply, cosmically, that this was the year the Twins took down the Yankees and dispelled their reputation as playoff/Yankee chokers.

But there was one constant from seasons past, despite all the roster turnover and seemingly good karma, and that was failure in the ALDS. Certainly it was soul crushing to see our guys fold to those bastard Yankees again. But I’m reminded of a passage from Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things they Carried. The book is about war stories and the myths surrounding them and partly O’Brien’s experience in Viet Nam. You may have had to read it in high school. Anyway there’s this passage where a guy in the protagonist regiment, Rat Kiley, sees his best friend blown to pieces. The guy steps on a land mine, and is immediately lifted into the tree tops, light surrounding him, and he ascends into a mosaic of sunlight and blossoms. It is undeniably beautiful, and yet the harsh reality is, of course, that a man’s life was just lost. Rat Kiley goes and brutally, slowly, and gruesomely murders a baby water buffalo as an act of attrition. No one does anything, they just watch this baby animal slowly die in the most revolting fashion possible.

The way the Yankees win is they put landmines underneath our players. We’re blown to bits and there’s nothing we can do to stop the onslaught. The Yankees know they’re going to win, even if they’re behind. And I can’t deny the beauty in the way they do it. Leadoff guy draws a walk. You know it’s about to happen. Next guy doubles. The confidence they exude at this point is stunning. It could be Bret Gardner, it could be Mark Texiera. You know they won’t choke. You know if they’re behind, they’re going to tie it up at any moment. You know if they have a 1 run lead, it’s about to become a 2-3 run lead. They have a mission and they have all the belief in the world that they can accomplish it.**

**The only way, and we saw this in May or June in the final game of a 3 game set between the teams, that the Twins can overcome this is through various x factors. This usually means called strike threes. The only way the Yankee hitters won’t do exactly what they need to do is if they take called strike three. And it probably has to be a bad call. When Jon Rauch struck out Texiera with the winning run on base in May, it was a questionable call, but Texiera didn’t swing, and if he doesn’t swing he can’t achieve his objective. If the Twins ever want to overcome this profound defeatist mentality against the Yanks, they will need help from home plate umpires.

Now the way the Twins lose, that is the baby water buffalo. It’s sad, and it’s pathetic, and you know all the water buffalo wants is to survive this torment. But it can’t, and everyone knows it. It might be able to stand for a moment (Hudson’s homer in game 2, Valencia’s bases loaded walk in game 1) but its nose is about to get shot off by a rifle.

This is the beauty and savagery of the sport. What other game could have ‘curses’ that actually have the ability to mentally effect generation after generation of players such as the Cubs and until recently the Sox teams? Is the Twins ineptitude against New York at curse level yet? I don’t know, but this is beyond the realm of statistical analysis. This is a deep seeded loss of all belief and hope. This is me going up to bat for my 5th grade team against the hulk of a pitcher playing for the best team in the league. He’s just struck out our best hitter easily, he hasn’t given up a hit. I know what’s going to happen. I better hope he walks me, because I do not have the belief I can make a base hit happen without a fielding error.

I remember a class discussion about the water buffalo passage. One girl was appalled by the passage, couldn’t even read it, it stirred up too much awful imagery and despair for her. But that a passage of a book, or the playing of a game, can arouse such emotion in a person, is a testament to the true beauty of the book/game. The way the Yankees mentally undress the Twins is profound. The only other sport where that can exist is golf, but that is individual, this is an entire organization being mentally picked apart.

Our pitchers know they have to pretty much spin a perfect game. And by perfect I don’t mean that they go 9 innings, allowing no hits or walks. I mean they can’t make any mistakes. Pitching against a lineup that is brimming with confidence and belief, knowing they have a tremendous mental advantage, requires perfection in location. Liriano managed for a while, but in the end a player who in a given season can’t hit .200 off lefties, showed him the door. Carl Pavano is wonderful at deceiving batters and being a masterful pitcher, if not someone who possesses great talent anymore. He managed for a while, but in the end he made a couple mistakes, when he needed to make zero. Brian Duensing may very well have pitched as well as he is capable. He’s a great competitor, he really gets pumped up. But he isn’t Greg Maddux. He will make several mistakes per game. He never had a chance.

And it was one of the obnoxious TBS announcers who said it. It takes a great pitching performance to get a team out of ‘cursed’ situation like this one. One masterful shutout by Liriano and all bets are off; none of this applies anymore, or at least, not as much. Other teams have gotten this against the Yankees in the playoffs. The Angels were great at it for a while. We got it in ’03 and ’04 from Johan Santana, a man with such a combination of talent and craftiness that no curse could apply to him. But we also had a lot of tough breaks in game 2’s those years. Plus Joe Nathan is far too fidgety and and unsure of himself to handle a curse.

And now, to all you fair weather fans, who now think the Twins are chokers, bums, great in the regular season but crappy in the playoffs. Your solutions are as follows:

-Revamp the lineup, they’re chokers

-Fire Gardy, he can’t get the team ready for the playoffs

The lineup was revamped. That doesn’t matter, clearly.

No manager in baseball creates better clubhouse chemistry than Ron Gardenhire. The team would never have made the postseason the past two years without him. Being able to overcome notable and devastating injuries and to fire up the team for amazing stretch runs, that is Gardy’s strength. But when the postseason arrives, it’s not on him anymore. It’s up to the players. Managers don’t matter in small sample sizes like the postseason. Because there can always be a Brooks Conrad situation where 3 terrible errors screw the whole series up. Errors caused by by the psychological aspect of the game. The beauty and the ugliness of the game. The humanness of the game.

I suppose the point I’m trying to make, in the most roundabout way, is that teams in the midst of curses, or semi curses, or the beginnings of curses, need their fans more than ever. It’s easy to be a pessimist because that way your heart doesn’t get broken. When the team fails, you can lean back in your chair and say, told ya so. But that does nothing to help the team succeed, and get over this funk. It only puts more pressure on them to in back their Reusse-esque fans. And that can only hurt their ability to get out of this funk.

Hey fine, jump off the wagon and go cheer on Randy Moss. This Twins team will be good again next year. Gardy will make sure they don’t underachieve. But if they play the Yankees in the postseason, it will take a minor miracle for the team to prevail. If the Twins are to succeed in the playoffs in the future, at least one of these things need to happen.

1) Several amazing pitching performances.

2) Not playing the Yankees

3) Really fortunate umpiring

All real fans can do is wait and see if this happens. It will happen eventually, but hopefully it won’t take 86 years. It might. But if that’s what it takes I’ll be the happiest 106 year old in history.


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