Sunday, June 30, 2013

Multiple firsts at Target Field, for Kyle Gibson and my friends

If you showed up late - after the first inning - to Target Field Saturday for the afternoon matchup between the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals, you missed most of the game's excitement.

The Twins beat the Royals 6-2 on a beautiful afternoon, and they scored five runs in the first inning. Kansas City pitcher Wade Davis had a lot of trouble finding the strike zone, which was evident by a number of walks. When he did find the zone, the Twins pounded the pitches for hits. It took 53 pitches to get through the first inning.

The key hits for the Twins came from Justin Morneau, with a two-run double, and Trevor Plouffe, with a two-run homer to left field. That got the crowd of 36,000-plus to its feet. It's not often the Twins put up a five spot in the first inning.

Davis struggled in the second as well and didn't even record an out before the Royals turned to their bullpen. The Twins offense was pretty well tamed after that. Davis threw 69 pitches and only recorded three outs, which apparently is a record for the highest number of pitches to get three outs.

The Kansas City Royals loaded the bases in the eighth inning Saturday, but
Twins pitcher Casey Fien was able to get out of the it with two strikeouts.
The baseball is in the white circle. Photo credit: Kevin Hanson.
First start 'at the major league level'
One of the most exciting things about the game however, was the major league debut of Twins starting pitcher Kyle Gibson, a 25-year-old righthander who was a first-round draft pick. He got the win Saturday, becoming the first, first-round pick to win his first start in the majors in Twins history. That's a lot of "firsts," but you get the idea.

Righthander Kyle Gibson pitched
six strong innings Saturday.
The first pitch Gibson threw was hit pretty well to the left field corner by Alex Gordon. From where our seats were, in section 329 in left field, I couldn't see where the ball was. Luckily it was caught for the first out of the inning. I was nervous that the ball was headed for the bleachers, and that Gibson could be in for a long day.

But Gibson had a strong outing. He got into a little trouble in the third inning when he gave up the two runs, but he got out of the jam and went on to pitch six innings for a quality start. He gave up eight hits and the two earned runs but didn't walk a batter and notched five strikeouts.

I think maybe some people thought he'd be back out for the seventh, so he didn't get as much of an ovation as he deserved after he walked to the dugout following the sixth inning and his 91 total pitches.

Reading the game recap from the Star Tribune, I guess Gibson wanted to go back out for the seventh as well. He told pitching coach Rick Anderson to leave him in until a runner reached base. Anderson didn't go for the idea from the rookie pitcher, which is probably just as well.

Gibson looks promising as a strong part of the Twins rotation that can have its share of off days. The Indiana native had a setback with Tommy John surgery in 2011, but I'm hoping to see him on the mound for awhile.

Reunion and birthday celebration at the ball park
The game Saturday was exciting for reasons other than the play on the field. I attended with four of my friends and former co-workers from the Austin Post-Bulletin. We started the day with food and drinks at Hubert's, and then got to Target Field just in time for the game.

For my friends - Kay, Kevin, LeAnn and Rose - it was their inaugural visit to Target Field. On such a warm, sunny summer day, I'm pretty sure they all enjoyed it. It helps when there's a good game being played as well.

Saturday, June 29, was also Kay's birthday. And boy, do we know how to celebrate birthdays. Did you also know that June 29 was the late Twins Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew's birthday, too? If you didn't, Kay will tell you. She's so proud to have that Harmon-birthday connection, and I don't blame her.

So to sum up Saturday's outing, it was a day filled with good weather, good baseball and good friends. One of those days that gives meaning to the saying, "time flies when you're having fun."

Happy birthday, Kay!
Kevin, Heather, Kay, Rose, LeAnn. Photo credit: Target Field usher.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Blackhawks win the Cup with two late goals

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup this week, defeating the Boston Bruins in six games. It's the second Cup for the Hawks in four years.

Usually I can find one team to root for over the other in a playoff series, based on a variety of reasons. But I really didn't care who won this time. I just wanted to see some good hockey. I was hoping for game seven, which looked pretty likely with a couple minutes left at the end of game six in Boston.

Then things got crazy for a 17-second period of time.

With Chicago leading the series 3-2, Boston took a 1-0 lead and looked good in the first period. The game was knotted at one goal apiece for much of the second and third periods. It just had the feel of a game where the next goal would win it, for a 2-1 final score.

Chicago took advantage of what may have been Boston sitting on its heels late in the game. Bryan Bickell (who scored the overtime goal in game one against the Minnesota Wild in the opening round, just saying) scored with 1:16 left. Tie game.

Overtime? Aww, not again.
Now, I was in my pjs on the couch waiting for the game to finish so I could go to bed after a long day. My first thought was: "I don't want to stay up and watch overtime." Which I would have, because it's the Cup. Maybe not the best sports-fan thing to say when a do-or-die game gets tied up, but whatever.

So, as play resumed, I watched Chicago grab the puck again and then watched in almost disbelief as Dave Bolland scored what turned out to be the Stanley Cup-winning goal. The tying and winning goals were 17 seconds a part.

It went from Boston looking like it'd force a game seven back in Chicago, to the Blackhawks forging ahead and finishing off the series right there. In 17 seconds. That's why they play all 60 minutes. All 60 of them.

I'm reminded of a line from D3: The Mighty Ducks, from Coach Orion: "How long does it take to score a goal? (throws a puck at the bulletin board with angry force) Less than a second! That means no lead is safe if you can't play defense."

He makes a good point.

Season's over
So with the hoisting of the Stanley Cup, and the booing of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman who presented the trophy, the lockout-shortened 2013 NHL season is in the books. The lockout was another embarrassing blow to the less-than-popular sport.

At least the Wild made the playoffs, even if they did carry on the growing Minnesota tradition of exiting in the first round. I hope the team can build on that for next season. I want them back in the playoffs, and I want them to win a series.