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May 6, 2004

Breaking Balls

Sixteen Innings of Bliss

by Derek Zumsteg

I was at Safeco Field on Tuesday, watching a fast-moving game that was on pace to wrap up 3-2 Mariners in about two and a half hours, and ended up with one of the longest, craziest games I've ever attended.

The last great extra-innings game I'd been to was Blue Jays at Mets, at Shea, June 9th, 1999, a 14-inning marathon I enjoyed a lot. That one took four hours, 35 minutes. I blame Bobby Valentine, who failed to pinch-hit for Rey Ordonez over and over when it could have won him the game. It was a great time, though. I got to see the game with Melissa Hughes, who wrote some good baseball articles for a while (including some good and scary ones on baseball groupies and the Web sites of the adoring fan) and then quit writing about baseball.

I scored this game. I've been working on an article about scoring and finding a good card to match your style, and thought I'd finally settled on one. This game, of course, became the torture-test for a scorecard:

  • 15 pitchers

  • 24 position players

  • many crazy plays

So to the game. The Mariners are coming back from a road series finally showing signs of life. I'd said the Mariners were a 85-win team with a 90-win upside and a decent chance of collapse, and I was probably one of the more pessimistic Mariner writers in town. Losing two-thirds of their games in large part to a defense that went from tops to bottom in a year, the Mariners are creeping the town out. The reactions so far have been:

  • They're not this bad, they'll come back...like the A's did, yeah, like the A's

  • They're not this bad, they'll do better...but they're not good

  • They're losing! They're losing! Aaaaaaa what happened?

  • Ahhhhh, comfortable losing. I remember this. Maybe we'll finally shed some of those bandwagon fans and I can get good seats again

Some of Seattle's usually-loyal press dogs have even started to nip at their master, which I didn't think I'd see happening for a long time. Attendance for this game, a chilly Tuesday night in May with overcast skies, was announced at 32,727, but it wasn't that high. You can start to see erosion around the corners of each section, and the no-shows are creeping down from the aisles to the field.

The most notable effect of losing like this is that the stupid errors seem magnified. You can forgive someone for swinging from the heels if they're hitting home runs and the team's winning, but diving for a ball on the outside corner on a 3-0 count only to pop it up to the first baseman drives the losing fan insane. How can you expect to win with an approach like that?

Before I get into the game, I want to review what each manager was working with as they went in. Feel free to skip forward if you don't like the set-up, but this becomes important soon.


Starting lineups

          Twins                        Mariners
1    RF Shannon Stewart   R       RF Ichiro Suzuki  L
2    SS Cristian Guzman   B       3B Scott Spiezio  B
3    1B Doug Mientkiewicz L       2B Bret Boone     R
4    3B Corey Koskie      L       LF Raul Ibanez    L
5    CF Torii Hunter      R       DH Edgar Martinez R
6    RF Jacque Jones      L       1B John Olerud    L
7    DH Lew Ford          R       SS Rich Aurilia   B
8     C Henry Blanco      R        C Dan Wilson     R
9    2B Luis Rivas        R       CF Randy Winn     B
     SP Kyle Lohse                   Jamie Moyer

Benches looked like this:

Twins: RF/3B-R Michael Cuddyer, a good player with some pop, some patience, not that great afield; IF-B Nick Punto, a gloveman who takes walks in the minors but without any home run power; OF-L Michael Ryan, who, uh, is a fourth outfielder; backup C-B Rob Bowen, who is OK defensively and can hit a bit. And I think DH-B Jose Offerman is on the team, but I didn't realize that until just now while typing this up.

Mariners: OF-B Quinton McCracken, who, uh, can play in the outfield; C-B Ben Davis, who's having an awful year to follow up on last year's total offensive collapse; IF-R Jolbert Cabrera, who has never hit but is being used as an occasional caddy for Olerud, who hasn't hit lefties in years. Cabrera, by way of contrast, had a decent '03 but otherwise hasn't hit anybody in years, though at least he's right-handed. "It's called playing the percentages, Strawberry, it's what smart managers do to win ballgames." Oh, and as a weapon off the bench to pinch-hit for the many lefties in the Mariners lineup handcuffed by southpaw relievers, it's righty Greg Colbrunn...no, he was traded for McCracken. It's PH-L Dave Hansen.

Also, before the game, the Mariners put IF-R Willie Bloomquist on the DL, activated RP-R Rafael Soriano from the DL and released check-casher Kevin Jarvis.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire gets tossed with two outs in the first inning. Guzman grounds out to catcher Dan Wilson (G2-3) and Gardenhire comes out of the dugout yelling at home plate umpire Mark Foster. I figure he's arguing that it's a foul ball. Foster, as most of this new class of efficient, high-quality umps are willing to do, considers Gardenhire's argument and his plea to consult with the other umps. Forster asks first base ump Joe Brinkman for his view, and Brinkman motions agreement, with this obvious body language that almost says "uh, duh, come on." Gardenhire keeps arguing with Foster: he wants an appeal to third, or maybe a conference with all four umps and George Will for arbitration. The ump straightens and looks off.

I turn to my wife and say: "Gardenhire's going to get ejected in 20 seconds."

There's a point in an argument with an umpire where the manager or player has made his point and the ump has considered it and explained his position ("the ball was fair, I was right here watching it") a couple times. If the manager doesn't argue often and he's rational about it, he gets some leeway to make a detailed case with charts and reenactments, while a hot-headed guy who tends to be abusive only gets a couple sentences in this part of the argument.

The ump then tries to end the argument. He walks away, or politely tells the manager or player that he understands the point, now please sit down so we can resume play. And then the timer starts. Once you see the change in an umpire's body language, it's time for closing statements: critique the ump's positioning, sum up your opinion of the call in question, whatever. But do it fast, and get back to the bench.

Gardenhire keeps jawing, and 20 seconds later he's run out of the game. His hitting coach, Scott Ullger, took over for the next 15 innings. The game speeds ahead, one of the quickest I've been to:

Top of the 4th inning, Christian Guzman homers off Moyer, 1-0 Twins

Bottom of the 4th, Raul Ibanez homers off Lohse, scoring Bret Boone, 2-1 Mariners. Ibanez signed as a free agent with the Mariners from the Royals after two years there as an average offensive left fielder with superficially inflated stats who happened to kill the Mariners when the two teams crossed paths. While every other corner outfielder in his class signed either a modest one-year or a two-year deal for a lot less money, the Mariners gave Ibanez a three-year, $13 contract because he was a good clubhouse guy, had hit well in the limited number of games he'd played in Seattle, and was seen as the left-handed power hitter the Mariners had lacked since losing Ken Griffey Jr.. They also signed him early--giving up a draft pick when the Royals made it entirely clear they wouldn't be offering Ibanez arbitration--because the Mariners don't want first-round picks.

Many statistically-inclined fans (including me) derided the signing as a needless waste of money, while the Mariners said they paid what it took to get him there, and he'd do fine--use the whole field, and so forth. So far, Ibanez is redeeming the team's confidence: he was .279/.357/.570 heading into last night's game, and one of the team's few big bats. He's ahead of his 90th-percentile PECOTA forecast right now: His weighted projection had him figured for .264/.324/.431. Much of that's due to Ibanez killing lefties (.333/.375/.600) in his first 30 AB against them, something which he's been unable to do in the past (.253/.294/.399, 2001-2003).

5th inning, Torii Hunter homers off Moyer, 2-2 Twins

6th inning, we make the first trip to the bullpens as LHP Aaron Fultz is brought in to pitch to Ichiro! with two men on and two outs.

Here's how the bullpens looked:


     Twins             Endurance  Mariners            Endurance
LHP  Aaron Fultz       Good       Mike Myers          Low
LHP  J.C. Romero       Good       Ron Villone         Good
LHP  Terry Mullholland OK         Eddie Guardado      Closer, 1-2 innings
RHP  Joe Roa           Decent     Rafael Soriano      Good, but coming off DL
RHP  Juan Rincon       Good       Julio Mateo         Couple innings
RHP  Seth Greisinger   Not Sure   J.J. Putz           Good
RHP  Joe Nathan        Good       Shigetoshi Hasegawa Good

Now Bob Melvin isn't a bad manager, but one of his big flaws is that he's bridled to roles. Mike Myers, who is the left-handed specialist, has been brought in to face tough left-handed batters, and then lefty closer Guardado's been brought in to finish out the game. Melvin used Arthur Rhodes as a lefty one-out guy last year, even though Rhodes has shown for years that he can handle batters of all stripes.

The Mariners extended Melvin's contract Tuesday. Team's off to its worst start in years, looks awful in the field, with a second-year manager who came out this year saying he was going to be more active, vocal, and aggressive, and then lost game after game. Sure, there's more than enough blame for this to be spread around. And maybe that was a statement of confidence, but aren't there cheaper ways to do that? Send flowers, maybe? Take him to a nice dinner?

And Gardenhire...well, you'll see he's pretty matchup-obsessed, too.

So lefty Fultz gets Ichiro! to ground out. Ichiro! has a reputation for being easier to get out with lefties, but that's not borne out by the stats: he's been a tougher out facing those guys than righties since he came over, particularly in the last two years.

So 3-2 Mariners in the sixth. Cuddyer pinch-hits for Rivas in the 8th, strikes out, comes into the game at second.

In the 8th, the Twins use two pitchers:

RHP Rincon enters and faces R-Edgar Martinez (K), L-Olerud (1B-7), B-Aurilia (F-9), and R-Wilson (1B-9). Not much point in deploying a lefty to face Olerud as the team heads into the bottom half of the order.

LHP Mullholland pitches to Randy Winn. Now this is a weird decision to me. Rincon's just come in. Winn's a switch-hitter who's not hitting at all but historically hits lefties much better than righties. Mullholland is really good at holding runners, but Wilson's not going to run with Olerud at second, and Olerud's not stealing third. Winn flies out.

Now the fireworks start. In Melvin's first year as a manager, he used an "A" and a "B" bullpen: if his team was leading, he'd throw all the veteran leaders in there and if he had to use all of them to get three outs, he'd do it. If the Mariners were losing, or even tied, it was the "B" team that came in to put it out of reach. Over the course of the season, though, he realized that his second team was the better of the two units and Julio Mateo and Rafael Soriano started to pitch in more and more important situations. But while Melvin learned from using those guys, he's still punting tie-or-close-but-behind games by bringing in guys like just-released Kevin Jarvis, saving his best guys for situations where they have a lead of any size.

Guardado relieves Jamie Moyer in the ninth. He strikes out Stewart, Guzman gets on with an infield single as Spiezio, playing in and close to the line, lets a ball by and Aurilia ranges way out for the first time I've seen this year and cuts the ball off. Mientkiewicz flies out, and then Corey Koskie singles to center, sending Christian Guzman to second. Torii Hunter then doubles to deep right and...time for a digression.

First, the Twins must have a bad advance scouting team. Randy Winn has one of the worst outfield arms in baseball. A friend of mine and smart baseball observer told me: "On the scale of 20-80, it's a 15, seriously." Frank Thomas tagged up and got from second to third on Winn in spring training, and it was just a normal fly ball. The Mariners have three outfielders they're going to play every day:


        Current    Range and
        position    routes        Arm        CF resume
Ibanez    LF      Not horrible    Good        --
Winn      CF      Generally good  Terrible   Played before, wasn't good
Ichiro!   RF      Sweet           Great      Played a lot before, was good

If you're going to play them every day, doesn't it make sense to deploy them as best you can? Wouldn't you want to play:

Ibanez in right: good arm an asset, not so good range mitigated by position
Winn in left: he was good defensively there last year, his arm strength less of a weakness there
Ichiro! in center: good range, good arm, speed not limited by corner position

The Mariners aren't a team that does that. Just as Rafael Soriano is shackled to the bullpen because he's successful there and the team is risk-averse, they're also convinced that Ichiro! is the best right fielder in baseball and moving him might mean they don't have the best right fielder in baseball, even though the team might be better off.

While other teams have started to take the extra base on Winn, the Twins did not. Even on high, deep, slow flies, runners would go halfway and then retreat when Winn caught the ball, rather than staying at the bag and running. When Mientkiewicz flied to center, Guzman, a speedy guy, could have run to second. Now, Hunter's hit in the next at-bat scores Guzman either way, but they don't know that yet, and a free base is a free base.

Mariners: Help yourselves, and play your outfielders where they can contribute the most, instead of where you're comfortable.
Every other team: Run on Winn as long as the Mariners are letting you. Take the extra base. Trust me, it'll pay off. And please cut me in on a share of your profits. Thank you.

Ichiro! fires the ball home and Koskie, trying to score, is thrown out at home. Except...he's not. From my view, it looks like Koskie might have missed the plate and Wilson might have missed the tag, but it's close either way and it looks like Koskie was more safe than out, if you know what I'm saying. Home plate umpire Foster calls Koskie out and Koskie loses it instantly and is tossed--Foster calls out and then ejects Koskie almost immediately. I don't know what Koskie said in that second, but it was spicy. Uncorked, Koskie continues to scream at Foster, tries to get at him while teammates hold Koskie back--I can't remember seeing a player that close to getting into a fight with an umpire. Replays aren't conclusive, but the best guess is that Koskie was safe. But when it's that close, it's not a blown call, it's the best call the ump could make from his position.

If the call went the other way, the Twins would at least have been ahead 4-3 headed to the bottom of the ninth, facing the top of the Mariners order. If Koskie'd stayed on third, they'd have Koskie on third, Hunter on second, and left-hander Jacque Jones facing Guardado with two outs. It's a good try for the Twins.

Bottom of the ninth, though, they head in tied and have to put Nick Punto in at second, as Cuddyer moves to third to cover for Koskie. This is a big defensive downgrade at third, and the Koskie-to-Punto tradeoff in the lineup doesn't look like it'll make much of a difference at that point: What are the chances Punto will even get an at-bat? They swap out Mike Ryan for Torii Hunter in center field. Later I find out Hunter aggravated his hamstring. The Twins bench now looks like:

C-B Rob Bowen DH-B Jose Offerman

That's, uh...that's not good. Anyone pulls a quad and they're considering sticking a reliever in left field. And who are these guys going to pinch-hit for? And why?

Mulholland is still in the game. I like Terry Mulholland, because he once gave me the "thank you" nod for not bugging him for an autograph when he was chilling before a game talking to a friend of his, who happened to be next to my dad and me, but also because Mulholland's one of the guys who refuses to stop playing as long as someone will let him put on a uniform. He's been injured, he's been ineffective, and he's still grinding it out. I respect that a lot, even as I recognize he hasn't been a good pitcher in a long time. But with a tie game in the ninth, facing the best the Mariners have, he shouldn't be there. He's facing...

L-Ichiro!
B-Spiezio
R-Boone

Ichiro singles, Spiezio sacrifices him over. Normally, I'd carp about this, but Mulholland's one great remaining talent is his deadly pick-off move and control of the running game, so getting Ichiro over by way of stealing would have been dangerous. Still, Spiezio's not a bad hitter and Mulholland's not a good pitcher, I think you're better off letting him swing away and seeing what happens. Facing Boone, who crushes lefties, they walk him and Mulholland pitches to Ibanez and gets the strikeout. Ahhh. Then RHP Roa relieves Mulholland to pitch to R-Edgar Martinez, and walks him, loading the bases. LHP Romero relieves Roa to face L-Olerud, and Olerud grounds out. Whew.

The inning seems odd, but it makes sense on deeper investigation. First, Mulholland entering the inning seems weird. But you want to get the first outs, and while you're at it, keep Ichiro off the bases or, at least, off second. Mulholland's a huge groundball pitcher, Ichiro's a groundball hitter. He's probably not going to pull one of his Ichiro special homers (yanked hard into right field) and win the game.

Then facing Spiezio, hits about equally well from both sides, keeping Mulholland in means RoboMelvin will probably sacrifice him over, so you get the first out. Then as long as you have Roa and Romero up, and you're going to use them, it seems as if you'd use Roa against Boone, try and get the strikeout (hint: high cheese way out of the strike zone) which does risk the home run, but if that works, use L-Romero against L-Ibanez. Walking Boone's defensible by itself--it doesn't matter if they score two runs, after all, and Boone's a threat to drive one out and end the game--but Boone's also having a slow start and has frequently looked frustrated and out of sorts at the plate. Walking Boone also sets up the double play possibility with the also-slow Ibanez behind him. If you don't get it, though, you're facing one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball with a lefty and you've got nobody in the pen.

It's unlikely, too, that the Mariners are going to throw any pinch-hitters in this inning. They're either going to score with the core of their lineup or they'll go into extra innings. So Ullger's choice makes sense, even if he's burning a lot of relievers.

We head into extra innings. The Twins put up...

L-Jones
R-Ford
R-Blanco
and then possibly Cuddyer-R

Guardado's a fine choice to keep going here. Righties hit him harder than lefties, but righties still only hit .211/.275/.370 off him in the last three years (lefties? abjectly hapless--.195/.217/.262). He can mow these guys down easily without burning a lot of pitches, keep this game close. He gets Jones to ground out and Melvin pulls him for right-hander Hasegawa.

Hasegawa's trouble. Like starter Ryan Franklin, he was a low-strikeout guy who benefited a lot from his defense, and Hasegawa also had a amazingly good and lucky stretch as the closer when Kazuhiro Sasaki was out with a suspicious rib injury, which got Hasegawa a nice little contract. With a dramatically downgraded defense, in a tie game, maybe playing the percentages isn't the smart move. But hey, I didn't get a contract extension from the Mariners today.

Ford doubles. He's possibly the fastest-running DH in the AL that day, almost a blur from home to second. Blanco watches a called third strike, and Cuddyer singles to left. Ibanez gets the ball in and Ford's tagged out trying to score when Wilson blocks the plate and Ford doesn't get around him. This is totally illegal, and I hate this play. Every time I see it I worry about the player getting injured. I got knocked out once playing catcher when somebody took a running start and knocked me over rather than avoid a tag. I held on to the ball, too. So I guess that was actually pretty cool. But my larger point stands: No one's allowed to impede the progress of the runner. If you can throw the guy out, fine, but if you want to play football, I believe NFL teams have already started some mini-camps.

The throw, though, was dead-on. This is a game where anecdotal evidence--Ichiro made a great throw in right, Ibanez made a great throw in left--makes arguments about rearranging the outfield for maximum benefit hard to win. Fans can look at this game and see those players doing good things where they are. Arguing that hypothetically they'd do even better, more often, in positions more suited to their individual strengths and weaknesses...well, it's like trying to tell someone who got a bum car that in general that manufacturer has an excellent quality record.

Seattle gets out of the inning again, and the annoyance continues. There were a couple games early in the season where the music guys at Safeco seemed to ease off the sound effects, music clips, scoreboard-induced cheering, and so on, and I loved it. This time, every inning we had a rally clip, or a rally song where they pan around and show members of the increasingly sparse crowd dance around. A group of high school girls, and one in particular, were on the video screen three, four times a half-inning. It was insane.

But the Mariners have introduced this "Rally Jig" thing, which is a new low. I don't know why Seattle (or any other great city) feels the need to act like they're a bunch of goat-roping hicks, but they do. They play some twangy hillbilly music loop more suited for a mid-50s Warner Brothers B-list cartoon where Bugs gets involved in a family feud in the Appalachians.

Or we get the video clip, of some football movie, or Adrian telling Rocky to win. I don't think Stallone wrote "Rocky" by the way. There's just no way. I think he ran into some unknown Philly screenwriter who'd been writing scripts alone for years, and Stallone read the script, killed the screenwriter, got rid of the body, and took home some Oscars. Seriously, is there another way to explain Stallone's career as a screenwriter, or even his choices as an actor? How could someone write "Rocky" and star in "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!" E-mail me if you have a good answer, and "Everyone has one great screenplay in them" is not a good answer.

L-Romero remains in for the 10th, while the Mariners have B-Aurilia, R-Wilson, B-Winn coming up. Wilson's off to a good start, but he hasn't been an effective hitter in years. Still, with the team's bench options limited to B-McCracken, B-Davis, and R-Cabrera, there's not a lot of opportunity for pinch-hitting there. Romero's going to be out there for a while. K, G3-1, Winn walks, and Ichiro grounds to short to end the inning.

Top of the 11th, R-Soriano relieves Hasegawa. Soriano was injured to start the year, threw really poorly and then was sent down on a rehab assignment. This is his first appearance back with the team. He dominated in his rehab starts, for what that's worth. The Mariners still have a lot more left in their bullpen at this point:


     Twins           Endurance      Mariners       Endurance
LHP                                 Mike Myers     Low
LHP                                 Ron Villone    Good
RHP  Seth Greisinger Not Sure       Julio Mateo    Couple innings
RHP  Joe Nathan      Good           J.J. Putz      Good

Soriano is really good. I think if the M's stuck him in the rotation and left him there, he'd be contending for Cy Young awards in a couple years. He was a starter in the minors but after a brief audition, has been used as a reliever exclusively, and his success in the pen has been a blessing (he's a valuable part of the team and establishing that he can pitch at this level) and curse (he's now seen as a future closer, rather than a future staff ace).

Still, if I was going into extra innings with a weak defense and wanted to pick one of the guys to keep the game in hand, I'd have gone to Soriano over Hasegawa earlier. He's more likely to walk someone, but he has nasty stuff and he worked well starting on his rehab, so it's not as if the team's concerned about his health so much as they wanted him to build up his strength some more and get velocity back. Twins up:

R-Stewart
B-Guzman
L-Mientkiewicz
and possibly B-Punto, L-Ryan.

Soriano walks Stewart, and Guzman bunts into a fielder's choice. Stewart's out at second. Melvin pulls Soriano for LOOGY Myers after two batters. I guess as long as you're burning relievers, this is a decent spot for Myers, who would face L/B/L/L for the next four guys. And the Mariners are putting up Spiezio/Boone/Ibanez against Romero, so there's a fair chance they score.

Mientkiewicz grounds into another fielder's choice--to right field. This is the weirdest play of the game. Mientkiewicz lines the ball to shallow right. Boone doesn't move at all, Ichiro charges, almost gets there, and plays it off the hop. Guzman runs to second on contact and then as Ichiro gets to the ball, stops and goes back to first thinking Ichiro had caught the ball. Ichiro throws the ball in, it's walked back to first where Guzman and Mientkiewicz both stand, and Guzman is out. Myers then gets Mientkiewicz out when Mientkiewicz takes off as Myers throws to first for the 1-3-4 caught stealing and gets out of the inning.

If Guzman doesn't make that mistake, the Twins have guys on first and second with one out, and a lefty sidearmer facing a switch-hitter, and maybe they break the game open.

No dice. The sparse crowd is treated to some football montage. "I want you to do one thing. Don't lose. Not in our stadium, in our town, in front of our fans." We're openly mocking the video clips now..."It was OK when Texas, Oakland and Anaheim beat us, the guys from our divisions, sure, that's fine, but now, today, in this game against the Twins, we draw the line!"

Suitably riled up, Seattle goes down in order. In the 12th, the Twins offer...

B-Punto
L-Ryan
L-Jones

Myers is left in and gets two outs on those three, and R-Mateo is brought in to face R-Ford, and gets a groundout. The Mariners are down to two relievers, super-veteran yesteryear-swingman-in-a-world-with-day-night-doubleheaders LHP Villone and RHP Putz, fresh from the Pacific Coast League. Ford flies out.

RHP Joe Nathan relieves J.C. Romero, leaving Seth Greisinger alone in the bullpen. Mariners do nothing. The Twins go down 1-2-3.

The Mariners play an inspirational video of fan favorite Dan Wilson. Wilson, community pillar and (I'm told) super-cutie, gets applause from the ladies. I see Dave Hansen, professional pinch-hitter, stretching on the on-deck circle.

"Wouldn't it be terrible if they pinch-hit for Wilson? After they've played this five-minute video of great plays from Wilson's career and everyone's cheering for him?"

"Huh? Why would they do that?" my wife asked. My wife, incidentally, is a gamer for going to all these games with me, as she believes baseball would be materially improved by being only seven innings long. She's going to get really annoyed soon, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Hansen gets on base by way of freak infield single. My scorecard at this point is written over the AB/R/H boxes, and I can't decipher my note, but something happened. The Mariners then spend one of their only remaining bench players, B-McCracken, to pinch-run. This is just silly. As much as McCracken may be speedier than Hansen, he's not a great base stealer (10-6 since 2001) and the team might want to use him to pinch-hit for a particularly split-hampered guy in a critical situation (McCracken's three-year splits: .266/.320/.342 v lefties, .277/.333/.406 v righties). Plus, the team has a gimpy DH who could really, really use a pinch-runner if he gets on, which is likely, and is also a risk to tweak his hamstrings like Hunter did, and require a replacement in the lineup.

Winn tries to bunt but pops up to third, and then McCracken's thrown out stealing second. Ichiro sighs and pops out. To start the 14th, McCracken's replaced by Ben Davis, and their bench is down to Jolbert Cabrera, who might bat if a tough lefty comes on in a game-winning situation against Olerud. And the Twins only have one righty left in the bullpen, so that won't happen. He can't pinch-hit for Davis, the weakest-hitting guy in the lineup, unless Melvin's willing to have Ibanez don the tools of ignorance for the first time since 1999. He might pinch-hit for Winn, but then if they didn't win with that pinch-hit, he'd have to play center, or Ichiro would have to move over, and we can't have that.

Cabrera's role now is to be Edgar's legs if Edgar gets on and Melvin senses opportunity, or to replace someone who gets injured or ejected.

Top of the 14th. The Twins offer B-Guzman, L-Mientkiewicz, B-Punto, L-Ryan. An error by Boone gets Guzman to first, and Melvin pulls Mateo for a lefty. Villone gets a fielder's choice off a bad bunt by Mientkiewicz, then walks Punto, gets a ground out, plunks Jacque Jones--well, he grazes his uniform in another weird call--and escapes the inning when Ford flies out, stranding runners at second and third.

It's time for the 14th-inning stretch! I sing, my wife sits and grinds her teeth. She is not amused to hear that there is also a 21st-inning stretch.

Minnesota calls in their last reliever, RHP Greisinger. If he can't get them to the end of the game, they'll be calling in starters, but this is it for them.

During these late innings, high school kids in the upper deck yell "Marco!" at the top of their lungs. They're really loud, and the crowd is down to a couple of thousand people. It's cold. The kids are really loud. After a couple of calls, people start yelling "Polo!" back. Then more, and it's almost a chant, then people get bored and drop off. The kids keep yelling. Scattered responses keep coming from near and distant parts of the mostly-empty park at random.

Mike Myers--the comedian, not the LOOGY--says that one of his favorite comedic things is something that is funny, then stops being funny, then becomes funny again, like the extremely long urination scene in the first Austin Powers movie, which is intended to get a series of reactions:

  • It's funny, he's unfrozen and has to urinate really badly, as if he'd slept for a long time

  • OK, we get it

  • It's so embarrassingly awkward that it's funny again

He would have loved these kids. I have charted my reaction. The y axis charts amusement. A 0 is a neutral reaction, a 2 is a grin, 4 is giggling, and 5 is laughter. On the other hand a -2 is annoyance, -4 is yelling at them to shut up, and -5 exposure for extended periods results in assault charges against the experimenter. The x axis is time in minutes.

Sort of funny to annoying to weirdly amusing to highly annoying to absurdly funny to homicidal rage. From the bottom of the ninth, there were seven innings of scoreless baseball, quick inning after inning of guys up and down, shaking heads and thinning audiences, and loud kids yelling "Marco!" over and over and over. Baseball's got a rhythm to it, and through 16 innings, you can almost bob your head to it. Marco Polo, by the way, amazing dude. After Aurilia grounded into a double play in the fifteenth, I wanted to ask my wife what she thought about charges that Marco Polo might not have hung out with Kublai Khan, but she just glared at me and I decided against it.

In the 16th, Randy Winn takes a ball off his foot to lead off the inning. Wooo! Ichiro! doesn't bunt him over, as I'd figured would happen, instead driving the ball to right, advancing Winn to third. Now I figure no outs, Winn on third, they're squeezing. The one run wins the game, and Boone's no bunter, so lay it down while you can. Instead Spiezio's swinging, and grounds to first. Winn takes off, the throw goes home, and it's the same play: Winn comes in with one hand, does he pull it back and get the other hand around, or did Blanco block the plate?

Ump calls safe. M's win 4-3, time of game four hours, 48 minutes. Blanco starts to argue and he's calmed down immediately by someone (Ullger, maybe?) who seems to say "let's just get back to our hotel." Blanco walks off. Replays show Winn's probably out, but again, it's close enough that second-guessing a human ump seems unreasonable.

A 16-inning game in which the different managers spent much of their time with no decisions to make because of the players available to them and their decisions to use them early. When Greisinger and Villone were pitching, I asked myself: "What could happen now?" And all I could think of was: "If it goes much longer, they'll crack the rotation, but there's no trickery left in this game." It was strange to watch a game where one team seemed to get all the close calls, all the breaks, and still took 16 innings to win. I got home at one in the morning. I'm still smiling.

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