Scenes from Spring Training: A day with the Twins, Part 1

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Twins pitchers throwing.jpgI woke up bright and early, had the worst cup of coffee you’ll ever get
in the lobby of a major chain hotel, stopped at a 7-11 to get a better
cup of coffee and then headed to the ballpark. Why a 7-11? Because the
entire State of Florida appears to consist of densely-landscaped eight
lane thoroughfares lined with strip malls that are almost, but not
entirely impossible to enter after you realize that there might be
something worth entering them for. Like, say, a Starbucks.  When I
tried to get the GPS in my car to find me a better coffee place than
the 7-11 it wept and then committed suicide.

To the ballpark.  Allow me to say that the folks who work for the
Twins at Hammond Stadium are the nicest people on the planet.  I get
lost a lot whenever they let me out of my mother’s basement, and each
time I got lost, someone in a blue shirt kindly showed me where I
needed to be.  One of the guys working on the press level — Art — was
particularly nice. Turns out Art lived in Columbus for several years
where, among other things, he coached Paul O’Neill when he played high
school baseball.  Art and I chatted about Ohio a bit and then I was off to the Twins’
clubhouse, where Dustin the media guy told me I might want to be for A
Big Announcement.

“You signed Mauer?” I asked.

“Um, no,” Dustin replied.

“I think you should wait until Opening Day in the new park, then
announce you’ve signed him right after the National Anthem. The place
will go nuts!” I offered, quite proud of myself for thinking of
something so clever.

“Say, that’s . . . that’s an . . . interesting idea,” Dustin replied, scanning my eyes for signs of The Crazy. “I think I’ll mention it to Bill next time I talk to him.”

I sure hope he gives me credit!

I made it downstairs and, because I’m me, I couldn’t find the
clubhouse entrance.  A nice man in a blue shirt named Richard (the man, not the
shirt) pointed the way, telling me to “Look for Dominic. He’s working
the clubhouse door.” We had joked a bit when I first walked up to him,
so I left joking “I’ll tell Dominic you said it was OK if brought out a
couple of jerseys and bats and things for my kids.” Richard said “don’t do that, or
I’ll have to kiss the ring twice.”

I didn’t know what he meant until I met Dominic, the older, bespectacled
but undoubtedly formidable gentleman who signed me in to the clubhouse.
I made a similar joke with him about stealing stuff, and Dominic calmly,
but a tad too seriously for my tastes, said “You look like a nice boy. I’d hate to
have to break your legs.”  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say
that Dominic has lived a colorful life.

Once inside I waited with some other reporters in for The Big News
about Joe Nathan. In hindsight I wonder if the whole team knew it yet,
because the mood was pretty upbeat. Twins players had just been given a
copy of the team media guide. Jon Rauch — whose neck tattoos and sheer
height are much more impressive in person than on TV — was walking
around and bragging to everyone that he had two career hits (“says so
right here!”).  Gardenhire walked by at this point and Rauch said “hey
Ron, I have TWO career hits!” with a big dumb smile on his face.
Gardenhire — channeling Lou Brown — kept walking and grumbled “well, good for you.”

We’d soon learn that Gardenhire had other things on his mind.  I wonder
if one of those things was figuring out if Rauch’s hitting prowess was
worth wasting in the closer’s role.

Royals hold on to beat Astros, even up ALDS at 1-1

Alcides Escobar
AP Photo

The Royals kept their foot on the pedal, rallying late to take down the Astros in Game 2 of the ALDS by a 5-4 score. The series is now evened up at one game apiece in the best-of-five series.

Ben Zobrist broke a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the seventh, ripping a single to left field to plate Alcides Escobar, who had led off the inning with a triple to right-center.

The Royals were down 3-0 after the first two innings and 4-2 after three. Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus accounted for two of the runs with an RBI double in the first inning and a solo homer in the third. Catcher Salvador Perez opened up the scoring for the Royals with a solo homer in the second.

Royals starter Johnny Cueto started off poorly but was able to rebound in the latter half of his six innings. Overall, he gave up four runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts. Relievers Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson, and Wade Davis each pitched a scoreless inning behind Cueto to seal the deal. Davis benefited from replay review to secure the second out of the ninth inning, picking off pinch-runner Carlos Gomez at first base. He replaced Preston Tucker, who had walked with one out.

For the Astros, starter Scott Kazmir wasn’t able to escape the sixth inning, leaving with one out in the frame. He ultimately allowed three runs on five hits and a walk with four strikeouts. Lefty reliever Oliver Perez came in after Kazmir, but gave up two singles and a walk as his inherited runner scored. Josh Fields relieved Perez and allowed one of Perez’s runners to score on a bases-loaded walk.

The Royals are the first home team to win so far this post-season. The visiting Rangers beat the Blue Jays in both ALDS games played thus far, while the visiting Astros and Cubs both won in the Wild Card games.

The two squads will travel to Houston. Game 3 resumes on Sunday at 4:00 PM EDT with Dallas Keuchel taking the hill for the Astros and Edison Volquez toeing the slab for the Royals.

Cardinals take early 1-0 lead over the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLDS

Matt Holliday
AP Photo

Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday staked his team to an early 1-0 lead with an RBI single in the first inning of Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cubs. Rookie Stephen Piscotty had doubled with one out against Cubs starter Jon Lester, putting himself in scoring position ahead of Holliday’s single.

Starter John Lackey tossed a scoreless top of the first inning and reprised the performance in the top of the second, so the Cardinals have a small lead to open up their post-season.

Holliday, 35, posted an .804 OPS during the season but missed a significant amount of time in the second half due to a Grade 2 strain of his right quadriceps.

Video: Rougned Odor gets the benefit of the doubt upon replay review

Rougned Odor
The Associated Press

Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor appeared to luck out when a replay review was upheld in the 14th inning, ruling Odor safe at second base. Odor had beaten out an infield single to put the go-ahead run on base in a 4-4 game, then scampered to second base on Chris Jimenez’s single to right field.

Odor rounded the second base bag a little too hard and had to retreat quickly as Jose Bautista fired a laser to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. To the naked eye, Odor appeared to barely get back in safely, but replays showed Odor’s foot coming off of the bag following initial contact as Tulowitzki applied the tag. The initial safe call was upheld as there ostensibly wasn’t overwhelming evidence upon which to base a decision to overturn.

The call would immediately prove important, as Odor came in to score the go-ahead run when Hanser Albert ripped a single to center field. The Rangers took a 5-4 lead in the game and would tack on one more before the frame was over, helping them move to a 2-0 AL Division Series lead over the Blue Jays.