Can You Take Me High Enough? The Only World Series Preview You’ll Ever Need.

Phillies Giants Baseball

Can Cliff Lee and the Phillies make this a World Series to remember?

After six uneventful playoff series thus far (thanks for nothing Minnesota, Colorado, St. Louis, L.A. Dodgers/Angels and Boston) fans are hoping for some added drama in the World Series, but that hasn’t been the case in the recent history of October baseball. Three of the past five World Series have been sweeps and you would have to go all the way back to 2003 to find a Fall Classic that went more than 5 games.  That series featured an underdog Florida Marlins club taking down the vaunted New York Yankees on the strength of a heroic performance by a younger, svelter Josh Beckett. Well, those Damn Yankees are back in the World Series again, and while 80’s music fans across the country celebrate, the rest of the nation is left shaking their collective fists at a franchise that spent a quarter billion dollars on free-agents in the offseason. New York will be opposed by the defending champion and geographic rival (only 107 miles as the crow flies) Philadelphia Phillies, who are seeking to become the first NL team since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds to repeat as World Series champs. The series boasts two franchises on opposite sides of the spectrum (the Yankees are a historically great team with 26 World Series Titles, whereas the Phillies were the first team in pro sports history to lose 10,000 games…the Pirates can’t be far behind) with plenty of interesting subplots (former teammates Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia oppose each other in Game 1) and two of the game’s best offenses. Undoubtedly every last detail of this series will be broken down over the next few days, from bullpens to offenses and everything in between…so who needs to hear more about that? No more talking heads droning on about left-handed hitters off the bench, here’s the information you really need heading into the 2009 World Series:

rocky5a

People don't love to hate Rocky V. They just plain hate it.

Worst Movie Set in City  (Philadelphia–Rocky V vs. New York–Daredevil): Despite boasting a strong and stirring soundtrack that featured the work of Elton John and M.C. Hammer, Rocky V never really enjoyed the success of its predecessors. Actually, it was just terrible. Detailing Rocky’s retirement, training of a young boxer named Tommy Gunn and ending in a bizarre, acid-induced street fight, Rocky V is almost two hours of mind numbing agony and is one of the biggest box-office disasters of the 1990s, leaving a permanent scar on the Rocky franchise (since rectified with the release of Rocky Balboa). New York has seen it’s share of crappy movies, but arguably none worse than 2003’s Daredevil, a marvel flick based off a comic book of the same name. Starring Ben Affleck, the movie…well, nothing else needs to be said about the movie, it stars Ben Affleck. Sure Daredevil was bad, but Rocky V was historically bad. Advantage: Philadelphia

Best Obese Player (Philadelphia–Matt Stairs vs. New York–C.C. Sabathia): Let’s be honest, this category is a landslide. When sizing up these two, you’re not comparing apples and oranges, you’re comparing watermelons and pumpkins (because they’re huge). While the dwarfish Matt Stairs (who was cast as Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) can certainly pull his own weight, the 5-9″, 222-pound Canadian Crusher is no match for the 6’7″, 290-pound C.C. Sabathia. It’s Rocky vs. Drago all over again, but this time the bigger man (literally) comes out on top. Stairs is 0-2 with 2 walks so far in the postseason, Sabathia is 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA. Let’s call this fight before it gets ugly so these two rotund diamondeers can get something to eat. Advantage: New York

Cheesesteaks will be instrumental if the Phillies hope to repeat as World Series champs.

Cheesesteaks will have to play an instrumental role if the Phillies hope to repeat as World Series champs.

Famous Food (Philadelphia–Philly Cheesesteak vs. New York–Nathan’s Hot Dogs): Unfortunately, neither of these foods will ever receive Dr. Oz’s coveted seal of approval, but that sure doesn’t mean they aren’t good eating. Philly Cheesesteaks have been around since the 1930’s and pack a menacing combination of beef, onions, peppers and of course, cheese. An average cheesesteak comes in at just over 700 calories, but that’s somewhat offset with an impressive 30 grams of protein. Nathan’s Hot Dogs are used every year in the World Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest (hats off to Joey Chestnut), and are so popular and revered for their flavor that President Franklin Delanore Roosevelt even served them to the King and Queen of England. A regulation Nathan’s Hot Dog has only 300 calories, but then again the serving size is much smaller. Nathan’s wins calorically, but Philly Cheesesteak takes the all important taste title. Advantage: Philadelphia

Mascot (Philadelphia–Philly Phanatic vs. New York–Dandy the Bird): The Philadelphia Phanatic is one of the best known mascots in any sport across the world and is only rivaled by the San Diego Chicken in popularity. It was also one of the first mascots elected to the Mascot Hall of Fame (yes, it’s real, and don’t forget to grab a t-shirt while you’re there). Conversely the Yankees don’t even really have a mascot, although the Geico googly-eyed money seems like a natural fit due to the team’s spending habits. The last New York mascot was Dandy, a pinstriped, mustachioed bird who wore a Yankees hat and entertained fans between 1980 and 1985 (he was famously beaten up by Yankees fans in the stadium’s upper deck). Advantage: Philadelphia

the-big-apple-hugo-sandoval

New York's nickname makes less sense than most episodes of Lost.

Nickname (Philadelphia–The City of Brotherly Love vs. New York–The Big Apple): Boasting murder and robbery rates three times the national average and a famous incident in which fans pelted Santa Claus with snowballs at an Eagles game, it’s easy to see why Philadelphia was nicknamed “The City of Brotherly Love”. Philadelphia, which translated from Greek literally means “brotherly love”, gained its name from William Penn who saw the city as a refuge for Quakers escaping persecution (and high cholesterol!).  On the other hand, the origin of New York’s nickname ,”The Big Apple”,  is still shrouded in mystery after all these years. Theories include everything from a brothel owned by someone named Eve to a sportswriter who referred to horseracing tracks as “apples” (with New York of course being the “Big Apple”). Regardless of how it got it’s nickname, “The Big Apple” doesn’t make much sense today, but then again neither does “The City of Brotherly Love”. Advantage: Push

Final Outcome: Well, the numbers don’t lie and it looks like the Phillies are a heavy favorite to capture the World Series. Philadelphia dominated New York in the head-to-head matchups, coming out ahead with the worst movie and the best mascot and food, while New York was only able to win the best obese player category (let’s be honest, that doesn’t count for much) and tie for best nickname. Extrapolating these numbers over the course of the series showed the Phillies winning in 7 games and Shane Victorino capturing MVP honors. Raise a cheesesteak to Philadelphia…your 2009 World Series Champions.

Vicente Padilla’s Resurgence Raises Serious Question: Is Swine Flu Baseball’s Newest Peformance Enhancing Drug?

The secret to Padilla's newfound success has been linked to the H1N1 virus.

The secret to Padilla’s newfound success has been linked to the H1N1 virus.

Just when baseball thought it had cleared itself of a league wide steroid problem the ugly performance enhancing drug monster reared its ugly once again—and this time the sport is powerless to stop the new drug’s proliferation.

A few short months again Vicente Padilla was a cast-off from the Texas Rangers, banished to the waiver wire by a potent combination of poor pitching, bad breath and general unlikeability. Even a pitching starved franchise like Texas wasn’t willing to put up with Padilla’s behavior, and this is a team whose opening day starting pitchers this decade have included the likes of Rick Helling, Ismael Valdez (slaps forehead) and Ryan Drese.

The Rangers sent Padilla packing on August 17th, citing “poor personal hygiene” and his “disruptive clubhouse presence” as reasons for the release. At the time of his departure, Padilla was 8-6 for the Rangers, but sported a ghastly 4.92 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Just two days later, the NL West leading Los Angeles Dodgers signed the Nicaraguan Nightmare to a minor league contract in order to bolster their starting rotation. After a short stint in the minors, Padilla was called up to start for L.A. and immediately looked like a man reborn, closing out the season in style with a 4-0 record, 3.20 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.  He’s been even better in the postseason thus far, allowing only one earned run in 14 1/3 innings to go along with 10 K’s and only 2 walks, quickly establishing himself as the Dodger’s defacto playoff ace.

The origin of Padilla's super-powers.

The origin of Padilla’s super-powers.

All this from the same pitcher who a few short months again was cut by Texas and left for dead. Now Padilla is in the midst of a playoff run for L.A. and looking like Orel Hershiser; what exactly happened between his time with the Rangers and his signing with the Dodgers? As the great theologian Terrell Owens famously said, “if it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat.” Vicente Padilla does smell like a rat…and that rat is named swine flu.

Padilla was diagnosed with the H1N1 virus on July 22nd and was believed to be the first player in the four major American sports (baseball, quidditch, jai-alai and poker) to test positive for the disease. He was scratched from a start against the Red Sox and was kept away from the rest of the team to prevent a spread of the virus. Apparently quarantining Padilla worked, because he’s still the only major league player that developed a confirmed case of swine flu, although that may change after the startling discovery of Dr. Van Nostrom at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Van Nostrom, a specialist in infectious diseases, released a report yesterday that confirmed one of the most well-known old wives’ tales: that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. In his article published by Car & Driver & Science the doctor revealed his findings from Padilla’s stool sample, which may change the way America views the H1N1 virus. Below is an excerpt from Van Nostrom’s report:

“Much like a spider bite transformed Peter Parker into the powerful Spiderman and toxic ooze mutated ordinary turtles into extraordinary crime fighters, Vicente Padilla’s DNA was radically altered by his encounter with the H1N1 virus. After overcoming the disease, he was endowed with all the best characteristics of an adult pig: a strong sense of smell and keen understanding of the strikezone, as well as the ability to talk to spiders and increased velocity on his pitches. Since the diagnosis of swine flu, Padilla’s fastballs have looked better than ever and his curveballs are dropping right off the table, and this is only the beginning. If Padilla is able to fully harness the powers of the pig he will become unstoppable. There is no treatment, there is no cure, there is only unimaginable suffering ahead for all humankind.”

Padilla now has more in common with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than he does with other human beings.

Padilla now has more in common with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than he does with other human beings.

If what Dr. Van Nostrom indicated in his report is true, how long will it be until baseball players are throwing swine flu parties in hopes of catching up with Padilla? Is H1N1 baseball’s newest fad performance enhancer?

Not so fast, says Van Nostrom: “There are so many different strains of the flu and everyone’s body responds differently to disease, so it’s unlikely another player will have results like Vicente. That surly bastard is truly one of a kind and anyone else who develops this disease is putting their life at risk…it’s just not worth it.”

Baseball’s playing field, which had been leveled by the sports’ tough drug testing, is thrown into disarray once again with the evolution of Padilla into a super-human shutdown pitcher.

Padilla’s agent Bus Cook refused to comment on the situation, only saying that his client was pitching well because of hard work and determination, not the swine flu, and called Van Nostrom’s theory “preposterous”. Padilla was approached at his locker by a swarm of reporters following the Dodgers 5-4 loss to the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLCS, and in between karaoke renditions of Randy Newman’s I Love L.A., the right-hander muttered  “how ’bout them Cowboys”, but nothing about the H1N1 virus–only fueling speculation that he gained some special abilities from the disease.

At this point there’s nothing baseball can do to slow down Padilla. After all, Bud Selig can’t suspend someone for getting sick, even if that sickness imbued the pitcher with super-human skills the likes of which baseball has never seen before. The Dodgers will be the favorites to win every time Padilla takes the mound, and it won’t be long before the team discovers they should start him each and every game, because everyone knows that pigs never need rest. Padilla will be a free agent at the end of the season and stands to make a large chunk of change, how big simply depends on how long teams believe his powers will last…and how much better they think he can get.

Vicente Padilla; from an afterthought to the best pitcher in baseball, all thanks to the biggest health scare in America since SARS and the kangaroo flu. There’s no doubt that Padilla will dominate the baseball landscape over the next decade, Dr. Van Nostrom’s work proves this, but it also raise a very serious question. Will Padilla use his powers for good or evil once he retires? If his past behavior is any indication, governments around the world had better start working on a swine kryptonite…and soon.

ALCS Preview: NY Yankees vs. LA Angels

A-Rod got the postseason monkey off his back against the Twins, is the Angels' Rally Monkey next?

A-Rod got the postseason monkey off his back against the Twins. Is the Angels' Rally Monkey next on his list?

It’s a tale as old as time. Light versus dark, good versus evil, heaven versus hell, and of  course, Angels vs Demons Yankees. It’s difficult to find two teams more diametrically opposed than L.A. and New York, and fittingly the bi-coastal rivals meet in the 2009 ALCS to determine who will represent the American League in this year’s World Series. The Yankees and Angels were 1-2 in the AL in wins, but got there in vastly different ways. One team relied on speed, timely hitting,  sacrifice bunts and the dreaded “productive out”. The other team found success with sheer brawn, overpowering inferior opponents with an offensive barrage that made the U.S.’s invasion of Normandy look like child’s play. Which style will prevail when the two meet head-to-head in a no-holds barred cage match? Let’s break it down:

Torii Hunter is good. But can he keep up with A-Rod and Teixeira?

Torii Hunter is good. But can he keep up with A-Rod and Teixeira?

Offense: Though the Yankees trio of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira receive more recognition than any L.A. hitter, the Angels had one of the most balanced lineups in all of baseball. The Halos averaged 5.5 runs per game in setting a single season franchise record for runs (the Yanks were slightly better at 5.6 runs per game). Although they’re not as explosive as New York, eight of L.A.’s starters hit .287 or better on the year, leading to a tremendous .285 team average. The team’s sparkplug is leadoff man Chone Figgins who stole 42 bases to go along with a .395 OBP. He sets the table for Bobby Abreu (.293-15 HR-103 RBI-30 SB), Torii Hunter (.299-22-90), Vladimir Guerrero (.295-15-50), Kendry Morales (.306-34-108) and Juan Rivera (.287-25-88). There are no easy outs in the lineup, and the Angels combination of patience at the plate and speed on the basepaths will make them a difficult matchup for Yankee pitchers. New York counters with the league’s highest scoring lineup headlined by Teixeira (.292-39-122), A-Rod (.286-30-100) and Jeter (.334-18-66). There’s great depth in the Bronx Bombers lineup, as players like Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Hideki Matsui produce in whatever portion of the lineup that Joe Girardi employs them. Both teams are solid top-to-bottom, but there is a reason that the Yankees led the AL in runs, OBP, slugging and OPS–they’re really good. Advantage: New York

Can A.J. Burnett pitch effectively and help led the Yankees back to the World Series?

Can A.J. Burnett pitch effectively and help led the Yankees back to the World Series?

Starting Pitching: It sounds like Girardi is planning to go with a 3-man rotation for the series, a good idea given that the Yankees’ rotation drops off precipitously after C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettite. Sabathia looked sharp against the Twins and New York will rely on the hefty lefty to get them a win in game one. The Yankees #2 starter, Burnett, is consistently inconsistent and got a win in the ALDS despite issuing 5 walks; he won’t be able to get away with that against the Angels. The savvy vet of the group, Pettite, has an impressive postseason resume and enough guts and guile to keep the Yankees within striking distance. The Angels starting pitching has been sub par all season, finishing 9th in the AL with a 4.45 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. The ace of the staff is John Lackey, a proven winner who bounced back from an early injury to post a strong season (11-8, 3.83 ERA). Jered Weaver will likely get the start in game two, and despite the fact that he is Jeff Weaver’s brother and sports a wicked mullet, was solid throughout the season and against Boston in the ALDS. After Lackey and Weaver, the Angels could go with either Scott Kazmir or Joe Saunders, two players who had horrendous starts to the season, but looked much better in the second half. Neither of these pitching staffs is a sure thing, but the Yankees get the nod because of Pettite’s experience. Advantage: New York

Relief Pitching: The bullpen is the only facet of this series where these two teams don’t match up at all. Despite the fact that they led the majors with 51 saves, the Angels relief pitching is still a major question mark. Closer Brian Fuentes was erratic all season long, finishing the year with a 3.93 ERA and an even more unsightly 1.40 WHIP. Fuentes blew 7 saves in the regular season and he can’t afford to keep putting extra runners on base against a potent Yankees’ attack. On the other hand, New York counters with arguably the greatest postseason pitcher of all-time, Mariano Rivera. The “Panamanian Canalligator” is 8-1 in the playoffs, with 35 saves and a redonkulous 0.74 ERA; Rivera makes Michael Jordan look like A-Rod in crunch time–he’s as clutch as they come. The Yankees also found a dependable setup man in Phil Hughes and will have Joba Chamberlain available if need be. This one’s a no doubter. Advantage: New York

With Mariano Rivera in the bullpen, the Yankees are built for a return to glory.

With lights-out Mariano Rivera in the bullpen the Yankees are built for a return to glory.

Coaching:  There are few managers more respected in the game of baseball than Mike Scioscia and for good reason, his teams love him and he wins games. Scioscia guided the Angels to a World Series title in 2002 and has only recorded one losing season since taking over in L.A. following the 1999 season. He’s a great X’s and O’s guy who emphasizes a National League style of play, which his team is perfectly suited for, and he consistently gets the most out of everyone on the Angels’ roster. Girardi rebounded after a tumultuous season to led the Yankees to the best record in baseball (103-59) and has done an admirable job managing some of the games highest paid players. Scioscia’s been here before, expect him to have the Angels ready to give the Yankees a run for their money. Advantage: Los Angeles

Outcome: This is a matchup that baseball analysts call “intriguing” simply because there isn’t much else to say about it. The Yankees are a markedly better team than the Angels with advantages in offense, starting pitching and relief pitching. New York looks like a team on a mission, and now that A-Rod discovered how to hit in the postseason (thank you Kate Hudson), Los Angeles will have their hands full trying to stop the Yankees from returning to their first World Series since 2001. The Angels will sneak out a couple of wins but New York will ultimately win the series in 6 games, as Teixeira garners ALCS MVP honors, and fans worldwide will once again have to put up with the evil empire in the World Series.

Handing Out the Hardware: Baseball’s Best & Brightest of 2009

Joe Mauer, and his sideburns, are runaway winners for the 2009 AL MVP.

Joe Mauer, and his sideburns, are runaway winners for the 2009 AL MVP.

AL MVP–Joe Mauer (C-Minnesota): No matter what millions of Derek Jeter apologists may say, the AL MVP is a no brainer. Joe Mauer missed the first month of the season with a bad back, but from May on was the best hitter in all of baseball. The Twins’ All-Star catcher captured his third AL batting title in four years, finishing the season with a .365 average.  Mauer also enjoyed a tremendous spike in his power numbers with a career high 28 HR’s and 98 RBI’s, leading to an AL-best .587 slugging percentage. He walked more times than he struck out (76 BB’s vs. 63 K’s) and lead the league by a country mile in both OBP (.444) and OPS (1.031). As if that wasn’t enough, Mauer continued to play Gold Glove caliber defense behind the plate and led a depleted Twins team to a surprising AL Central title. Without Joltin’ Joe, Minnesota is likely a sub .500 team; without Jeter the Yankees are still one of the AL’s elite clubs. Quite simply, Mauer was more valuable to his team than any other player in the American League. If that doesn’t make him the MVP, what does?

NL MVP–Albert Pujols (1B-St. Louis): While he might not have captured the first Triple Crown since 1967, Pujols was still dominant from start to finish and continued to prove why he will go down in history as one of the game’s greatest sluggers. Phat Albert led the NL is HR’s (47), runs, slugging, OBP and OPS, while finishing third in the league in both RBI’s (135) and batting (.327). He spent the majority of the season getting pitched around (115 BB’s) but always seemed to come through with a clutch hit when St. Louis need it, and his numbers with the bases loaded were simply mind boggling (.588-5 HR-35 RBI-2.171 OPS). Pujols’ third MVP in five years showed once again that it’s Albert’s world and we’re all just living in it.

Zach Grienke overcame pitching for Kansas City and became baseball's best pitcher in 2009.

Zach Grienke overcame pitching for Kansas City and became baseball's best pitcher in 2009.

AL Cy Young–Zack Greinke (SP-Kansas City): Despite being tormented throughout his childhood for having a last named that rhymed with stinky (helping us understand his issues with social anxiety disorder), Zack Grienke was anything but in 2009, pitching brilliantly for one of baseball’s worst teams. The 25-year-old righty had one of the best opening months in history (5-0, 0.50 ERA, 44 K’s) and never looked back, finishing the year 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA and 242 K’s. Don’t let the win-loss record fool you, Grienke was the best pitcher in the majors all year and was reminiscent of a young Pedro Martinez circa 1998. The sky is the limit for Grienke after finally living up to his enormous potential in 2009 (and fulfilling the propechy set forth in the Book of Mary); what will he do for an encore next season?

NL Cy Young–Chris Carpenter (SP-St. Louis): The race for the NL Cy Young was probably the closest in all of baseball, with three pitchers who could make a strong argument for the award. Tim Lincecum was his usual dominant self for the Giants, but winning only 15 games really hurt his chances at back-to-back awards. Adam Wainwright was outstanding in leading the Cardinals to the postseason, but he was outshined by his own teammate, the revitalized Chris Carpenter. Carpenter, who hadn’t pitched a full season since 2006 because of arm troubles, looked better than ever in 2009, going 17-4 with a 2.24 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. The right-hander already captured the league’s Comeback Player of the Year award, but Carpenter will need more room in his trophy case after the best season of his career–and the finest of any NL hurler in ’09.

AL Rookie of the Year–Andrew Bailey (RP-Oakland): Although hidden out in the West Coast on a mediocre Oakland team, Andrew Bailey proved that Billy Beane hasn’t completely lost his marbles by setting a rookie record for saves with 26, good for 9th in the AL. The former Wagner Seahawk soared all season long, striking out more than a batter per inning and finishing the year with an impressive 1.84 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. At only 25-years-old, it appears that Oakland has found a long term solution in the back of their bullpen with “Rich & Creamy” Bailey.

Tommy Hanson baffled NL hitters all season long.

Tommy Hanson baffled National League hitters all season long.

NL Rookie of the Year–Tommy Hanson (SP-Atlanta): The National League had a trio of talented rookie hurlers as Randy Wells, J.A. Happ and Tommy Hanson all turned in stellar freshman campaigns. Despite a late start, Hanson deserves the award after showing why he was regarded as one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball. The Braves next staff ace wasn’t called up until June 7th, but made the best of his time in bigs, with an 11-4 record, 2.89 ERA and 116 K’s in 127 innings. Although only 23-years-old, Hanson demonstrated the poise of bomb squad technician and was instrumental in Atlanta’s last season push for a playoff berth. Look for continued improvement from John Smoltz version 2.0 in 2010 as he teams up with Jair Jurrjens to form one of the National League’s best 1-2 punches.

Like Detroit Needs More Bad News: Tigers Lose One-Game Playoff to Minnesota

America wants more Joe Mauer? America gets more Joe Mauer.

America wants more Joe Mauer? America gets more Joe Mauer with the Twins thrilling win.

It’s almost unbelievable to think that after a 162-game regular season two teams in the same division would finish with the exact same record. It’s even more amazing when it happens two years in a row to the same team, yet that’s exactly what fate conjured up for the Minnesota Twins. After a furious rally in the season’s last month, the Twins found themselves deadlocked with the Tigers, both sporting 86-76 records, and both having one game to prove that they belonged in the postseason (or at least deserved to lose to the Yankees).

For the Twins, the game was a shot at redemption after last year’s gut-wrenching 1-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox in the season’s 163rd game. For the Tigers, it was a chance to save face after blowing a 7-game lead in the last month of the season, and of course to lift the spirits of a downtrodden city (it worked out well for Michigan State!) The Tigers trotted out 20-year-old Rick Porcello to the mound (sporting a dynamite playoff beard) to oppose Twins’ right-hander Scott Baker in a game for all the marbles. After a season full of bad blood between the two teams, many feared that this game might turn ugly, but instead it became an instant classic.

Porcello pitched a gem, but it wasn't enough for the Tigers.

Porcello pitched a gem, but it wasn't enough for the stunned Tigers.

Despite a record crowd of over 54,000 rabid fans in the Metrodome, young Rick Porcello exhibited the poise of a seasoned veteran, blowing away Twins’ hitters and quieting the home crowd with a career-high tying 8 strikeouts. He was staked to a 3-0 lead after the Tigers turned a lead-off walk from Baker in the third into 3 runs on a single from Magglio Ordonez (sans Sampson-esque locks) and a 2-run bomb from the “domestically challenged” Miguel Cabrera. The Twins answered in the bottom of the frame, with Matt Tolbert scoring on an errant pick-off attempt from Porcello.

Both pitchers settled down and the game quickly moved into the 6th inning when Jason Kubel, who had stranded runners in both his previous at-bats, launched a towering shot into the upper-deck to bring the Twins within one run. The Tigers ran into more trouble in the 7th. Reliever Zach Miner took over for Porcello and promptly coughed up the lead as light-hitting Orlando Cabrera drilled a pitch just over the wall in left field to score Nick Punto and give Minnesota a 4-3 cushion. It didn’t last long though, as Ordonez evened up the game with a HR to left field off Twins pitcher Matt Guerrier to open up the 8th inning. The Tigers threatened again in the 9th, but an Ordonez line-drive to Cabrera turned into a double play as an over-aggressive Curtis Granderson got caught in between first and second, sending the game into extra innings. Would you want it any other way?

Cabrera played a pivotal role in helping the Twins advance into the playoffs.

Cabrera played a pivotal role in helping the Twins advance into the playoffs.

Both teams scored in the 10th, with the Tigers taking a 5-4 lead on a Brandon Inge double before allowing the Twins to tie the game on a Tolbert bouncing ball back up the middle. The 11th inning passed quietly for Detroit and Minnesota, setting up a thrilling finish to the game. The Tigers appeared to score in the top of the 12th when a Bob Keppel pitch grazed Inge’s uniform with the bases loaded, but umpire Randy Marsh saw otherwise, and Inge eventually grounded to second where Punto fired home for a force out. Keppel ended the inning with a strikeout of Gerald Laird. Carlos Gomez opened the Twins’ half of the 12th inning with a single and then advanced to second on a Michael Cuddyer groundout. A tiring Fernando Rodney intentionally walked Delmon Young to bring Alexei Casilla, hitting only .198 on the season, to the plate. With the Metrodome rocking and homer hankies waving in all parts of the ballpark, Casilla lined a single into right-field, easily scoring the speedy Gomez from second and setting off a rampant celebrationg from Minnesota players and fans.

The party will likely be short lived for the Twins though, they travel to New York tomorrow to face the 103-win Yankees team. Although they will be heavy underdogs against the mighty Yankees, (they went 0-7 against New York this season) the fiesty Twins have kept the Metrodome open for at least one more game, (they are scheduled to move into their new stadium next year) and after winning 18 of their final 22 games to squeak into the postseason, the team believes anything is possible.

Will the Twins keep on rolling? Or will they be stopped by the buzzsaw that is the New York Yankees? Will America finally appreciate how good Joe Mauer is? Can Alex Rodriguez salvage his reputation with a clutch performance? Should Minnesota ask Brett Favre to start Game One?

It’s the postseason in baseball…anything can happen.

Mariners’ Monthly Roundup: September & October “Great End to a Surprisingly Successful Season” Edition

Mike Sweeney enjoyed his best month as a Mariner in September.

Designated hitter Mike Sweeney enjoyed his best month as a Mariner in September.

Record: 17-13 (85-77 overall)

Final AL West Standings: L.A. Angels  (97-65); Texas Rangers (87-75); Seattle Mariners (85-77); Oakland Athletics (75-87)

Top Hitter: Though best known as the nicest guy in baseball, Mike Sweeney proved in September and October that he still has something to offer at the dish, hitting .339 with 3 HRs and 8 RBIs in just 53 at-bats. The wily veteran provided a number of clutch hits, including a go-ahead two-run single against the Oakland A’s on October 1st. Sweeney finished the year with a .281 average, 8 HR’s and 34 RBI’s. Along with Ken Griffey Jr., the gregarious Sweeney was instrumental in changing the Mariners’ clubhouse from a funeral home to an environment that bred success.

Top Pitcher: The best just kept getting better as Felix Hernandez went 6-0 in September and October with 1.52 ERA. The 23-year-old phenom allowed just one HR in his last 7 starts of the year and had an astounding 0.97 WHIP over the season’s last month. Though he will probably finish second in this year’s AL Cy Young race, Hernandez has given Seattle fans plenty of reasons to be excited about the M’s chances in 2010. King Felix tied for the league lead in wins (19) and finished 2nd in ERA (2.49), 3rd in WHIP (1.14) and 4th in strikeouts (217). Yeah, he’s that good.

Biggest Surprise: On a 3-1 pitch in his second at-bat of the game against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 27th, Matt Tuiasosopo hit a fastball into the left-field stands for a HR, making Mike Blowers look like Nostradamus in the process. Blowers, a former M’s third baseman, predicted in the pregame show that Tuiasosopo would hit his first career HR, and against all odds Tui came through. The story quickly made its way through the blogosphere and onto ESPN, making Tui’s HR the highlight of a very fun season of baseball for the Mariners (besides of course that Griffey guy returning to Seattle).

Biggest Disappointment: Russell Branyan was having the best season of his career before a herniated disk in his back forced him to miss the year’s last month. The Mariners clearly were a different team without his bat in the middle of the lineup and will likely try to bring him back as either a DH or first baseman for next season. Despite not playing in September, Branyan still led the Mariners with 31 HR’s for the season and finished second on the team with 76 RBI’s. The M’s faith in Branyan was not misplaced.

It was a storybook ending to Griffey's return as a Mariner.

What a way to end a magical season in Seattle.

Griffey Watch: Ken Griffey Jr. finished the season with a flourish, hitting HR’s in 3 of his final 5 games and rapping a single in his last at-bat of the year. Though statistically one of the worst seasons of his career, Junior provided timely hits and much needed leadership to a young Mariners’ team looking for an identity. If he is willing to accept a reduced role in 2010, Seattle would love another season with the franchise’s most popular player.

Overall Grade: (A) The Mariners ended 2009 on a roll, with a 17-13 record in September and October that brought their season mark up to 85-77. Considering the team lost 101 games last season, the quick turnaround orchestrated by Jack Zdrunciek and Don Wakamatsu is nothing short of spectacular.  The strong play of youngsters like Mike “Magic” Karp, Matt Tuiasosopo and Doug Fister, along with the continued emergence of players like Felix Hernandez, David Aardsma, Jose Lopez and Franklin Gutierrez, gives the Mariners a strong foundation to build upon moving forward. Two thousand and nine was a great season for the Mariners; here’s hoping 2010 holds something special for Seattle. Hats off to the Mariners for a tremendous year, it sure was a lot of fun to watch.