10/10/2002 00:54 am ET
Role reversal in odd second inning
Angels get breaks usually reserved for the Twins
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins are the best defensive team in baseball, and they work so well in the giant sandwich bag that is the Metrodome that they might have the best home-field advantage in baseball, too.
But you wouldn't have known that while watching the top of the second inning in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday. Balls that usually haunt Minnesota's opponents here fell in favor of the Angels, and a rare Twins defensive lapse helped Anaheim score its fourth run in a 6-3 win that sent the series West in a deadlock.
"They play the game just like we do, and I saw that in the second inning," said Twins center fielder Torii Hunter. "They did everything we usually do."
Leading 1-0 on the strength of Darin Erstad's mammoth homer off Twins starter Rick Reed in the first inning, the Angels took control by forcing Minnesota to endure what's frustrated so many of its foes. It started with a traditional knock, a single by Troy Glaus, but from there, it got very un-Twins-like in a hurry.
In fact, it was as though the Angels became the Twins.
"They're very similar to us," said Minnesota first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. "And in this case, they were us."
With Glaus at first, Brad Fullmer drilled a ball into right-center field that hardly had "double" written all over it. But with the All-Star Hunter charging over to pick it up, Fullmer decided to raise a challenge. Hunter's throw was wide, and the Angels were in business.
Usually, Hunter said, it's the Twins taking the extra base here.
"That's what we do. We're aggressive like that," he explained. "That's good baseball, right there."
Then came another dubious double. Scott Spiezio popped a ball into no man's land, behind first base and in front of right fielder Michael Cuddyer. Fullmer had to hold at second until the ball dropped, but he got to third, Glaus scored and Spiezio pulled into second when the ball bounced high and over Cuddyer's head.
Usually, said Minnesota catcher A.J. Pierzynski, it's the Twins getting pop doubles here.
"They hit the ball in perfect spots," he offered. "We've done that a million times."
Bengie Molina flew out to shallow right to keep everyone where they were, and Fullmer's aggressiveness put the Twins an out away from getting off the hook; he was gunned down at the plate trying to score on Adam Kennedy's comebacker. Then Reed caught Kennedy leaning too far off first base, and when he threw over to Mientkiewicz, it looked as though the inning would be over in a flash.
It wasn't. Usually it's the Twins' defensive excellence that helps bail them out of innings like this. They had the best fielding percentage and the fewest errors in the big leagues this year. But now it was the Angels -- specifically, Kennedy and Spiezio -- who were bailed out.
As Mientkiewicz ran Kennedy toward second base, Spiezio crept toward home. And when Mientkiewicz pump-faked to second, Spiezio made his move. He was dead in the water when Mientkiewicz fired home, really. So much so that he didn't even slide. But instead of a Jeremy Giambi moment, it was a game-turning moment in Anaheim's favor.
Mientkiewicz's throw pulled Pierzynski a little off the plate toward first base, and when the catcher turned to apply the tag, Spiezio's leg hit him in what Pierzynski called, again, "the perfect spot." The ball bounced out of his glove for an error, Spiezio scored, and Kennedy went to third.
"He gave me a charley horse in my forearm, and it went numb and caused me to open my glove," Pierzynski said, adding that the pain made it difficult for him to grip the bat for the next five innings. "I had it in my glove, and I didn't make the play. Doug made a good throw. It was my fault."
Mientkiewicz begged to differ: "It's not A.J.'s fault. I'll take the blame for that. I should have made a better throw."
The final dagger came when the human gnat, 5-foot-6 Angels shortstop David Eckstein, fought off a tough pitch from Reed and blooped a single over Mientkiewicz's head to score Kennedy for a 4-0 lead.
"We were not helping Reeder out at all," Mientkiewicz said. "We were either not getting to balls or not making plays."
Very un-Twins-like, indeed. But at least Hunter stayed true to form in the clubhouse afterward. Asked if that was the kind of inning he's used to seeing work in Minnesota's favor, he unleashed the trademark smile.
"Oh, definitely," he said. "Bloop knocks, taking the extra bases, all that stuff. I like to see that. But, man, I like to see it on our side a lot better."
Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.