There hasn't been a day since Michael Cuddyer joined the Twins when he felt out of place saying something to teammates. Torii Hunter encouraged him in this way: If you've got something worth saying, then go ahead and say it.
It is because of this culture that the Twins have a full set of emotional safety nets in place following their losses in the first two games of their ALDS against the Yankees. The Twins' greatest challenge, as they head into Saturday's Game 3, will be to turn the page on eight consecutive postseason losses to the Yankees, and in the Minnesota clubhouse, the players made it clear that they felt this would not be a problem.
Joe Mauer spoke up right after the Game 2 loss, encouraging his teammates, and slowly, the frustration that filled the Twins went away. "Last night we got on the airplane, it was a little quiet, but as it went along, guys landed and there was a lot of laughing," Ron Gardenhire said. "They are ready to go. We know what's in front of us."
Jim Thome helps the Twins refocus after defeats, and so does Cuddyer, who tends to be the guy who reminds everyone that their focus need only be on the next game. Nick Punto's sarcastic humor is helpful in these situations, as is Orlando Hudson's high-energy commentary and Carl Pavano's irritability. "Pavano was irritated last night," Gardenhire said, "which always makes us laugh. Gives us a good chuckle to see him mad."
Said Hudson: "We put things behind us. We have fun, we talk about certain things and once it's talked about say, 'It's done,' throw it in the trash can and get ready for the next day."
But no matter what is said and done, what is more important for the Twins is to hit with runners on base. So far in this series, they are 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
Cuddyer is keeping the faith, writes Jim Souhan.
The choking Twins are getting no sympathy for their playoff failure, writes Tom Powers.
Other stuff from the postseason's Day 3:
1. There was about a 48-hour period 34 months ago when it appeared as if Phil Hughes might become a Minnesota Twin. He was part of a Yankees offer for Johan Santana, along with outfielder Austin Jackson; when members of the Red Sox front office heard about the Yankees' offer, they assumed Minnesota would make that trade.
At the time that was going on, Hughes was at home in California, where his family's home was being remodeled, so he had no access to the Internet and no television. He kept getting phone calls from friends keeping him up to date, but mostly, he was cloaked in an information blackout.
"It's funny looking back at that now, how kind of how far things have come in the last year and a half, two years," Hughes said. "I'm just happy to have stayed."
2. Managers lean on their closers just a little bit more in the postseason, asking them to go above and beyond their usual contributions. It was in that vein that Giants manager Bruce Bochy asked Brian Wilson to get the last six outs for San Francisco in Game 2 -- and it didn't work out, as Ron Kroichick writes.
Wilson is probably not suited for this type of assignment the way Mariano Rivera is, because while Wilson is an excellent closer, he doesn't have the kind of clean innings Rivera does. Consider the average pitches per inning for the two relievers over the past three regular seasons:
Rivera: 13.9, 15.5, 15.5
Wilson: 19.0, 18.2, 17.5
Wilson often refuses to give in to hitters, and tends to pitch into deeper counts and walk more hitters. Rivera, on the other hand, goes right after hitters, breaking bats and generating slow rollers with his cut fastball. If the Giants recover from this loss to advance -- and this series is probably a toss-up now, given that Tim Hudson is lined up and ready to pitch Game 3 in Atlanta, where he has allowed opposing hitters a .218 average and just eight homers in 128.1 innings -- you wonder if Bochy will ask Wilson for six outs in any game again.
The Braves' comeback in this game was the greatest miracle of the season for this team, writes Jeff Schultz.
Wrote here last week about how the '88 Dodgers could be a model for the Braves, given how they pulled out improbable wins with a makeshift lineup. And the craziest win of all in that Dodgers championship season was in Game 4 of their series against the Mets, when Mike Scioscia lashed a game-tying home run against a seemingly unhittable Dwight Gooden. The Braves' victory Friday felt like that kind of win.
3. The Braves are, at the very least, capable of replacing Wagner. They could use Jonny Venters, he of the 95 mph two-seam fastball, or maybe Craig Kimbrel, with his 96 mph fastball. Bobby Cox does have options, in a way that he didn't in the '90s.
From Michael Trainor of ESPN Stats & Information, some details on the amazing work by the Atlanta bullpen:
A. They threw strikes. The Braves' bullpen faced 27 hitters -- only three saw a three-ball count. Of the 109 pitches thrown, 75 were strikes (68.8 percent). With four strikeouts in two innings, Kimbrel continued his yearlong pace of two K's/inning (combined 45 K's in 23.1 IP in 2010).
B. Kimbrel's 33 pitches were his second-most in a game this season. Twenty-five of the 33 deliveries were fastballs, and his average heater was 96.5 mph.
4. As a father of two kids, I watch the umpires these days and can't help but think that they are laying down rules of conduct with the kind of inflexibility that can paint them into a corner. In three days of playoff games, we've had three managers kicked out, including Cox on Friday night, after he came out to dispute a call at first base.
Cox was angry and frustrated, in what might be his last week as a manager, and he threw down his hat in the dirt -- and during the regular season, that's typically grounds for ejection. But you know what might have been better for first-base umpire Paul Emmel (who appeared to get the call right, by the way, based on the replay)? Just walk away. Just look the other way. Don't react to every gripe and curse and gesture. Maybe Emmel could have just told Cox what he saw, before walking away and letting the other umpires intercede. At some point, Cox's anger was going to dissipate and he was going to run out of things to say and he would have returned to the dugout.
It's a playoff game. It's the postseason. They should umpire the situation, rather than by some rigid unwritten code of conduct. There is no reason for the umpires to respond to every word, every gesture; they know the players and managers are under extraordinary pressure at this time of year. I thought one of the best moments of this postseason, so far, came from first-base umpire Jerry Meals in Game 2 of the Tampa Bay-Texas series. Meals almost certainly missed a call on a check swing on Michael Young, and on the next pitch, Young mashed a three-run homer that was a dagger into the Rays.
And on the Tampa Bay bench, James Shields and others went crazy screaming at Meals, who could have easily turned and stared into the dugout and started throwing players and coaches out of the game left and right. But he just stared ahead, ignored the reaction from the bench, focused on the next batter and let the Rays on the bench wear themselves out. Meals might have missed the call, but he handled the response correctly.
The men in blue must be held accountable, writes Joel Sherman.
5. The folks at Major League Baseball should understand that they share some of the blame for the confrontations. As the quality of instant replay has gotten better and mistakes by the umpires are borne out, the frustration level of the players and managers grows -- and the relationship between the umpires and others worsens. The arguments are more vociferous, because the managers have no other recourse and they are convinced that mistakes are being made -- a reality that every person sitting on a couch at home is usually aware of within 15 seconds of a disputed play.
Expanded use of instant replay would help to tamp down the tempers. When is the last time you saw a manager or player go nuts over a home run call, which are already subject to review? That doesn't happen any more, because there are means to reconsider the call.
6. I can't remember seeing Roy Oswalt struggle with his command as much as he did in Game 2 -- but the Phillies survived, with a comeback, and Oswalt was not charged with the loss.