Posted by: Peter | August 30, 2009

You don’t make it easy, Joe

This graph approximates the feeling in my stomach at the end of today’s game:

As the cliche has it: every time you watch a baseball game, you can see something you’ve never seen before. In this case, it was Joe Nathan fielding a ground ball and screwing up a routine throw to second, turning a possible double play into a gut-wrenching bases loaded situation.  When the play went down, my super was setting out the building trash for tonight’s pickup, and I think he probably heard me cry out in anguish.

All’s well that end’s well, and Nathan managed to twitch his way out of a jam. But I got to wondering–just how often does something like that happen? I’m defining “something like that” to mean “save situation with runners on first and second and less than two outs, where an error on the pitcher loads the bases”.

The answer is, it doesn’t happen often. In the retrosheet era (meaning since 1956), I only found 13 games that fit the bill. (I’m excluding save situations that came in extra innings; including them would add a few extra games. Also, if this has happened already this year, I wouldn’t know about it, because retrosheet only updates their data after the season is over.) The last one was more than eleven years ago, when the Brewers’ Bob Wickman loaded ’em up with Phillies on a Scott Rolen ground ball that looks like it was probably similar to the one Nathan fielded.  There was one out at the time, just like in today’s game. And like Nathan, Wickman got out of it, striking out the next two batters.

Oddly enough, a similar situation had arisen earlier in 1998. Even better, this one involved the Twins! Only that time, it was the Twins who loaded the bases, and other team’s closer who committed the error. In this game, trailing by a run in the 9th against what was then known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, current Twins TV announcer Ron Coomer (wonder if he remembers this game?) and Terry Steinbach hit back-to-back singles, bringing up perennial ’90’s utility man and career .251/.310/.344 hitter Denny Hocking. Hocking tried to bunt the runners over, and Hernandez fielded the ball and committed an error to load the bases. There were no outs in this case, and Hernandez wasn’t as lucky as Nathan or Wickman: after getting a force at home on the next batter, good old Matt Lawton hit a two-run single to put the twins up by one.

And that would have been that, except that Rick Aguilera came out in the bottom of the 9th and proceeded to give up an RBI double to a washed-up former rookie of the year named Jerome Walton. The game would ultimately last until the bottom of the 14th, when Mike Trombley gave up a walk-off homer to Bobby Smith, who doesn’t appear noteworthy in any way, except that he happens to have the same birthday as me.

I didn’t watch this game when it happened–it came in the depths of the “dark ages” of Twins suckitude between the ’91 World Series and the resurgence of 2001, a period when I stopped paying attention to the team.  One day, we’ll probably have access to a complete archive of televised baseball games, allowing us to go back and watch any play we want. For the time being, though, I just had to look at the play-by-play record and recreate the game in my head. It was a nice little stroll through the archives–so thanks, Joe Nathan, for giving me a nice opportunity to dig into a rare event and discover a forgotten moment in Twins history.


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