Billy Beane doesn't have to hear it any more, that business about how the Oakland general manager couldn't build a team that could win in the postseason, as if the snapshot of a five-game series could provide a definitive answer on the architecture of a team. "I'm happy,'' Beane said in the very wild and very wet A's clubhouse last night after finally getting through the first round. "But it wasn't going to impact my self-esteem."
Now Terry Ryan gets to take the ugly albatross home, the Minnesota GM having the team that has to answer for falling on its face in October. The Twins have lost four straight postseason series while going 3-13 in those games. Are they "not built for October?'' Of course not. If anything, by finally winning this AL Division Series, Oakland proved more than ever just how random a series can be.
The A's won the series as much as the Twins lost it. Think about it. Minnesota's entire culture has been built on fundamental play in which hitters must be able to advance runners, often through the art of opposite field hitting, and every player should bring some above-average defensive component to the table. And then the Twins go out and happen to play three games that were about as unkempt as you will find in October.
Their ability to move runners was nearly non-existent, most obviously by going 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position. Their defense let them down, especially with three errors in Game 3 that facilitated five unearned runs. Even third-base coach Scott Ullger got into the act, foolishly sending Torii Hunter on Milton Bradley's strong arm with one out and his team down by two runs in the sixth. It doesn't matter that Hunter thought catcher Jason Kendall never tagged him. You better know Hunter can score standing up there rather than giving up first-and-third and one out and the big inning (or at least a tie) still in play. To make matters worse, Rondell White, who provided the sole key hit, didn't bother running hard to get to second base on the throw home.
"It was tough watching them celebrate," Hunter said. "But they deserve it. We got outplayed. We hate it. But we just stunk."
Any chance of Minnesota being competitive in the series was lost when Hunter took his ill-advised dive for that line drive in Game 2 by Mark Kotsay that he played into the game-turning home run. Hunter refused to second-guess his decision to risk defeat for the sake of trying for a third out.
"That ball cut on me,'' he said. "That's not the reason why we lost. I could have laid back and played it safe. But that's not me."
Sure, the Twins are more competitive if they have a healthy Francisco Liriano. Their youthfulness may have had something to do with their undoing. And it's hard to take their offense real seriously when Jason Tyner and Jason Bartlett are giving the lineup more of a National League look. But there was nothing inherently wrong with this team that caused it to lose three games in a row. As Gardenhire said, "We picked a bad time to have some bad ballgames."
Sometimes it really is that simple. Just ask Beane. It's not that, to paraphrase his infamous disclaimer, that his stuff works any better in the postseason now -- though you really have to like the improved defense, especially in the outfield, that this Oakland team plays compared to his other playoff teams. Beane's team played the series without his nominal ace (Rich Harden), his starting shortstop (Bobby Crosby) and then lost his starting second baseman (Mark Ellis). But at least it was their time -- with some major assistance from Minnesota.
Sean Casey of Detroit may be a nice guy and a decent lefthanded stick (though not necessarily for an AL first baseman) but I can't think of any good reason why he should be batting third and Carlos Guillen, the team's best hitter, bats fifth ... The A's will need an infielder to replace Ellis, the injured second baseman, in the ALCS. Problem is, the likely candidate, journeyman Keith Ginter, who was stuck in Triple-A, already filed for free agency and is ineligible. The A's might actually need a minor leaguer who never has played major league baseball. Imagine that: making your big league debut in an LCS ... J.D. Drew has $33 million over three years coming to him, but he can opt out for free agency this winter in hopes of doing even better. Let his series-turning Little League baserunning gaffe in Game 1 of the NLDS be yet another red flag for teams that might be interested in a guy who, turning 31 next month, can't be counted on to stay in the lineup or offer any intangibles. If you think the next Kevin McReynolds is worth $12 million a year just because of his rate stats, go for it ... No, Alex Rodriguez was not responsible for the Yankees losing Game 2. What most hurt New York was Mike Mussina letting Marcus Thames hurt him three consecutive times on first pitches. Thames hit .318 when he put first pitches into play and .247 otherwise. He either drove in a run or wound up scoring a run all three times Mussina gave him a hittable first pitch. Some how those at-bats received far less attention than A-Rod's three punchouts ... Lamest ballpark "tradition:" throwing back home run balls from visiting teams. It might have been cute five million occasions ago when it began at Wrigley Field, but now it's a tired cliche in which people, after fighting over catching the darned thing, give in to stupid peer pressure ... Beane has two recommendations for improving the postseason tournament: 1) make the Division Series a best-of-seven format and 2) seed the teams 1 through 4 based on win totals and regardless of division affiliation. Beane believes a strong wild card team has earned better treatment than a weak division champion.