Frank: It was certainly an exciting week for the Minnesota Twins, which began in Chicago last Tuesday against the archrival Chicago White Sox. Wednesday night included some sparkling performances by the Twins, including Carlos Gomez, who became the first Twin in 22 years to hit for the cycle and starting pitcher Livan Hernandez who came within two outs of a complete game shutout before allowing a solo homer, the only blemish on his 13-1, complete game victory. Thursday saw the return of starter Kevin Slowey after a month of rehab; while Saturday night was the return of Glen Perkins after nearly a year away from the Twins – making his first major league start, against the powerful Boston Red Sox. In between, we won the exciting series opener against the Red Sox 7-6 in walk-off fashion. Mike Lamb capped off an improbable ninth inning with his game-winning, two-run single. And then last night’s game was not only the annual tribute to moms, complete with pink bats, but also a sudden appearance of the power game for the Twins. So every game last week was exciting, each for a different reason.
With the Twins set to begin interleague play this weekend, a question that I have been hanging onto for a while seems appropriate finally. Back during the first week of the season, the Twins pulled off a squeeze play to score the deciding run in a victory over the Kansas City Royals. This is a difficult, rarely seen play, especially in the American League, where a runner on third base takes off for home on the very same pitch that the batter bunts the ball. The National League sees a lot more squeezes, because bunting is a much bigger part of the game in the National League. I don't think I have ever seen Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire call for a squeeze before. Was it just called because of the former National Leaguers involved? Do you think he would dare try it again during interleague play, this time pulling a magic trick in front of the wizards?
Bert: The squeeze play is as common as a cycle in baseball. Meaning that you don't see it too often. The squeeze play that the Twins put on earlier this season was on Friday, April 4, two days before my birthday, in Minnesota against the Royals. The situation was this:
The game was tied 3-3 going into the bottom of the fourth. The Royals’ pitcher was lefthander John Bale and Mike Lamb led off the bottom of the inning with a double and Matt Tolbert sacrificed him to third. Adam Everett was the next hitter, batting ninth in the order. Lamb and Everett were teammates in Houston last season so they know each other well. Everett was asked to bunt and Lamb took off toward home plate as soon as the left-handed Bale delivered the pitch toward the plate. Adam laid down a perfect bunt and the squeeze play worked to perfection. By the way, the Twins won the game 4-3 and the squeeze bunt by Everett provided the deciding run. The timing was perfect and Gardy knows the situation for a squeeze has to be perfect and it was with a lefthander on the mound and Adam Everett at the plate. It will be interesting to watch and see if the Twins try another squeeze play at any other time this season; in interleague play or in their own league!
Frank: That will be fun to watch for, especially this weekend, which will be six weeks after your birthday (for those scoring at home). Another interesting thing to follow will be the development of starting pitchers Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins, who recently returned to the Twins. Slowey pitched Thursday for the first time in over a month, following a minor league rehab stint. Perkins, on the other hand, made his major league starting debut Saturday night, replacing injured starter Scott Baker. Can you compare and contrast the two pitchers, and give us an idea how long it might take for them to get into top form. You must have a pretty good idea, having been there yourself.
Bert: With some injuries to the starting staff comes opportunity. I got my chance back in 1970 when Dave Boswell and Luis Tiant came down with injuries. It was an opportunity and I ran with it! Kevin Slowey was hurt earlier this season so he is just getting back into the rotation. He pitched great in Chicago for four innings and then ran into problems in the fifth, his last inning that day. Two home runs scored three runs and the Twins lost the game 6-2. One thing that Slowey needs to do is to make sure he stays down in the strike zone. He did a great job for four innings doing exactly that, but in the fifth, after the Twins scored two runs in the top of the inning, he starting falling behind in the count and the White Sox hit the home runs.
Glen Perkins is getting the change he wants and that is to be a starter at the Major League level. He pitched very well in his first Major League start against Boston, but gave up back-to-back homeruns leading off the bottom of the seventh. He gave up three home runs in 6-plus innings but they were all solo home runs. The Twins offense couldn't do much against Dice-K and the Boston bullpen and lost 5-2.
Both these pitchers will be needed throughout the season as the Twins try to stay in first place. I know the Twins want a lefthander in their rotation after losing Santana and with Liriano in the minors. Let's hope Perkins is their answer!
Frank: Perkins will not get a start this weekend, but Kevin Slowey should start Sunday afternoon against Colorado. He will really need to keep the ball down in the thin Denver air. I asked Bert about the ballpark there:
I know that Coors Field opened after you retired; have you ever been there? Ever had a Denver omelet? I hear that the stadium, which is another huge one seating over 50,000 like the Metrodome, offers a spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains -- competing with the breathtaking view of Interstate 94 that you can get by stepping just a few feet outside the Metrodome (in a few spots). Assuming that you have been there, what did you think? Is it true that it is a mile high? Is the air thin enough for Matt Tolbert to go deep? What about Matt Guerrier (the pitchers will hit)? Seriously now, how about Livan Hernandez, who hit nine home runs during his 11 years in the National League? He will start Saturday night; do you want to make a call right now?
Bert: I have been to Coors Field in Denver only once and it is a beautiful stadium. I was there with my friend, George Frazier, a former Twins pitcher and currently the color analyst for the Rockies FSN television network. This will be the first time the Twins are in Denver to play a regular season game. Many years ago the Twins played an exhibition game in Denver but that was at Mile High Stadium.
Interleague play is an opportunity for fans to see some of the great players in each league. I remember pitching one time in Denver, back in 1970 for the Evansville Triples, and I can attest that the ball travels further than usual at the Mile High level. It will be fun to watch the games in Denver and see, even in batting practice, the ball jump off the Twins’ bats. Let's hope Tolbert gets hold of one, but let's hope all the Twins get hold of some DURING the game. Hitting homeruns in batting practice looks good to the fans watching, but hitting them in the game is another thing. This is one area the Twins haven't been good at yet. Maybe the higher altitude will help the Twins hit more home runs!
Pitchers do get a chance to hit in National League parks and Livan Hernandez loves to hit. His success in hitting some home runs will probably come into play when he pitches and Gardy has to decide whether to have him bunt or let him swing away. It's too early to make a call now, but during the game I might feel it and make that call. Let's just hope Hernandez continues to pitch great and let the other guys drive in the runs he needs to win the game.
My wife Gayle and I will have a Denver omelet just to say we had a Denver omelet in Denver. Want me to bring you back one? Go Twins!
Frank: Okay, if I don’t have to eat it. Here are some things to look for that would help the Twins “go” this week:
1. We are all anxiously awaiting the arrival of the power we have heard about (and come close to seeing) from new Twins Delmon Young and Mike Lamb – and the reappearance of Joe Mauer’s power. The home run production hasn’t spread out much, only to Adam Everett; but the pace of homers by lesser sluggers, like Carlos Gomez and Craig Monroe, picked up a lot yesterday. We could use a few more like yesterday against Boston tonight, the Toronto Blue Jays tomorrow through Thursday, and the Rockies this weekend.
2. The continued development of newly returned starters Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins. Maybe Slowey will begin a five-month competition with Nick Blackburn for American League Rookie of the Year! Maybe Perkins will prove to be the lefty we need.
3. The stability of the lineup over the next two weeks – with a game every day -- especially if Brendan Harris comes back tonight, will help. Although, Mike Redmond will get more playing time behind the plate. So that’s one possible lineup change!
No matter what the lineup is, let’s keep playing better against the non-divisional opponents (Right now, we are 13-8 against division rivals, and 6-9 against others.) that the Twins will be playing a lot over the next month and a half. We need to win outside the Central, too, especially in October!
Check out the Twins on FSN North this week:
Monday: vs. Boston at 5:30PM
Tuesday: vs. Toronto at 6:30 PM
Wednesday: vs. Toronto at 6:30 PM
Friday: vs. Colorado at 7:30 PM
Saturday: vs. Colorado at 6:30 PM