Thursday, April 29, 2010

Twins at Tigers -- Expecting Excellence (and Not Always Getting It)

Tuesday -- Twins 2 - Tigers 0
Wednesday -- Twins 6 - Tigers 11 (!)
Thursday -- Twins 0 - Tigers 3

Twins drop series 1-2 (first dropped series and first two-game losing streak all season)

Record: 14 - 8


Generally speaking, sports fans expect excellence from their teams. If not, then what's the point? Passion is part of the bargain. The word "fan" itself proves it; it's short for "fanatic." Therefore, dispassionate people can't really be called "fans"; if they like sports at all, they're merely admirers or connoisseurs, right?

So, what's my point? Well, part of the passion-pact is that we fans expect excellence from our team. Yeah, pretty much all the time. It's the deal -- you play well, I'll be happy; you suck, I'll be unhappy. Simple. All I ask is that everyone does his job -- excellently.


Fransisco Liriano
So, how excellent was he on Tuesday? Wow. And the best part? It's still kind of unexpected -- we're still waiting for last year's version of Frankie to show himself. But, for the third start in a row, he sparkled. It was a work of art.

Seth Stohs asked on his Facebook page something like (I'm paraphrasing because I'm too lazy to go back and look it up) "can we finally say the 2006 version of Liriano is back?" To which I replied something like (paraphrasing again; lazy again, er, still) "Who's to say we even want the 2006 version of Liriano? That guy wasn't a smart pitcher and because he always wanted to overpower batters, he hurt himself. The 2010 version is a much better, and much smarter pitcher. It looks like he trusts his stuff, and his catcher, much more. He seems calmer and more confident. Leave the 2006 version in the past. I like the 2010 version better. I hope he can keep it up."

In fact, Eric Karabell on ESPN's Baseball Today podcast predicted Liriano will be the AL Cy Young Award winner. Now, I'm not quite ready to go that far, but I'm sure having fun watching him.


Denard Span
Sometimes a man displays excellence off the field. And sometimes a man displays his excellence in how he responds to a less-than-excellent moment. On Tuesday, Denard lost his cool because the umpire, Paul Emmel, was not doing his job excellently. Denard argued balls and strikes and then threw his bat in frustration. And because of it, he was ejected from the game, which lead to some interesting defensive replacements.

Now, many passionate Twins fans were quick to forgive Span; Emmel's strike zone was ridiculous. But it was still a bad moment for Denard, and he wasn't proud of it. But the excellent part came after the game: he apologized to the umpiring crew, issued an apology to the press, and apologized on Twitter. He was perfectly contrite and he promised to try to avoid doing that again.


Luke Hughes
It didn't take long for him to display a nice little outburst of excellence. In his first Major League at bat, he deposited a fastball into the right-field seats. The last time a Twin homered in his first Major League at bat was Andre David in 1984. Excellent!


Jesse Crain
So, there's a reason a lot of people call Jesse "Crain-wreck." I know he can be excellent. I've seen him be excellent. But when he's not excellent, he's a looooong way away from excellent. And Wednesday, he and excellent were miles apart.

I know he was trotted out in a difficult situation. I know that Scott Baker and Pat Neshek weren't exactly excellent themselves. But, damn, watching Crain was just plain painful.


Carl Pavano
He was excellent on Thursday. Too bad he wasn't excellent enough, and Dontrelle Willis (of all people) was excellenter. And too bad the Twins bats weren't excellent at all.


For the second series in a row, and third time in a week, the umpires kind of took the concept of excellence and sent it to the showers.
  • On Saturday (at Kansas City), umpire Greg Gibson called Scott Podsednik out at 2nd to end the game when JJ Hardy bobbled the ball and threw to Orlando Hudson clearly after Podsednik reached. A game should never be decided on such a horrible call.
  • On Tuesday, umpire Paul Emmel, who early in the game enforced a reasonable strike zone, suddenly started calling very obvious outside balls as strikes. He was awfully quick to eject Span for arguing. Now there will always be bad balls/strikes calls, but actually changing the entire strike zone in the middle of the game is not cool.
  • On Wednesday, umpire Paul Emmel (again!) called an awesome running catch and subsequent drop by Denard Span a no-catch. Span clearly took about three steps with the ball in his glove before he dropped it as he exchanged it to his throwing hand. Emmel defended his call by quoting the part of the rule that says the player should "hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control." Umm. Three steps is a pretty long time. But ultimately, the umpires admitted that they lost sight of the play. Again, not cool. And I'm absolutely convinced that it changed the game against the Twins.
I know umpiring is a human job, and humans make mistakes. But this recent lack of excellence from umpires it getting almost strange. It's also generating a lot of buzz regarding expanding instant replay in baseball. I tweeted my response to that idea:
Unfortunately, the umpires may leave us no choice. It may come to be that instant replay is the lesser of two evils. Sad, really. It's time that Major League Baseball demands more excellence from all umpires.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Outstanding analysis of the Twins vs Tigers series.