Bring on the Noise
Once upon a time, in the era of old steel-and-concrete stadiums, there was a triumphant heckler who used to prowl the stands in Philadelphia's Shibe Park. His name was Pete Adelis, the "Iron Lung of Shibe Park", and he would yell, howl, cajole, bang on pans and a helmet he wore, administering fierce tongue-lashings to whomever his beloved Phillies happened to meet.
During yesterday's Memorial Day matinee at the Metrodome, the spirit of Adelis must have inhabited some fellow in the good seats, a bellowing man who may or may not have been the tipping point in the Twins 10-4 victory.
You see, Jose Contreras had been unstoppable here in the Metrodome, going 2-0 with a gaudy 0.53 ERA before today. Against the heart of the order, the Cuban has held Cuddyer to .176, Morneau to .143, and Torii to .091--and the rest aren't much better. (You might say the same for the Sox when they see Santana, except they also have a number of homers against him as well, including Thome's three bombs against his .174 average.)
The first two innings seemed to tit-for-tat between the two hurlers: Santana gave up a pair of hits and no runs in the first and the same thing happened to Contreras. Even their pitch counts were similar: Jose had 11 strikes on 13 pitches, Johann 11 strikes on 15. Our ace put down the Sox one-two-three in the second. Contreras seemed to coast as well, putting down the next two Twins and then sitting on a 2-2 count against Jason Bartlett.
But out of section 119 came a terrifying wail. "Contreras!" echoed across the Dome, the name stretched out and bent, as if the last cry of a dying man as he's being pitched into hell. "Contreras!" he repeated, and added, "I own you!"
Jose Contreras appeared to flinch. Then he smacked Jason Bartlett with the next pitch. And suddenly, he came apart.
Bartlett stole a base, Tyner knocked him in with a well-placed hit and Contreras, obviously rattled, threw a pick-off well below the glove of Paul Konerko, sending the speedy Tyner to third. A walk and a pair of hits later and it was 3-0.
Our heckler owned him, it was true, but he shut up after helping the Twins pull three runs out of their hats. With Johan on the mound, what's the point of wearing out your lungs?
Plenty, as it turned out, as Santana gave up a solo homer in the next inning, another in the fourth, and then allowed the White Sox to go ahead on a walk and two solid hits to drive the Twins into a 4-3 deficit.
The loudmouth reasserted himself again in the sixth, doing nothing more than repeating, with sonic urgency and a painful volume, Jose Contreras' name, which, frankly, was as annoying as it was eerie. The hoodoo worked perfectly. Contreras blew apart, as the top and bottom of the order bunched some hits, walked, and strung together five more runs to go up 8-4. That was pretty much the game, right there, although the Twins would go on get two more.
In one afternoon, the unbeatable (to us) Jose Contreras faced a torrent of noise, unraveled, and found his Dome ERA ballooning to 3.23. The Twins are now back at .500
Did the heckler change this game? All I know is that I love hecklers. They're weird and entertaining and bring the crowds into the game, and sometimes--not often, but sometimes, make the players go crazy. Timid Minnesotans need to get their lungs out more.
(Epilogue: this same guy, who turned out to be an elderly gent in yellow shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, waited after the game until the stands were almost empty to depart. He then yelled, in a despairing voice that echoed across the dome, "Mauer! Where are you Joe Mauer?")