The St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Tom Powers is sick and tired of watching the Twins leave runners on base. In time, he might get sick of living in a place where Shakey’s is considered pizza, but you’ve gotta walk before you can run.
Former Twin David Ortiz often tells the story about his first exhibition game as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 2003.
“I came up with a runner on second and no outs,” Ortiz says. “I’m thinking: ‘I’ve got to get the runner over.’ ”
So Ortiz, who is about the size of a water tower, took one of those “make contact” swings, pulling the ball to the second baseman and moving the runner to third. When Ortiz returned to the dugout, pleased with his accomplishment, he found then-manager Grady Little waiting for him.
Little looked as if he had just seen a spaceship land in the infield.
“What are you doing?” Little said. “This is not the Twins. You’ve got to bring that guy in!”
The story goes a long way toward illustrating the mind-set of Twins players throughout the organization. They don’t just play “small ball” here in Minnesota, they play “teeny weenie ball.” Lacking power, the team goes to great lengths to coax runners into scoring position ” to third base in particular.
A typical rally might consist of a walk, groundout and a stolen base. Twins runners often try to steal third. Because once that man is 90 feet away with fewer than two outs ” yippee! ” even a ground ball might bring him home.
But teeny weenie ball is failing this season. The Twins can’t finish the deal. They sweat and strain to get runners as far as third base and then leave them there.
Third-base coach Al Newman can’t get any peace and quiet. Like the houseguests that wouldn’t leave, he is in the constant presence of base runners who aren’t going anywhere.
How much small talk can a coach make?
Manager Ron Gardenhire estimates that failure to score runners from third with fewer than two outs has cost his team seven or eight victories.
That’s the difference between being in a pennant race and sucking wind in the Chicago White Sox’s wake.
So Gardenhire and hitting coach Scott Ullger are working on clutch hitting with Twins batters. I guess that means you explain to a hitter that if he lets go of his throat he can grip a bat a little better.
Perhaps they should suggest choking up on the bat (instead of simply choking). Major league hitters no longer move up the bat handle an inch or so with two strikes. It’s simply not done in contemporary baseball.
It might be worth a try. In teeny weenie ball, a team that can’t bring the runners home from third has no chance to amount to anything.
“Where we’ve lost the most games is in situational hitting with runners on third and less than two outs.” Gardenhire said. “We are not a big, massive home run team. We’ve got to get those runs in.”