Taking Note

O, that 163rd game–among the greatest wins for those Twins, and the Metrodome was never louder! And when were there ever two well-deserved, inadvertent standing ovations in the same game? Let me explain . . . .

With one out in the top of the eleventh, Minnesota called upon their recently acquired veteran, lefty Ron Mahay, to try to reserve the 5-5 tie, facing Tiger centerfielder Curtis Granderson, the man who, by the way, became in 2007 the only player in the history of baseball to surpass 100R, 20 2Bs, 20 3Bs, 20 HRs and a .300 BA in a season–but allow me to resume our session of more apropos digression.

When Mahay struck out the left-handed-hitting Granderson swinging, and was dutifully replaced by manager Ron Gardenhire, the crowd wildly cheered the southpaw as he strolled off the mound with his job very well done.

But what Mahay had secretly accomplished in this moment was an unimaginable attainment, a 13-year accumulation of obscured moments, unmatchable, I venture, for at least the rest of baseball eternity: By avoiding a loss in this last regular season game of 2009, Mahay had pitched for eight different big league teams, with a 1.000 W/L pct. season for each of them! His 1-0 mark for the Twins capped an amazing run that started in his first year pitching for Boston in 1997, carrying through his entire nomadic career since: Oakland, Florida, Chicago, Texas, Atlanta, Kansas City and Minnesota! His total of nine 1.000 seasons included three 1-0’s, three 2-0’s, two 3-0’s, and one 5-0.

Does Ron Mahay, heading for his first post-season appearance, belong with the immortals? Does this incidence of some skill fueling much coincidence, making, at best, the most meaningful of mostly meaningless figures possible, while ending a simmering symmetry unsought, entitle the reliever a trip to Cooperstown without buying a ticket? Of course not, yet is not that what makes the unfolding of such successes even more pleasurable to observe? And upon further review, in another sense, maybe it does . . . .

In 1995, a young centerfielder named Ron Mahay made his major league debut for the Red Sox, playing five games as an outfielder. By the time he returned to the majors in ’97, Mahay had been converted–to a pitcher. Have any other Red Sox outfielders also pitched for them? Only Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper, so to paraphrase Groucho, any such club that would have Ron Mahay as a member, he’d be honored to join!

And on this “Mahay Day,” a second “unbeknownst” had the overflow crowd still standing, wildly waving their Homer Hankies. For Alex Casilla’s season-long (and seemingly hopeless) battle to cross that dreaded “Mendoza Line” of a .200 BA, after his .281 ‘08 campaign dramatically ended with his game-winning bouncer into right field that not only sent the Twins and their fans into the playoffs and the accompanying appropriate delirium, but raised Casilla’s batting average, on this last at-bat of the year, from an embarrassingly forgettable .199 to a never-to-be forgotten .202! It was no wonder that they could not stop cheering . . . .

The ensuing chatter concerning the “fatigued” Twins’ disadvantage in heading to New York for Game #1 of the LDS presupposed the Twins couldn’t lose to the Yanks on their own merits. For inspiration, they could recall the “absolutely drained” NY Giants going into Yankee Stadium the next day following Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world” and beating the Bombers 5-1.

And, to further note the interconnectedness of all things baseball (and the 10-fold tenuousness comprising its indestructible history), only Jackie Robinson’s last regular season game heroics, combining his 9th inning, game-saving impossible diving catch and 14th inning game-winning homer that forced, ironically, Brooklyn’s lasting heartache in the 1951 Giant-Dodger playoff, made not only The Flying Scotsman’s equally implausible heroics but, more or less importantly, this paragraph about the “winning 2009 one game one less than the losing 2008” Twins (who had one player, Orlando Cabrera, become the only man ever to be on the winning team two consecutive years in a deciding game #163, and another, Joe Crede, the only one disabled for both) possible! And now, back to the playoffs . . . .

As we all know, it all started in Washington for Mr. Smith. But the professional journey that began when Seth Smith was playing in Pasco, Washington in the Northwest League and continues, as with the aforementioned Mahay, with a playoff guest spot, is more interesting than you (or he!) would think, if we set the way-back machine merely to 2007. Talk about his unduplicatable feat: .500 or better batting average in result season, division playoff, league
championship and World Series, all thanks to the miracle of small statistical sampling or, less alliteratively, data dearth!

Barry Codell

P.S. Time for “Name that BAM (right before “The BOP is right”) on the Barry Code Network!  How closely, how correctly have you observed the 2009 season? Here are 10 names to determine 5 who had more averaged bases batting than at-bat outs (BAM over 1.000).  Separate them from the 5 who had more outs than bases (BAM under 1.000):

1. Troy Tulowitzki
2. Matt Holliday
3. Joey Votto
4. Evan Longoria
5. Carlos Pena
6. Adam Dunn
7. Ben Zobrist
8. Derrek Lee
9. Hanley Ramirez
10. Chase Utley

The answer will be found in the latest entry on the Barry Code’s “Art of the Article” link—and thanks to all for playing!

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