Today my work unit had a scheduled outing to watch the Twins play the Dodgers at the Dome, so I woke up this morning looking forward to seeing Johan Santana pitch. This was probably the exact opposite of what the Dodgers were feeling when they woke up.
When the time came our little group strolled the seven or eight blocks to the Dome for the 12:05 start, enjoying the lovely summer weather. There was an impressive crowd of all ages swarming around in the plaza and around the Dome, jostling through the gates. It was a very festive atmosphere and one you’d have thought impossible a month ago. One we got inside the lower bowl was almost completely filled between the foul poles with healthy representation in left field and the upper deck (we would have an announced crowd of 34,157). There were a number of banners and hand-held signs cheering on different players or begging Twins’ announcer Bert Blyleven to “circle me,” as in, “Circle me, Bert, I’m an illegal alien!” (They’re not quite that bold, yet.)
We found our way to our seats in rows 13 and 14 of Section 114, which turns out to be a funky little cul de sac with only one way in. Does the Fire Marshall know about this place? The section angles toward home plate immediately behind the visitor bullpen along the right field line, and is a great place to see the game, or to get your grill rearranged when Justin Morneau gets out ahead of an off-speed pitch. Our seats were all the way across from the one, narrow entrance to the section, against the far wall. Once I realized the lay of the land I knew getting out for concessions was going to be difficult and the alternative was to have my food and beverage passed hand-to-hand by 20 people. I like to leave the food-handling to the trained professionals, so I pivoted and made for the concession stand even though it cost me seeing the Dodgers first three futile efforts against Johan.
Nevertheless I was in place in time to see the Twins load the bases with two outs in the bottom of the first. This brought Torii Hunter to the plate, which caused some minor groaning in our section. “Don’t worry,” I said to my friends. “There’s already two outs, so he can’t hit into a double-play.” Sure enough, this time Torii laid off the eye-high fastball and eventually deposited one over the fence for a grand slam. Yes! In one inning Johan has gotten more run support than he received in a typical three-game stretch last year.
With the game already well in-hand, the rest of my group decided to try to make their way to the concession stands, sidling the length of the row and snaking their along a smaller aisle to get to the main aisle and out to the concourse. They missed a Morneau double and a great play by Jason Bartlett who made a running, diving stop to his left and came up with a smoking throw to first to beat the runner by a step. When our snackers got back two innings later the woman sitting next to me opened her container to reveal — a salad.
“Salad?” I asked, incredulously, channeling Tom Hanks. “There’s no salad in baseball!”
“Well, the line was short,” she said, by way of a weak explanation.
“Yeah, go figure,” I said. By then my attention was distracted by my boss returning with a jumbo, half-pound Dome Dog. Gawd, the thing looked like it ought to have come with an NC-17 rating. I wanted to take a picture of it with my camera-phone, but my boss wouldn’t let me because he was beginning to feel self-conscious by the uproar it was causing.
Winning makes everything look better. Once between innings they drove a cream-colored Dodge Ram 1500 extended cab truck out into right field in front of us and I actually found myself thinking, “Dang, that’s a mighty nice lookin’ truck!” There are limits to this aura, however. A little while later a beer vendor finally made his way down to our little section. I think he may have made a wrong turn and was trying to get back on the main thoroughfare. I thought we might make it worth his while, but then I saw the buttons he was wearing promoting the beer and the price. “$6 for a Miller Lite,” I said to my boss, with more than a little wonder.
“It’s better than waiting in line forever,” he said.
“No, no,” I said. “Say it slowly and out-loud: ‘$6 for a Miller Lite.'” He did.
“Hey, that’s only $72 for a 12-pack!”
The rich truly are different from you and me.
Meanwhile, back at the game, Morneau had hit a pair of doubles and the Twins had added two more runs. Santana had only given up one hit through six innings and was throwing a shut-out but had began to struggle a little bit, going deep into the count and even walking a couple of guys. In the seventh, Olmedo Saenz led off for the Dodgers with a strong double and there was concern that perhaps Johan was beginning to tire as he was up to about 90 pitches. If the Dodgers were thinking or hoping that, however, they were soon disappointed as Johan struck out the next two batters in a row and then said, “Say hello to my leetle friend,” striking out an overwhelmed Cesar Izturis on three pitches of 92, 92 and 93-mph.
Gardy had the lad take a seat to begin the 8th, but we were still feeling pretty safe because Kyle Lohse had already pitched last night. In came Juan Rincon, but this had the effect of making the game more interesting as he allowed three runs before getting out of the inning. But just to show you that everything is going the Twins way right now, the only thing this did was to turn the 9th inning into a save situation for Joe Nathan. Nathan has been so seldom needed of late that he has had to look into Tai Chi classes in order to get in the stretching and twisting that he normally puts himself through when he takes the mound. He was plenty loose today, however, greeting the first batter with a 93-mph first-pitch strike and getting faster from there, punching out the last batter of the game with a 96-mph blazer.
Oh, and Joe Mauer went a ho-hum 2-for-3 with a walk and double, raising his season batting average to .392 after going a mere 11-for-13 for the three-game series against the Dodgers. I don’t think I ever went 11-for-13 in a softball tournament, and this guy is smoking major league pitching.
Darn, let’s play two!