Tag Archives: Francisco Liriano

Looking for a Turning Point: Twins @ Yankees

Among baseball matchups, Twins-Yankees contests have moved deep into hyperbolic territory. Obviously, they’re not keen regional rivals, but over the last decade these teams play to settle one single question: Under what planetary alignment could the Twins possibly beat the Yankees?

The Yankees win when it counts. In four Division Series against the New York, Minnesota’s record is 1-3 (2003), 1-3 (2004), 0-3 (2009), and 0-3 (2010). A decade of making noise in the AL Central, only to have the Yankees (and in 2002 and 2006, the Angels and As) shut you up.

The postseason deflatings have been gruesome, but they simply carry on the rich regular season tradition of pure Yankee dominance. Before the four-game series that started this Monday, the Twins had played 73 regular season games against the Yankees since 2002. The Twins have won 20 of them, a statistically distressing 27% success rate.

And it’s anomalous. In that same span, the Twins have suffered against the Blue Jays, but only to a 30-41 record. The Yankees have clobbered the Royals nearly as well—a 68% beatdown pace—but KC lost to everyone in that decade. Something just happens when hallowed pinstripe meets Midwestern pinstripe.

Add in the bonus oddity that Yankee Stadium, old or new, is especially well suited to the hitting skills of the Twins’ predominantly lefty lineup and you are left wondering why an interlocked N and Y have such a definitively mesmerizing effect on the Twins. They fare no better at home, whether in the Metrodome where they used to enjoy a decisive home field advantage against all teams not from the Bronx, or in new Target Field.

For a decade, the Twins’ sole project has been to offer themselves up for the Yankees to devour.

So when I settled in for this series, played in New York, I began with a simple, feeble hope: just win one of the four games to shake off at least a little of the feeling of doom. The Twins 2012 season is off to a predictably lousy start—2-7, dead last in the division, with the only bright spot confined to a Justin Morneau homer that might (might!) signal that his concussion symptoms have truly started to dissipate. The Yankees are 5-4, tied atop the AL East with Baltimore and Toronto.

Even staunch Twins fans can’t expect much from the team this year. They’ve brought in Josh Willingham to try to make up for the power lost with the exodus of Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, and Michael Cuddyer. The rotation is rickety, and now Scott Baker will be lost to Tommy John rehab for the year, leaving behind Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Jason Marquis, Nick Blackburn, and Anthony Swarzak. The Twins made a madcap, high-risk pick of closer free agent Joel Zumaya, who didn’t make it past spring training before suffering the type of injury that every other general manager in baseball adequately foresaw. Sift the roster however you like—there’s little there but some hope that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau might hit a little and Danny Valencia can finally win manager Ron Gardenhire’s love with some handy hitting.

The Yankees, on the other hand, replace All-Star with All-Star whenever an injury or a more favorable pitching matchup requires. However, for all the glory in their stat lines, it’s important to note that it’s an aging hitting lineup: catcher Russell Martin is the youngest of the offense at 29. They’re tall, they’re trim, they’re well-conditioned and cared for, but trying to wring a little more out of Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones starts to look a little like a rich man’s a creepy kind of science experiment.

The pitching staff has a bloom of youth in Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, but they’re joined by oldsters CC Sabathia, Freddy Garcia, and Hiroki Kuroda. Michael Pineda, hope of the future, is nursing his shoulder back to health. As reluctant as they are to shed any bit of the luster that was Yankee glory in the 90s, Jorge Posada has retired and Andy Pettitte is standing by in the minors, while Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter continue to merit spots on the roster.

Jeter is off to a hot start this season, his perfect career evolving into a perfect and long one. So, for game one, Carl Pavano versus Freddy Garcia, my lowered expectations were as follows: win one game of the four, and maybe get Derek Jeter out a couple times.

Yes, well, that will not be possible. The Twins start strong, scoring 2 in the first, but if you really want to feel gloomy, you can remind yourself that the Twins started with the lead for so many of the games they lost to the Yankees that it’s almost an eerie prediction of failure. Still, a double from Mauer and a single from Morneau, plus RBIs from Willingham and Doumit make it feel like the turning point might at last be at hand.

But in the bottom of the first, Jeter needs only two pitches from Pavano to find the one he’d like to launch to his right field homer zone. It’s the standard punch in the gut, but perhaps Pavano can reinflate himself? Not quickly enough. Curtis Granderson also likes the look of the second pitch he sees and whips his bat around to park it a little higher in the same right field porch.

Two lead off homers and this is starting to look like a classic Yankee massacre. Classic, as in Why did you bother to try to play against us? The frail little tie lasts a few minutes, but Mark Teixeira drives in Alex Rodriguez to make it 3-2. The entire universe settles: Yankees ahead, Twins paralyzed.

I could dream about a turning point, but there’s a grim sameness now. The good news is that Pavano regains every speck of his composure after that insta-collapse first inning. He becomes efficient, focused, and deals a few crisp strikeouts while leaning on a double play to solve the third.

Garcia, meanwhile, also got said mojo back and began dispatching Twins at a brisk clip until the fifth, when the Twins retook the lead on a double from Alexi Casilla, a single from Jamey Carroll, and a double from Mauer. It looked like more was building: with Mauer on second, up comes Willingham, the Twins best hitter at the moment. It’s an ideal scoring opportunity, but Willingham settles for a fly out.

The Yankees were done for the night; Pavano made it through seven without the slightest flashback to his first inning woes. But the Twins notched a few more runs, the most encouraging of which was Morneau’s lofty solo homer to deep center. Final score: 7-3. Essence of a turning point.

Tuesday’s game pits Liriano against Sabathia. Liriano has already had two miserable starts, but I’m not the only observer who can’t shake memories of the brilliance of his first full season, in 2006, when he went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and an even 1.00 WHIP. There have been surgeries, injuries, lost seasons, stumbles, and just about every disappointment you can name, but the image of 2006 persists. I watch because there’s always this wild chance Liriano will bloom again.

Wait a minute—flowers don’t do that. Baseball is so good at lodging stories about players in our heads, but I’ve got to let the real evidence chip away at my idealized Dominican lefthander. Well, the Yankees are happy to slam me back to earth.

Liriano has a shaky first but escapes after allowing a double and a walk. The Twins score in the second, with Willingham keeping his 11-game hitting streak going with a homer off a pitch Sabathia hangs. It’s a puny lead, but I’m no longer willing to write it off as another Twins folly. Last night they not only held on, they got better as the game progressed.

But Liriano is not comfortable on the mound tonight. A feeling of pure Twins futility returns, and it’s such a familiar feeling. It’s clear Liriano no longer has the velocity, location, or the requisite pride in his calling. In fact, pitching may no longer be his calling. Time and injuries have turned a 95-mph fastball into a 91-mph not-fooling-anyone pitch. One only wants Liriano lifted as the hits and runs keep clunking over on the odometer. Rick Anderson sedately visits the mound with the same implacable expression—largely constructed from a motionless salt and pepper mustache—and Liriano stays in, not least because the Twins have little else in the bullpen to offer up to the hungry Yankees.

The Twins tick off two more runs, but the Yankees go on to take four more off Liriano, and three from Minnesota’s motley relief staff. Final score: 8-3 Yankees, and the turning point seems to have turned back to the inexorable Yankees.

Yet there is a bright spot. If Yankee mystique has overwhelmed the Twins for ten years, the new players in the lineup seem a tad less sensitive to the virus. There’s that little sleight of hand in a lineup like the Twins’, where low expectations allow for surprises. Tonight Clete Thomas, Jamey Carroll, and Alexi Casilla all get hits. These pale before the Yankees’ clobberings—only A-Rod goes hitless, while little-known backup catcher Chris Stewart has two hits and three RBI. The Yankees even win on unlikely sources of hits.

Sabathia has an OK night, with seven Ks and only four hits, though he does give up three earned runs. This is an improvement on his two previous outings this season, but it’s not easy to tell if his season will settle around his career averages or show some real decline. For now, the Yankees sleep calmly with the series split 1-1.

Game 3 features a pitching matchup that no fantasy team is sporting this season: Hideki Kuroda versus Jason Marquis. Kuroda has a rocky first inning, precisely in keeping with the tenor of this series. Denard Span leads off with a hit, Carroll follows right along with a single, and Mauer hits a sweet double to score two. Josh Willingham’s bullet to left is snared by Derek Jeter, but Justin Morneau hits his second happy homer of the series, deep to right center. The inning ends with Twins up 4-0—what better present for Jason Marquis in his Twins debut?

Well, it’s the first inning. It’s a bottomless pit for pitchers in this series, so Marquis proceeds to give up 3 runs and fidget with two on and one out. It looks like a pure and absolute collapse—30 pitches worth—when Alexi Casilla starts a double play that gets the Twins out with the lead intact.

Neither pitcher has much of a grip on things tonight. The big suspense is whether Marquis can survive the fifth inning. With the game at the halfway point and the Twins up 6-4 after a second homer from Morneau in the top of the inning, there’s still no sense yet that momentum has tipped Twinsward. Thanks to a double play that, honestly, appeared not quite swift enough to snare Cano at first, Marquis notches his 15 outs and is done for the night.

The seventh begins to look like more trouble. Jeter leads off with a single against Brian Duensing, who’s given up a leadoff hit in all three innings he’s pitched this season. The bullpen is warming up and the great weight of Yankee destiny is felt again. Teixeira rips one to left and it’s men on first and second, one out. Cano is up, and he’s already turned in an RBI double and solo homer tonight. The Twins slim edge here is the lefty-lefty matchup.

Cano hits a grounder to Casilla, but it becomes a fielder’s choice instead of a double play. Teixiera’s erased, Jeter’s swaying proudly at third, and Cano stands at first. Jared Burton comes in to face Nick Swisher.

If I’m so keen on turning points, I have one now. The series is even, the Twins are ahead in the game, and the Yankees are threatening. Put them away and the 2-run lead may stay safe for a victory. Crumple, and the whole series is lost.

Burton’s first two offerings are balls so far out of deception range they wouldn’t lure a child. I remain convinced this is the critical at-bat of the game, but it’s plainly not going to be one of those heroic showdowns of might against might. Swisher fouls one off. Burton produces a nifty changeup for a swinging strike and now I lean forward in anticipation. Something is materializing here.

Swisher fouls off another. It’s 2-2, 2 on, 2 out, with a 2-run lead—as twoish as it gets. Baseball often suspends itself on twos; three is always the final note, the last beat, the one you can almost hear before it falls.

Another foul back, another delay in reaching whatever conclusion this confrontation has to offer. It feels like the ninth inning to me.

Burton hurls a splitter and earns a swinging strike. That’s it!

If this is the turning point, if one could actually see a turning point as it happens, it has unspooled itself slowly over a long inning, with two pitchers struggling slowly. It will take time to prove whether anything turned or not, but I think I feel a few atoms realigning.

Matt Capps does the honors in the ninth. With one out, Jeter munches through 10 pitches to achieve his desired, god-like result: a solo homer that cuts the lead in two and opens the door for further Yankee settling of accounts. Capps dispatches Granderson and Teixeira, though, and the Twins lead the series 2-1. Final score: 7-6.

By game 4, irrational hopes sprout up. The Twins could take home quite a pretty scrapbook here if they pulled off a decisive 3-1 series win. It will be up to Anthony Swarzak, the best hope in the Twins’ depleted rotation, who faces Phil Hughes.

Once again, the first inning is a banquet. The Twins score 4, the Yankees 3. There’s something so prompt about these Yankee responses to an opponent’s runs—it feels like they’re staying on top of their e-mail. In this case, Granderson starts off with a home run, as if cluttering the bases with singles would just take too long. He has a whippy swing, and it looks almost like the bat head is spinning away from him, that he’s barely harnessing the centrifugal force as he lunges out to the ball. His homers are so brisk they feel inevitable.

The Twins try their own version of answering back in the second, and this time it’s Mauer, with one on, hitting the ball deep to left. This is the spot where he can hit opposite field homers; in his 2009 overachiever season, even Yankee Stadium wasn’t safe. This time, the ball lands in Ibanez’s glove with plenty of warning track to spare.

Mind you, the Twins are still ahead in the second, but now it’s time for Derek Jeter to flick his wand and send in the tying run. Then Granderson hits his second home run in a 40-minute span to push the Yankees ahead.

To unravel how they can make such things come true, we need to look at what constitutes the bottom of their order. Swarzak was not able to retire Eduardo Nunez, playing second base tonight to give Cano a DH turn. New York has strength wedged against strength.

By the fourth, the Yankees are in cruise control. The Twins have yanked Swarzak and are trying on Jeff Gray in middle relief. After one out, when Granderson steps up, it simply doesn’t seem necessary for him to keep hitting. But there is a tuning fork he can hear especially perfectly today—his swing is in some special Yankee ballpark harmony. Third home run of the night.

Phil Hughes never exactly overwhelms, but he keeps the Twins at bay. Hughes looks a bit like Beetle Bailey on the mound. His has is not pulled especially lower than other players’, but with his mouth always half open and the dark shadow of the hat bill making it impossible to read his eyes, there’s a regular schlub’s mild helplessness about him. But hapless GI or not, Hughes has turned the page from his first inning’s troubles.

Hughes even glides past the gnat-like irritation of stout Ryan Doumit getting his first Twins homer, with Morneau on base, bringing the score to 7-6 in the sixth. There it stays for Rivera to make it official with his darting cutter, retiring Carroll, Mauer, and Willingham—seven pitches, three outs, good night.

Splitting the series 2-2 constitutes an improvement for the Twins, but it’s no full bore turning point. And for the Twins to whip themselves into contention in the Central this season would require miracles outside my range of hope. It’s easier to cheer for the odd little accomplishment while understanding that no big dreams can be attached to this team.

The Yankees, meanwhile, impress well past mere payroll. I complain about them, groan about them, suffer their annihilating force—but I must concede their majesty. These guys are good. They’re making the most of a less than stellar rotation; they’re sending up a lineup organized around a sequence of strengths; they’re keeping players healthy. Heck, they’re fine-tuning Granderson’s swing to the point of a 3-for-5, 3 homer night.

There are times the Yankees look like a synthetic collection of talent—fantasy baseball run wild. But when you see them play the game, they do the little and large things, and they do them with each other. Hustling to make plays, advancing runners, keeping their heads in the game. Money makes them impregnable, but talent and desire make them win.

[games 112, 113] Paint by Numbers

Whenever I’m about to lose heart, the Twins turn around and have a game like tonight’s 7-1 victory over the Royals.

Last night, just to keep this in perspective, the Twins lost 14-6. All hail the Royals, who deserve credit for the clobbering, but the real story was the bleakness of Minnesota pitching. We needed five pitchers to drag through the game, and only one of them pitched more than two complete innings.

It was such an ugly game, I literally looked away—turned it off the TV and followed it, preoccupied, on the radio until the fun finale: Brendan Harris hitting an adorably useless solo home run in the bottom of the ninth while behind by nine runs.

Bad games are one thing, but this was the kind of loss that rocks you to the core. The abject failure of starter Nick Blackburn and all the bullpen (until Jose Mijares brought some order in the seventh) raises concern about the rest of the season. Explain, exactly, how the Twins are going to weave their way into the postseason with a rotation of Blackburn, Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, and Anthony Swarzak.

Well, one answer popped up promptly today. Liriano pitched seven super-solid innings, collecting 8 strikeouts while allowing 3 hits and 1 walk. Among those scant hits was a home run in the first, from Willie Bloomquist.  We must file it under Fluke, as it was his fourth dinger of the season.

Lirianio retired 12 in row at one stage, and was never under pressure. The Bloomquist blast in the first was bookended by strikeouts, and Liriano had nearly a 3 to 1 strike to ball ratio while throwing 91 pitches. It was paint by numbers pitching—the sinker had nasty movement, the pitch choices confounded the hitters, and catcher and pitcher were in a groove.

Liriano had both location and velocity working perfectly for him. Which made me wonder: how often do pitchers get what they wish for? Certainly Blackburn, last night, had none of his hopes met, but that was a starkly bad outing. No, I’m wondering how much pitchers coast on gas, on luck, and on hitters’ foibles.

You can turn in creditable innings on fumes. Most pitchers have one or two luckless innings, and if they’re fortunate the damage is not too severe. And then, how does it feel to have a whole game go your way, as Liriano’s did tonight?

For that matter, how does it feel to be part of a batting order that scores five runs on five consecutive hits, with two outs no less? In the first, the Twins had an emphatic reply to the lone Royal homer. Royals starter Brian Bannister had a rocky night, but the Twins did their main damage in the first.

Joe Mauer shot a single to left to keep his magnificent batting average ticking on upward. Justin Morneau knocked in a matching base hit, and the M&M boys waited on first and second to see what the rest of the batting order could do with two outs.

Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer stayed with the Cavalcade O’ Singles theme, each notching an RBI. But I don’t know—sometimes you just have to bust out of these patterns. Joe Crede, laced with cortisone for his balky shoulder, crushed a homer to left to add three more runs. The Twins were playing happy, effortless baseball and enjoying every little moment in their win.

They scored two more in the fourth, Liriano kept up his attack on the strike zone, Matt Guerrier pitched a scoreless eighth, and Joe Nathan got to strike out the side in the ninth.

The central truth of baseball is that it’s a pleasant game laced with endless opportunity for failure. Tonight, when the hits came when they were needed and the pitches shut the opposition down, it was easy to forget how hard baseball is. It looked simple, even sweet.

Meanwhile, The Red Sox stymied the division-leading Tigers for the second straight night. Minnesota is now 4 games back, even with their lousy 55-58 record. They have the White Sox to worry about too, and need 3 games to catch them.

If they play like they did tonight, overtaking Detroit and Chicago is entirely feasible. But the starters and bullpen don’t look to have quite this much polish in them consistently. Even Liriano is no sure bet five days from now—this game may be a high water mark instead of a turning point.

A baseball season has the perfect suspense of a long, long series of very small events. Predicting is folly. The actual baseball aptitudes of the Twins roster are enough to allow many more games like tonight. And many more like last night, too.

Will they keep alternating, like a long S.O.S. signal, these wins and losses? Three games below .500 suggests that the great win streak really never will happen. But why predict? Why predict when the evidence we have, the evidence from which we’d try to build a prediction, says only one thing: you never know.

[games 76, 77] Two Games, Two Sports

For a while, it looked like the games would stay in eerie parallel, with each of my teams out to an early lead. I was toggling between the Twins concluding their series with the Cardinals and the US soccer team trying to upset Brazil in the Confederations Cup. My husband observed that merely mentioning soccer in this blog could easily cost me a quarter of my precious readers, but I’ll risk it.

The Twins have a penchant for scoring early, but it’s a trait widely shared—the first inning has by far the largest average runs per inning. The mechanism is easy to understand: the pitcher finding his sea legs, versus the batting order in its theoretically optimal trim.

Today was a case in point. The Cardinals started Joel Piniero who, at 6-8, hasn’t revived his career with the move to St Louis. (For that matter, we will start Francisco Liriano, 3-8, who was in danger of losing his rotation spot.) Denard Span leads off and is safe on an error, Brendan Harris advances him to second on a groundout, and Joe Mauer fluffs up his batting average with a single. First and third, one out.

This is what we like to call a Justin Morneau situation. It’s a three-run homer, then, and the Twins look ready to bounce back from yesterday’s game.

A brief digression to recap Saturday’s contest: Albert Pujols hit a double helping of two-run homers to set the Cards on to win 5-3. Kevin Slowey doled those runs out and lasted a mere three innings as his attempt to be the first AL pitcher with 11 victories was foiled early. I had to watch these events crawl by on my computer’s game update, as Fox and MLB form an impenetrable wall shielding me from all Saturday afternoon baseball. The fiends.

Today, however, none of that loss lingers over the Twins. Liriano keeps the Cards, and Pujols in particular, in check for seven innings, allowing 4 hits and 2 runs. The Twins tack on another run on a Harris sac fly, and collect their fifth run in the ninth when Harris pushes Joe Crede in to score on an RBI single.

But I’m spending much of that time savoring the soccer. I doubt my eyes as the US scores first, and twice. The first goal, from Clint Dempsey, requires threading the needle through defenders. The second, by Landon Donovan, is a little case study in ball control, as he splits defenders, passes left, receives the return, does that shoulder drop/knee bend that drives the defender the wrong way, and then plants a shot squarely by the goalkeeper.

There are three great pleasures in being a soccer fan. First, the game is a beautiful flow of motion, and the exotic scarcity of scoring makes every goal a stunning triumph. Second, no commercial breaks. Third, you have to root for Italy, Argentina, France, Germany, Brazil, England, Croatia, Spain—anyone but the US, which musters out unspectacular team after unspectacular team.

So I’m not watching today as a US partisan, though I admit that this fairy-tale ride into the finals is remarkable. The US was nearly eliminated from the tournament by losses to Brazil and Italy. Their only chance of staying in was a 3-0 win against Egypt (unlikely, given their level of play to date) and a 3-0 loss by Italy to Brazil (virtually impossible, as Italy last suffered such a shutout before, I don’t know, something like Marconi’s invention of the radio.)

But the unlikely/impossible is why we have sports, and the scores come true. The US plays with heart and vigor to overcome Egypt. And Italy, I don’t know how this could have happened. I was frantically cheering for the Azzuri in the 2006 World Cup and shall continue to consider them campioni del mondo until the calendar requires me to concede.

In any case, next up, another miracle. The US edges Spain to get into the championship match. Spain, top team by many measures, can’t slow down this surge from Team USA.

Simply appearing in today’s championship match puts the US men in new territory. They haven’t reached a FIFA final before, let alone won a tournament. The odds favor Brazil, overwhelmingly. It’s time, of course, for this string of stunning surprises to come to an end.

So I lean back, ready to see the Brazilians do their beautiful dance with the ball as Donovan & Co. struggle to keep up, but the match starts off far differently. Here’s USA keeping firm possession, playing with confidence and flow. And the first goal, within ten minutes, is a pure shock.

I know I should tear my eyes away and return to my baseball world, but I can’t let go. I tell myself that I will see baseball better if I train my gaze here for a while, the better to appreciate the contrast. After all, the best way to learn what something is is to see clearly what it is not.

Soccer is a restless flow, and I know why it can seem dull to Americans glancing by: much of the movement is irresolute, and all of it appears in a TV camera long shot. Baseball, by contrast, is a game of close-ups. And even if every baseball event has a long prelude of cap adjusting, spitting, cleat scratching, and bat wiggling, the pure purpose is always clear.

In soccer, the prettiest thing you can see in ninety minutes usually looks like an accident, not least because no one can seem to do it twice. Baseball is like a vast ocean of failure, with an unbearably precise statistical record of every shortcoming, but each isolated burst of excellence—the pinpoint pitch, the perfect swing, the hustle and glide of the double play—echoes an unchanging ideal. We know those plays. We know they aren’t easy, but that practice and skill makes them possible.

In soccer, emotion and happenstance make each goal—any goal—a miracle bordering on pure innovation. When Donovan carves out his this afternoon, he runs toward the sidelines in his happy exuberance, repeatedly tapping his own chest as if to say, “Me! Me! I did what’s never been done before!” Because there is no template, and almost no true strategy to soccer. I acknowledge there are styles of play, and ways of connection on the field, and overall coaching vision. But soccer is a game of vast space, and even the dive of the goaltender can only ever cover so much of it. Soccer is entropy with a scoring mechanism.

The US has a stunning first period, and their 2-0 lead will certainly hold up if they can continue to move the ball and bewitch Brazil as they have just done for 45 minutes. But halftime divides the game distinctly in two. Brazil is newly energized. In the first minute of the second half, they score and break the wall keeper Tim Howard had tended so firmly the first half.

Now Team USA can’t stop reeling from the blow. They stop controlling the ball and pursuing their defense. In the 60th minute, Brazil’s Kaka drives a header past Howard, who handles it behind the post but sends it out so promptly the referee is convinced it never crossed the plane of the goal. Replays make the point evident, but Brazil has not yet tied the game.

It will be another 15 minutes before they do, but the equalizer is struck. This entire half, the US has mounted barely a threat. You can’t help feeling like they’re returning to earth, and with a thud, their passport to miracles having expired. The tie, though, still allows hope.

Until Brazil turns the clock against them by scoring in the 85th minute. It begins off a corner kick, and when Howard lies flattened with failure, the team has collectively given up. It’s Brazil 3-2, and the end of upsets for this tournament.

When I turn back to baseball, I contrast the flow and beauty of the two games. Here’s Joe Mauer taking a ball, and then the pause filled with preliminaries for the next pitch. It’s a strike. Mauer’s average had been above .400 for a while today, but grounding into a double play has him in need of a hit. The shuffle in and out of the batter’s box, the pitcher’s little prefaces to pitching, and then the play: Mauer grounds out, and will end the day at .394.

There were a dozen shifts and sniffs and scratches necessary to reach that outcome. Baseball is hitch and go and hitch again. Finally, after all that running on the soccer pitch, I get the clumsiest version of motion baseball provides. In the bottom of the ninth, as the Twins are trying to preserve their lead, Joe Thurston is caught in a rundown. He was on first and Jason LaRue on second when Chris Duncan singled. That hit should have filled the bases and put the Twins’ 4-run lead in pretty sharp danger. But Carlos Gomez fielded the ball quickly and Brendan Harris saw Thurston dashing too far past second, hoping LaRue was going to score. No sir. Gomez threw cleanly and Harris tagged him out. Twins win, in the particular halting flow that is baseball.

[game 72] Wild Pitch

The Twins started a 9-game road trip tonight, in which they face three of the most dominant teams in the Midwest: the Brewers, Cardinals, and Royals. Milwaukee is now a single game behind the Cardinals in the NL Central, and they have the bonus regional rivalry incentive to foil the Twins. They also have the memory of being swept in their 3 game series at the Metrodome in May to fuel them.

The Brewers generally aim to win by mashing. Prince Fielder is the obvious slugger, but Ryan Braun, Mike Cameron, and Corey Hart are a pure power outfield, and infielders JJ Hardy and Rickie Weeks can clobber too. Weeks is out on the DL, so I see Casey McGehee at second base. I am braced for a Brew Crew wrecking ball.

We have Francisco Liriano on the mound, and I have officially reached the stage of assuming the worst. Liriano still shows flashes of talent and he may yet come to fulfill the promise of his rookie year, but I expect he won’t flower until he has a new season, new team, or new pitching coach.

With Denard Span still on the DL, Ron Gardenhire has shuffled the lineup back to a more conventional order. Instead of moving up Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau into second and third, he has them at three and four. Carlos Gomez leads off, followed by Brendan Harris. Both Gomez and Harris have sleepy batting averages, though they have been improving lately. In other words, I have yet another reason to fear the worst.

So I start the game like one of those desperate fans who can only bear to watch his team by drenching himself in cynicism. This is not, I assure you, my usual mode. I just want to root and enjoy the exploits of my squad. But there’s something about nearly three months of staying stuck at .500 or below that’s wearing me down. A win tonight and we’re back at .500; a loss and we’re two games below.

The Brewers start Jeff Suppan. I don’t have long to stay gloomy or guarded—Gomez leads off with a hit. It’s a little dunk job, spooned into center off the very end of the bat. A lucky Texas Leaguer is all, but Gomez is making contact. He had some similar hit-lets in the Cubs series over the weekend, and perhaps he’s got himself a little hitting plan. Go, Gomez.

Suppan settles down to get two outs, but Mauer makes his out count by advancing Gomez to second. The Brewers then get all careful with Morneau. When he won’t nibble outside the strike zone, Suppan finishes him off with an intentional walk.

Michael Cuddyer is up. And Suppan strikes him out. He does indeed—Cuddyer flails at the pitch. But it’s a wild pitch that catcher Jason Kendall can’t grab and lets roll far to the backstop. By the grace of baseball, Cuddyer has the right to run to first and try to beat the throw, which he does handily.

Two outs, bases loaded, but the inning should be over. Joe Crede cracks a double to center—a far more authoritative hit than Gomez’s little poke—and three runs score. Two hits, three runs, poor Suppan. But happy Twins.

Liriano lets Brewers leak onto the bases every inning, but holds them to 3 runs over 5 innings. After allowing two runs in the first, Liriano has a rocky second inning, highlighted by a hit from pitcher Suppan. Suppan will score from first on a double from McGehee, but the following two hitting thoughtfully prolong the inning to allow their pitcher some rest on the bench.

Suppan also has all his trouble in the first three innings. After the tragic wild pitch the prolonged the first, he faces Gomez again in the second. With two out, Gomez doubles to center. His hitting style is all elbows and knees, but when you wind up this elastic young player, sometimes he spins. Harris follows him with an RBI single.

In the top of the third, the Twins take advantage of another Brewer failing. With one out, Cuddyer singles. We’re in classic double play territory, and Suppan tries to coax one from Crede. It’s picture perfect, right at the shortstop, but Hardy can’t close his glove cleanly around it and the balls flops onto the infield dirt. Cuddy and Crede are safe.

Delmon Young seizes his opportunity and uncorks a double, scoring Cuddy and moving Crede to third. And now we have a little scene that can pretty much only unfold in a National League park. I hope Nick Punto keeps a good souvenir from this game, because our ultra-light-hitting second baseman is intentionally walked.

This masterwork is designed to fill the bases with Liriano coming to the plate. A fine strategy if you can get the pitcher to oblige with the wobbly groundball that ends the inning in a double play. Not so perfect if Liriano follows orders and stays wooden at the plate, accepting a strike three call.

This leaves it all up to Gomez, who is having a bright night. The Brewers have seen him single and double, and really should be fearing him by now. Over the weekend, the Cubs were showing him some respect as Gomez starts solving all his hitting woes by visiting the National League.

Now, I know Gomez well. I know that he needs to be reminded there are two outs. I know that bunting is still his strong suit, and it won’t avail him here. I know that going 3-for-3 is nearly out of the question.

Well, snap—doesn’t he wheel the end of the bat around just in time to slap another hit to center? His sloppy single scores two, and puts the Twins up 7-3.

That’s where they stay. For the next six innings, both teams stay off the scoreboard, though baserunners scratch and peck from time to time. The Twins trot out three relievers. Luis Ayala has been released, so we see steadfast RA Dickey handle the sixth and seventh, and Matt Guerrier resolve the eighth.

Joe Nathan doesn’t add any suspense to close the game. Though the Brewers have the best part of the order up, Prince Fielder sends the second pitch he sees to shallow left, and Corey Hart and Mike Cameron strike out. Twins win.

The victory is legitimate in all baseball respects, but it hinges entirely on two mistakes from the Brewers that have outsize consequences. The wild pitch that Kendall couldn’t corral opens the door to three runs, and a missed double play leads to another three.

Baseball, perhaps more than other sports, lends itself to imaginary reconstructions. If Kendall had made the throw to first in time to make good on Suppan’s strikeout, would the Brewers have won the game? And don’t even begin to rebuild games by correcting missed double plays. Bill Lee still relives the missed DP in the World Series against the Reds, as do all Red Sox fans. Because baseball plays are such defined little increments, we like to add and subtract them to imagine different outcomes.

It’s not always intellectually sound, but it’s how we experience the game. And some what ifs aren’t small speculations—everyone knows what would have happened if Bill Buckner had fielded that ball that dribbled between his ankles. Tonight, we can’t subtract the two Brewer blunders, but we know this win rested on them.

[game 56] Tenth Inning

The Twins began a long road trip tonight that will take them to Seattle, Oakland, and Chicago.

A 10-day road trip would be a minor ordeal for most teams, but for the Twins it has the makings of a season-shaping watershed. The Twins, you see, are really a rather good team at home, and are absolutely dreadful on the road. So far. Statistically, the sample is too small to mean anything, but they’re the only numbers we have: 22-14 at home, 5-14 out of town. This appalling skew is principally the product of a 7-game losing streak while visiting the Yankees and White Sox.

If the Twins are going to contend in the still wide-open AL Central, they need to get comfortable in places other than the Metrodome. Is it the hometown crowd or that dank plastic roof? We’d better hope that the physical field is not their secret for winning, as there are only 48 more games to be played there.

This road trip’s opening matchup pitted Francisco Liriano against the Seattle Mariners’ Felix Hernandez. King Felix is the scariest part of the Mariners’ rotation, and he was on his game Friday. He allowed one run and 6 scrawny hits, several of which were dunky little infield jobs. He struck out 7 and walked 3.

The one run the Twins scored against Hernandez was a small ball scratch-fest: Carlos Gomez and Alexi Casilla hit back-to-back infield singles, using their running speed to beat out close throws. Denard Span sacrificed them both to scoring position. Joe Mauer walked to fill the bases, and Hernandez had no choice but to try to do something with Justin Morneau.

Alas, there’s little a pitcher can do against Morneau with less than two outs. But give Hernandez credit: he held Morneau to a sacrifice fly. Gomez zoomed home and the Twins had a run.

This little piece of scoring, in the top of the third, was a nice direct response to a home run from the Mariners DH Mike Sweeney, leading off in the bottom of the second. That pitch to Sweeney was pretty much Liriano’s only mistake. His pitching line over 6 innings has 1 run, 3 hits, 5 Ks, and 4 walks.

The pitching duel confined both teams to quiet innings. During the long 1-1 tie, the Twins got most of their hits from the bottom of the batting order, and the Mariners based their biggest threats on coaxing walks out of Liriano.

The bullpens were both sharp too. Jesse Crain, Jose Mijares, and Matt Guerrier didn’t allow a peep out of the Ms, including Ichiro Suzuki. Suzuki brought a 27-game hitting streak to the game, and seemed poised to ignite a little scoring every time he came up, but the game became a test of his stoic Japanese character. He was 0 for 3 in regular innings.

Seattle’s young new manager, Don Wakamatsu, tried to move the home field levers to his advantage and put in current closer David Aardsma in the ninth. Indeed, he foiled the Twins, striking out the first two hitters and then allowing a walk to Denard Span. Joe Mauer, hope and pride of the Twins, was up with a man on base.

Span is a good base stealer, with an 80% success rate this season. He generally knows what he’s doing up there, but tonight he took off and was caught stealing on a good throw from Rob Johnson. The inning ends, and Mauer never gets his chance.

Ron Gardenhire doesn’t get his Joe Nathan armament out, but leaves Matty Guerrier in to pitch a fast ninth. If Wakamatsu was hoping to see his team turn the tide, he wasn’t counting on first pitch swings from Jose Lopez (instant fly out) and Rob Johnson (high foul out to Mauer), sandwiched around a 5-pitch at-bat for Wladimir Balentien, who ended up grounding out to short.

We come to the tenth. I thought I should look this up, and my hunch was nearly true: a tabulation by Baseball Prospectus shows that .399 runs are scored in the tenth inning, making it quite low compared to the regular nine. (For reference, of the regular 9 innings, the second is the lowest scoring inning, with .431 runs scored; typically an inning averages just under half a run, so these extras with a third of one show the brutal pace of tie baseball.) My hunch was that the tenth would host the fewest runs of any of the first four extra innings, but in fact they’re all similar: .398 in the 11th, .385 in the 12th, .396 in the 13th.

Now, we are seeing two mathematical forces here: the dwindling of runs due to the rarity of play in extra frames, and the emphasis on single runs necessary to resolve ties. My theory was that the tenth was a coasting inning, one in which neither team worked especially hard to score after somehow building the tie that forestalled a loss. But if these numbers are statistically clear enough to reveal a truth, teams get right at in the tenth.

And so did the Twins. Mauer, who didn’t get to complete his at-bat after Span was caught stealing, leads off with a double. He’d been quiet all night, and this first hit of his was welcome. Morneau is up, and the Mariners play it wisely and walk him. No sense letting a home run get in the way.

Jason Kubel, our next lefty power threat, is up but he doesn’t command quite the same respect Morneau does. Kubel tries to make up for the slight by sending a massive drive to deep center. Franklin Gutierrez makes a great leaping catch—the ball pounds into the heel of his glove and he barely closes it tight to capture the ball. Mauer advances to third, but that’s all we get out of it.

So much for the three-run homer that would have given the Mariners a big challenge in their half of the tenth. Now Matt Tolbert is up, complete with his .179 batting average. He watches a ball, and then a strike. And the lightbulb goes off over Wakamatsu’s head: call for a pitchout, they’re going to try the suicide squeeze.

Wakamatsu is dead on, and Mauer is dead meat. The pitchout works: Tolbert can’t make contact and Johnson runs him down. Our best scoring threat is erased, and there are two outs. But you can look it up—it’s hard to score in the tenth!

Morneau has gotten himself to second during the defeated squeeze play. Tolbert takes another ball, then swings at strike two. And then the Twins take advantage of a little weak spot. Tolbert hits a drive to left that Balentien misplays. On the error, Morneau whistles home and the Twins lead 2-1.

One outfielder saves a three-run homer, the other allows an RBI. Such is baseball.

The Mariners have their chance to answer back, but they will have to face Joe Nathan. Ronny Cedeno bats first, and Nathan needs seven pitches to do it, but he strikes him out. There are two whooshing sounds—Cedeno’s bat flailing in the air, and Nathan’s exhale at getting the leadoff man out.

Wakamatsu has some perfect theater in mind next. He brings up Ken Griffey Jr. to pinch hit. Griffey, you may recall, hit his first homer of the season off the Twins, and would certainly enjoy shifting the team’s fortunes right now. Nathan places two surgical strikes on the outside edge of the plate, then tries to get Griffey to swing at pitches still further outside. He won’t nibble, and runs the count to 3-2. Then Nathan gives him a classic challenging fastball a little inside, and Griffey is too grateful: he gets under it and pops it up to Mauer. Two outs.

The theater continues. Ichiro now has an extra inning chance to keep his hitting streak going. It’s the longest in the AL this season. I watch Ichiro’s trademark mannerisms, and you know, they have changed a bit as he’s aged. He leans back a little tighter it seems, a little stiffer before that trademark sleeve tug. He seems tense and coiled, and makes a few extra gestures, little flicks of his hand to the chest and left shoulder before adjusting the right sleeve. I have to admit, I always hated that sleeve tug. It seemed so precious and perfect. But now as I watch the care with which it’s preserved even as other crochets surround it, I miss the elegant, loose grace Ichiro used to have with the gesture. In fact, I simply begrudged him his hitting ease, and now I feel cruel for doing so.

But this is a slender thread of hope for the Twins. A win will bring us to .500—a little perch we’ve never climbed above and have rarely held during this season—and will put us one-and-a-half games out of first. The Tigers, Royals, and White Sox all lost today. Only the Indians were winners, as it was they who clocked the Sox.

A one-run lead, two outs, Joe Nathan on the mound. There is a delicious blend of hope and fear. It’s so delicate, that lead. I find myself hoping hard. Nathan can’t get Ichiro to swing at ball one, then gives him three straight pitches to foul off. Ichiro’s craft is showing.

He takes another ball, and it’s 2-2. Nathan inhales, puffs out those cheeks, and gets ready. Swing and a miss—Twins win.

[game 46] Missing Mauer

The Twins started a four-game series with Boston at the Metrodome this afternoon. In many ways, the only thing we want out of this is a chance to wash off the stink of the tragic day-night doubleheader we ended up playing in Boston when rain dogged the schedule. Two ugly losses on a wet, whirlwind trip to Fenway.

We don’t need to crush the Red Sox or sweep the series or do anything superhuman. Just play respectably to reassert basic baseball dignity.

Now why I should find it important to do this team by team I don’t know, but the idea that the Red Sox can consider the Twins chumps just rankles. And Yankees, your time is coming: three games at the beginning of July to try to make up for the four ghastly losses two weeks ago.

Here is a fact-let to ponder. The Twins were 11-11 in April, without the services of uber-catcher Joe Mauer for the opening month. As of today, we’re 11-13 for the month of May, and cumulatively 22-24.

Yes, we lost to the Red Sox today, but I’m not going to dwell on one stinking game. I’m looking for the broader arc.

My tiny fact-let is not suggest that Mauer has made no difference. In fact, he’s galvanized the batting order, hit a whopping 11 home runs, and collected a batting average of .444. He’s done everything one player can to rally the team, including getting off to an unimaginably strong start considering the time he missed.

The idea of looking at Mauer’s individual contribution occurred to me because he was given a full day off today: no catching, no DHing, just spitting seeds in the dugout.

With that great pair of sideburns on the bench, Ron Gardenhire returned to his more typical batting order: two light hitters who might get on base (today, Carlos Gomez and Matt Tolbert), two lefty power threats (Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel), a righty with power (Michael Cuddyer), and then the motley array of so-so swingers (Brian Buscher, Mike Redmond, Delmon Young, and Nick Punto).

With small variations, this was the batting order until a week ago. Gardy shuffled it to say something about the six-game losing streak, and the team took off.

Not so fast, I first concluded—the batting order was not the causal element. But the return to a more conventional sequence didn’t help today. However, I suspect the problems today did not lie in who hit when but who hit at all.

Like Gardy, I love Nick Punto, and relish his earnest efforts and fielding prowess. A good team should have room for a light-hitting shortstop; let’s forgive the .181 average.

I also have a king-size soft spot for Carlos Gomez, whose transition to the major leagues is still going all too slowly. But today he made a leap to snare a likely homer from Jason Varitek, and it looked like he had jet pods on his ankles to rocket him up to do it. Later he dove and skidded across half the outfield to scoop a line drive off the carpet. I still want a Designated Fielder position for anyone with his heroics. Yeah, OK, a good team should have room for a circus act like Gomez, even if he can’t hit or draw a walk.

For that matter, let’s add Matt Tolbert, a second baseman who positions himself perfectly for nearly every batter and is a sure-handed fielder and, doubtless, overall charming man. Hey, a good team can have a no-hit second baseman.

Make me stop. Make me not point out that Delmon Young’s lost “upside” will probably never be found, that our offense hinges far too much on the exploits of Mauer and Morneau, with happy occasional bright spots from Kubel and Cuddyer. Make me stop.

Today’s lineup was missing Mauer, Joe Crede (injury) and Denard Span (I’ll have to apologize—his flu-like symptoms include dizziness and are not the residue of a bender). With all three out, the team had a distinct minor league quality.

Then too we had a less than lustrous outing from Francisco Liriano. And faced a strong Brad Penny for the Sox. Penny gets extra credit—a post game report revealed that he was ill and vomiting between innings.

The Twins lost, but should we conclude that missing Mauer was the matter? We are tantalized into asking the question by this scoring sequence. The Red Sox are leading 5-1 in the sixth. The Twins haven’t been able to do a thing except watch Cuddyer’s fine solo home run in the second.

A little scoring explosion, and we notch two runs to bring the game back within reach. In the top of the eighth, the Red Sox get themselves what’s called an insurance run to lead 6-3.

Our best chance to win the game is in the bottom of the eighth. There are things you don’t put off, particularly with a batting order with so many holes. We’ll have to face demon closer Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth, but here’s a chance against Hideki Okajima to send up Gomez, Tolbert, and Morneau. Get a few on base and we’ll be seeing Kubel and Cuddyer.

Okajima says no thank you to that scenario and retires the side.

In the ninth, Kubel leads off with a single. Bear in mind that Papelbon just blew a save last Saturday and is much in the mood to make amends. But forming little cracks in his psyche may be possible.

Cuddyer’s up, eager to hit. Too eager—Papelbon strikes him out on three pitches. Kubel stays stranded on first.

Brian Buscher comes to the plate, and there’s extra mathematical pressure on the man. Joe Mauer is now in the on-deck circle, ready to pinch hit. Of course, pinch hitting will only be of greatest value if Buscher can get on base. Mauer would then represent the tying run.

Oh, Brian Buscher. Oh, baseball. Papelbon toys with him and induces a fly out to short center.

Mauer is not pulled back, however. He steps to the plate. His right hand was smashed yesterday, but he’s not wearing any bandages or showing any signs of pain. During the at-bat, Kubel squirts to second on defensive indifference. It won’t matter. Mauer homers to right field, a booming shot into the blue football seats.

Oh, Brian Buscher, because the score is now 6-5 Red Sox. But Joe Mauer has once again demonstrated his super powers. He is not just seeing the ball well, he’s handling any pitcher any time. It’s intoxicating.

But it’s not enough. The game ends with Delmon Young flying out, so Mauer’s thrilling effort to save the day ends up doing nothing more than boosting his average and reducing yet further the number of at-bats per homer. (It’s getting around an ungodly 8.)

Would we have won with Mauer in the lineup all day? Does he mean that much?

Fantasy baseball is the art of pretending only players, not teams, play baseball. It’s a great way to look at individual stats and learn a great deal about players and even the more subtle elements that affect performance. Playing fantasy baseball makes you watch the game intelligently.

But it also makes your susceptible to believing that adding and subtracting players as components causes games to be won or lost. That’s how you win the fantasy championship, after all.

But not baseball games. I wish Mauer had played the whole game today because it’s great to watch him, but he can’t win single-handedly. The team records shows this. We had a weak pitcher and far too many weak hitters, facing a hot team.

Winning, or losing, almost always rests on dozens of actions, including those that put the team in a position to benefit from the single dazzling play that you recall, the play that seemed to win the game. Mauer is magnificent, but we have to win with him as part of the team, not making up for it.

[games 39, 40, 41] I Am My Team

I am my team. The Twins are losing and it is affecting the quality of my play.

We lost all four games to the Yankees. The losing script was repeated almost identically in each game: score first, let the Yankees catch up, have some bullpen bumbling, then give up the winning run in withering walkoff mode.

Perhaps it was the repetition of this nasty ending; perhaps it was the fact that I began to doubt our chances even when a skinny little lead was in hand. If we were going to let it slip away, night after night, it didn’t feel like we had the power to control anything in the field.

I fell into a funk during Monday night’s game, the end of the Yankees’ sweep. PS: they have kept up winning ever since, as if the Twins are their personal launching pad. So much for the new stadium lifting the curse the Twins have felt in the Bronx.

Then I summoned hope, the best I could, last night as we started a series in Chicago. The White Sox had just been roasted and toasted mercilessly by the As, and had their own 5-game losing streak going. Two losing teams collide! Perhaps the Twins will be the first to recover.

Sorry: no. Last night, early lead, eventual loss. The Sox gave Scott Baker a bad inning in the second, but it wasn’t as bad as the meltdowns he had been sustaining. He only gave up 3 runs. Reason for hope? No. The Sox would just keep scoring in more than one inning, and distribute the home run duty over a variety of hitters.

It was such a thunking loss I couldn’t write about it. I am my team. My puny ability to write this puny blog dwindled away, just as Joe Mauer’s ability to get an RBI waned. I am in their slump.

This is ridiculous.

As I have learned from other, mightier sports fans, when your team is losing you can switch to the euphoric release of yelling at them. Condemn your players with righteous indignation. Negative energy like that always gives you a boost, doesn’t it?

Sorry to say it doesn’t work for me. I take it hard. Scott Baker! Come back to last year’s form! Francisco Liriano! Please pitch the way we have hope for three years you could!

Tonight Liriano had a fourth inning from hell. In the top of the inning, we have our standard bright ray of light: we score two runs. There’s something about these 2-0 leads—we can’t keep them. Liriano gave up a two-run homer to Paul Konerko to turn the advantage into a tie. Liriano kept the bases busy, and Josh Fields hit an RBI single to put the Sox ahead 3-2.

Liriano didn’t have, precisely, a bad inning. He had some terrible at-bats, and some good ones. He was as close to getting out of trouble and to getting in it, but the Sox had enough chances to do their damage.

With one out and Fields on first, Corky Miller doubled. Liriano fooled Scott Podsednik quickly, and he fouled out to Mauer on one pitch. Now we’re in the sleepier part of the batting order, and light-hitting Jayson Nix comes up. He runs the count full with a barrage of foul-offs and keeps Liriano working long enough to make a mistake and walk him. Bases loaded.

Two outs, but then that needless walk. Jermaine Dye makes use of grand slam conditions to put the Sox up 7-2. Just like that.

The Twins do not exactly rally, though Michael Cuddyer hits a home run with Mauer on base to nudge the score to 7-4. The other bright spot is Luis Ayala, whose middle relief work had been woeful lately. He pitched three neat scoreless innings. Jesse Crain also had a quick 1-2-3 eighth.

So we can stop blaming the bullpen and blame the starter instead. But in fact we have to give more credit to the White Sox’s John Danks, whose fastball had such tricky late movement that all our hitters looked pretty helpless up there.

The Twins had their best last chance in the eighth, but Scott Linebrink dispatched the best of the lineup, setting down Mauer, Morneau, and Cuddyer in order. The Twins can’t put off scoring when they have a lineup that skews so heavily toward these stars and away from everyone else.

As feared, in the ninth Bobby Jenks was able to get the save for Chicago. With his insanity-plea bleach blond chin beard, he faced down our best final efforts. After Jason Kubel and Joe Crede were set down, Brian Buscher pinch hit and got a single. Respectability, even in defeat. Jose Morales tried to keep it going, but grounded out, in a play that required Alexi Ramirez to cope with a hot shot to short.

A week ago, we were maybe a game out of first place. Now we’re 5-1/2 back. Detroit, whom we had the pleasure of sweeping, has gone on a tear to get the division lead away from Kansas City. They’ve won their last five; we’ve lost six in a row.

The Twins’ current record of 18-23 is a portrait of misery. But I must listen to manager Ron Gardenhire, who points out that those losses to the Yankees occurred while we were playing well, just not well enough to win. Sometimes you must accept the fact that victory doesn’t automatically follow a good effort. Keep playing.

Keep playing. It’s only baseball, and it can be fun, but baseball is tricky. It’s hard to hit a great fastball, hard to run down every fly ball, hard to locate every single pitch. So you will lose more times that you think your heart can bear. But you must keep playing.