Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Twins, Tigers and Why Baseball is Number 1

On back to back days, the Metrodome in Minneapolis hosted two high profile sports events. One was exciting, dramatic, memorable and not pre-fabricated. The other was Brett Favre facing off against the Packers.

You'll never convince me that Monday Night Football is something other than a pointless event that is significant only as a way to settle the weekend's football pool. Fine, Favre faced off against his old mates, the year after he spent on the Jets. He had a great game and did what, proved himself worthy to the Packers GM? Who gives a shit? Really. Favre's story is a cipher, fodder for the satire of ESPN commercials.

Yesterday, a genuine story emerged in a way that only baseball can tell. One month ago, the Detroit Tigers were in a commanding position in the AL Central Division, a full seven games ahead of the Minnesota Twins. Then, the Tigers swoon, the Twins go on a tear and, as if 162 games weren't enough, they needed one more contest to conclude the story.

Think of that. At game 162, the Twins and Tigers were deadlocked. Only in baseball. Hell, there's already a huge list of NFL teams that are out of the running already, after four weeks. That's nail biting, for sure.

The game itself was a highlight reel of home runs, exciting fielding, and mishaps. Scott Baker and Rick Porcello, young hurlers, were given the daunting task of carrying an entire year's burden on their fit shoulders and they pitched admirably. In no other sport can two youngsters, one a rookie, be in such a spot. Matt Sanchez of the Jets is being heralded for winning three games as a rookie, three regular season games. Baker and Porcello were handed the whole enchilada.

What is wonderful about baseball, and something that no other sport has, is the constant mini-dramas within the game. It's not just the elation of Orlando Cabrera's bottom of the 7th dinger, immediately trumped by Magglio Ordonez' top of the 8th clout. It's not even the bang-bang line drive double play that Cabrera pulled off in the top of the 9th.

It's this sequence. With the Tigers up 5-4 in the top of the 10th, Tiger left fielder Ryan Raburn shops for a pair of goat horns and finds a pair that fit. Instead of playing a Michael Cuddyer drive safely for a single, Raburn attempts the spectacular and, as he slides into the path of the ball, misplays it by a good foot. Cuddyer lumbers to third for a triple and Raburn, in closeup, tries desperately to vanish into thin air. The Twinkies tie things up soon after. To insure a victory, they insert the speedy Alexi Casilla in as a pinch runner. He's hugging third when Nick Punto flies to Raburn. Only one out, and a sac fly will score Casilla. Game, set, match, Twins win.

But wait! Casilla tags up as I would, tentatively, not sure where he should be when Raburn catches the ball. And so, he gets a late start. Ryan Raburn, we now know, was a closer in his school years and fires a bullet nailing Casilla at the plate. A double play, the game stays tied and, as he runs to the dugout, Raburn hands his horns to Casilla for a fitting. In one inning Raburn has gone from from Edsel to El Dorado.

Poor Casilla. He blew the game. Twins had it in the palms of their hands. Two innings later, here comes Casilla, with man on third and comes through with a single to right field. And that's that. Twins win, Casilla is the hero and will go down in Twins history as the man who won the division for them back in '09. And minutes ago, he would have been the guy who blew the division with his boneheaded baserunning.

Baseball gives you that. No other sport does. I highly advise everyone to watch the post-season, where anything can happen, and usually does. Unless, of course, you feel that Vikings-Rams game pulling at you. That game should be important. After all, it is meaningless.

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