Sloppy Second Leads to Utter Desolation
Gladden: "Can you imagine what it would be to be a beat writer on this ballclub?"
Gordon: "You'd have to come up with some imaginative thoughts on the game of baseball."
That was part of a dialogue between our broadcasters, spoken in the Twins' half of the eighth inning of last night's lopsided 9-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who appeared to be a baseball team in name only. It was a hard game to call, hard to listen to, probably fun only for the Twins to play, thanks to countless at-bats. And when the game was still young, on the second pitch of the second inning, when Sidney Ponson watched one of his fastballs fly over the center field fence, I bet he thought, "At least I wasn't the other guy."
It was that kind of night: you play well, but you also witness such utter futility on the part of your opponent, you have to wonder how good or how bad you really were. Edwin Jackson, the Rays' young fireballer, who might very well have pitched his final game, was tonight's opening starter. This kid, all of 23 years old (perhaps his only saving grace, as he's been near-awful with every team on his resume), gave up six runs in an inning and a third, four of them in the Twins' half of the second. Granted, the rest of his team fell apart with him, making errors, standing in the wrong places, being out of position as routine pickoff throws sailed into the outfield, and looking very much like a bunch of hapless bottom dwellers.
Golly, this was a miserable game. We'll take the victory, but it's not something to enjoy. No, this was the type of game you catch on a nice drive and then turn off after three innings, even if all you can get on the box is modern country. And when you get sick of that (as I hope you must), and check on the score, finally you settle on blissful silence.
The game began well (for us), as the first two Twins scored on what was the epitome of small-ball. Castillo conjured up an infield hit on his first at-bat in ten games, Nicky Punto knocked a double into center, and then the next two outs got 'em over and got 'em in. Oh, and the silence was suddenly deafening. "The Boo-Birds are out," John Gordon noticed, and sure enough, that one guy was about all you could hear behind the Twins radio announcers. After the Twins scored four more in the next inning, there was a hollow, empty sound, a vacuum of despair that filled that dome like the deadly empty space in Kubrick's 2001. Just that one guy, bellowing his boos, for no one's amusement but his own.
That second inning? Two bases on balls, two throwing blunders (only one was credited as an error--both were Jackson's mistakes), a pair of hits and another error and that was all she wrote. With little else to talk about, Gordon and Gladden spent time analyzing the psychological woes of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. At one point Gladden described the players around the field, each one with his head down, hands on their knees, utterly defeated and demoralized. Earlier, Gordon remarked on the new scoreboard and the Tiki bar in the outfield at Tropicana Field, and, well, it sounded like nothing but utter despair in St. Petersburg.
And yet, there's always hope in this wicked sport. After going down 6-0 with but one out in the second, Jackson fell behind 2-1 to Nick Punto before throwing a much-needed strike. With that, one lone fan rang out with a noisemaker and wild cry, trying to get the faithful to remember there were still seven innings to go. Faith? Or futility?
But I digress: give the Twins credit for taking advantage of the myriad opportunities presented them. Give Sidney Ponson credit for not allowing the Devil Rays into the game, even after his second inning homer. Granted, maybe the Rays spirits had been utterly crushed, but the Aruban threw only 90 pitches in seven frames. He wasn't great to start, but seemed to gather his confidence as the game wore on, eventually tossing two 1-2-3 gems in the last two innings. Give this guy a big lead and an unraveling club, and you've got something, by gum.
We needed this--an easy win against a losing team. I believe it was Ty Cobb who once advice a young and forgotten slugger that you made your money when the games were over; that is, if you wanted the fat averages that meant bigger paychecks, you hit when the scores were lopsided and everyone's a bit off their game. Catillo, Mauer, and Tyner all smacked three hits, Punto and Morneau and even Josh Rabe got a pair (and his as a pinch hitter). Torii Hunter's lone hit extended his sixteen game hitting streak.
And in the ninth, Jason Bartlett shot the Twins fourteenth hit into the outfield, and B. J. Upton blew a play at second, and all was lost, all was so clearly lost. Then, with two men on, Nick Punto struck out, and suddenly that manic Rays fan with the noise-maker began to try and rouse the troops, shaking that rattler for all it was worth. I couldn't help but wonder about that poor, suffering fool. Maybe that's why we follow this punishing sport, keep listening after nine long innings, or sit glued to our seats when our team's struggling in the standings and losing that very day. There's hope, there's always hope.