When Kirby Puckett passed away this year about a month before the Twins opened their regular season schedule, manager Ron Gardenhire promised that the 2006 team would honor Puckett's memory by playing hard just like Puck did, running out grounders and bringing a passion out onto the field every night. "As long as I’m running this club we will treat the game with respect like Kirby did,” Gardy said.
I find it sad that a team that made such a claim can play in as lackadaisical and sloppy a manner that the Twins have lately. It's not all that tough watching your team lose because they are simply outplayed by a better opponent, but when they are losing in the manner the Twins did last night, it is incredibly frustrating.
Sure, the pitching was horrible once again. Boof Bonser gave up another three home runs and Dennys Reyes allowed a three-run shot from left-hander Raul Ibanez on the second pitch he threw after entering the game in the sixth inning. Jesse Crain got five outs before surrendering the game-winning home run to Carl Everett in the 11th inning. And yeah, the offense missed numerous opportunities, stranding baserunner after baserunner. But the Twins' ugly play runs beyond that.
In the bottom of the first, Jose Lopez tried stealing second. Ibanez, who was batting at the time, struck out on the pitch, and Joe Mauer's throw was in plenty of time to retire Lopez and end the inning. Unfortunately, shortstop Juan Castro didn't take the extra second to actually catch the throw before going down to swipe the sliding Lopez with his tag, and he dropped the ball. That's the second time this has happened within the span of a couple weeks. Instead of the inning being over, Richie Sexson was able to bat with a runner on second, and he hit a two-run homer to put the Mariners up 3-2. Castro also went 1-for-5 with a strikeout at the plate, failing to advance the go-ahead run from second with one out in the ninth. That's a performance that doesn't exactly bring memories of Puck to my head, but Castro will continue to start, regardless of how disrespectful to the game -- and to the fans who pay money to watch the team -- it may be.
In the third inning, Mike Redmond singled to left with the bases loaded. Torii Hunter, who had been on second base, rounded third and tried to score, running past the stop sign from third base coach Scott Ullger. The throw beat Hunter, who made absolutely no effort to touch the plate safely. Rather than running into the catcher or trying to slide around the tag, Hunter leisurely trotted into an out. What passion!
In the fourth inning, Luis Castillo hit a sharp grounder down the third base line that Adrian Beltre was able to knock down. Beltre recovered, picked up the ball, threw to first, and Sexson scooped up the throw on a short hop to retire Castillo. It was a great play, but a play that the speedy Castillo should have easily been able to beat out. From the replay, it was fairly evident that he was not running his hardest. From watching him play all season, it is fairly evident that he pretty much never does. I realize that Castillo has bad knees and plays through pain, and I don't really have a problem with the fact that he doesn't run out routine groundouts, but on a play like this there is no excuse for not running your hardest and flying through first base. Puck did every time.
And then there were the called third strikes. Five Twins struck out looking within the span of three innings late in the game. Not only is this type of behavior out of line with the promise that the team would play the game the right way, it sets a bad example for kids who are taught above all to protect the plate with two strikes.
Despite all of the blunders and bad pitches by the Twins early in the game, they still had a chance to win when Michael Cuddyer hit a two-out grand slam to tie the game 9-9. Unfortunately, the Twins could not score after that despite a few golden opportunities and Gardenhire continued his gross misuse of Joe Nathan. While Willie Eyre, Dennys Reyes and Jesse Crain were sent out to pitch with the game close, Nathan sat in the bullpen the entire night while Gardy waited for that save situation to come along. As usual, that situation never came and the Twins' best reliever was left to stagnate on the bench while their worst reliever gave up the game-winning home run.
How can Gardenhire claim that his team will "treat the game with respect" when he can't even treat his own players with respect?