Twins Stay Alive in AL Central
Friday, October 2, 2009
DETROIT, Oct. 1 -- For a few brief, chaotic moments Thursday afternoon, the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins were all screaming and congregating near the Comerica Park pitcher's mound, except that no one was engaged in the types of confrontations one typically associates with benches-clearing brouhahas. It was a Bizarro Brawl.
Twins left fielder Delmon Young, who had just been drilled in the back of the knee with a fastball, was pointing and screaming at the pitcher -- but at his own pitcher, not the Tigers'.
Tigers catcher Gerald Laird turned his back to the approaching platoon of Twins players and screamed in the face of the umpire.
Tigers pitcher Jeremy Bonderman dropped his glove and looked primed to fight the Twins, but the Twins, harboring no beef, just ignored him.
And in the midst of it all, Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire was seeking out members of the Tigers' coaching staff to apologize.
Oh, and did we mention there was a pennant race going on here?
The ninth-inning shenanigans in the Twins' 8-3 victory made for a bizarre end to a four-game series that left the American League Central race precisely where it was when the series began -- with the Tigers leading the Twins by two games.
Only now, with each team facing just three more games, the situation is more simple and dire: any combination of two Tigers wins or Twins losses over the weekend -- as the Twins return home to face the Kansas City Royals, and the Tigers remain here to host the Chicago White Sox -- would hand the division crown to the Tigers.
"We did what we had to do," said Tigers Manager Jim Leyland, following the four-game split. "We didn't do what we wanted to do."
The Twins, behind five effective innings from pitcher Scott Baker and three RBI from shortstop Orlando Cabrera, merely won the biggest game of their season, staved off elimination and ensured there would be meaningful baseball played in the Metrodome's weekend swan song -- before the franchise opens its new open-air stadium next April.
But they were also answering pointed questions about the actions Thursday of one of their key figures -- relief pitcher Jos? Mijares, a 24-year-old left-hander with a 2.06 ERA and a questionable grasp of common sense, not to mention baseball's unwritten rules.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, with the Tigers trying desperately to claw their way back into a game in which they trailed by seven runs, Laird, standing on first base with Mijares pitching, advanced to second base on what the official scorer ruled was "defensive indifference" -- all of which is perfectly acceptable protocol in a blowout game.
Except that Mijares apparently took exception, and threw his next pitch, a fastball, behind the back of Tigers shortstop Adam Everett, prompting home plate umpire Angel Hern?ndez -- aware there had already been two hit batters earlier in the game -- to issue warnings to both benches. Leyland approached Hern?ndez, more to complain about an earlier tag-up call than to question the dual warning, and Hern?ndez ejected him.
Mijares, who declined to comment to members of the media, later apologized to his teammates, according to Cabrera. "He understood that's not part of the way we play ball here," Cabrera said. "He took it upon himself to [throw at Everett], which was wrong."
A half-inning later, Bonderman's first pitch to Young was a screaming fastball that nailed Young in the back of his right knee. Young crumpled to the ground, then arose, slammed his helmet to the ground and began gesturing and screaming -- into his own dugout, where Mijares was sitting placidly. Both benches and bullpens emptied.
"We didn't need any of this to happen," Young said later. "You've got two teams in a pennant race -- you don't need to get somebody suspended or hurt. If I'm going to get hit, it [should be] because I did something stupid. [Mijares] needs to understand how to play the game. This isn't the minor leagues over here."
In the aftermath, Bonderman was ejected for hitting Young. Laird was ejected for screaming at Hern?ndez, presumably about allowing things to get out of hand. Everyone went back to their benches and bullpens. And the Twins soon closed out a win that might have been the most satisfying sort, were it not for the way it ended.
"It's hard for me to believe we just played the biggest game of the year, and won," said Twins backup catcher Mike Redmond, "and I'm sitting here having to describe what happened [with Mijares and Young]. It's a shame."