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When Is Fantasy Baseball Not Fantasy Baseball?


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DaddyO

DaddyO
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I thought I'd share with Mariner Central this writeup I did of a game between the Twins and the Tigers from my replay of the 1965 season using Diamond Mind Baseball.

This section of MC seemed like the most suitable to do so, I hope you guys don't mind this sort of thing intruding on your space. If so, just say so.

* * *

As May 1965 turned into June the stunning juggernaut Detroit Tigers, intent on breaking the single season team home run record of 240 set by the 1961 Yankees, ran into an iceberg in the form of a sudden 9-game losing streak, six of those losses coming in home and away series against the surprising, surging Cleveland Indians. By June 7th the early peak of their conquest of the AL, a 6-1/2 game lead on May 16th, had been almost completely eroded. Cleveland, led by a stellar starting rotation and an MVP-type start by Leon Wagner, had matched Detroit's losing streak with a 9 game winning streak and pulled within a half game of the Tigers. The Minnesota Twins had also inserted themselves into the mix with a 15-2 run in the middle of May and a 3-1 weekday series win June 7th through the 10th against the Indians that left them in second place, just a game back of Detroit. Cleveland sat in third two games out.

Friday, June 11th dawned, and the Twins traveled to Detroit to directly confront the AL leaders for the first time since late April. First place was within their grasp: the series was scheduled for four games, a 3-1 series victory would vault them past the Tigers. The first two games of the series were scheduled as a day/night doubleheader on Friday. Minnesota, fresh off a hard-fought series victory over Cleveland, brimmed with confidence. Detroit had rebounded from its losing streak to finish a set against the California Angels with a pair of comfortable wins. They sought to turn back their challenger and reassert that recent collapse was only a temporary setback.

The day game of the doubleheader matched veteran Twins righthander Jim "Mudcat" Grant (4-3, 4.14), a mainstay of the Minnesota rotation who had been hammered early in the season but had lately found his groove, against young Tigers righthander Joe Sparma (3-3, 4.35). Sparma had earned a spot in Detroit's rotation with an impressive rookie season in 1964; this season had seen him suffer from the inconsistencies so common to young pitchers.

Minnesota jumped on top 1-0 against Sparma right away as Zoilo Versalles led off the game with a bloop single to left, took second on Sparma's errant pickoff throw, and with one out scored on a line single to center by Rich Rollins. Detroit answered immediately with Dick McAuliffe's ground single to right followed by a Jerry Lumpe drive to deep right center that scored McAuliffe and put Lumpe at third with a triple. Norm Cash jumped on an inside fastball and sizzled it deep into the right field corner for a double scoring Lumpe. Three batters, Tigers 2, Twins 1, Cash on second, nobody out. But Grant retired Kaline, Horton and Northrup in order to end the first inning.

The Twins went right back at Sparma as Don Mincher pulled the pitchers’ third pitch of the inning far beyond Tigers Stadium’s right field wall to tie the game at 2. The early action continued: Sparma induced a routine ground ball to short from Earl Battey, but it ate up McAuliffe for an error. Number eight hitter Jerry Kindall then yanked a pitch deep down the left field line that cleared the fence for a two-run homer. Grant took the hill for the bottom of the second with a 4-2 lead. But Tigers third baseman Don Wert answered Mincher’s leadoff home run with a shot of his own deep over the left center field wall, and with one out Mincher mirrored McAuliffe’s error by fumbling a ground ball of Sparma’s bat. After McAuliffe was retired, Lumpe hit a ground ball to second baseman Kindall whose zeal to start a double play caused him to mishandle the play for another error, leaving runners at first and second with two out. Grant’s lead was in trouble, and lefty Norm Cash strode to the plate. With the count 2-1, Cash lashed a single to right center scoring Sparma with the tying run and sending Lumpe to third. Grant got Kaline on a fly ball to end the threat. Twins 4, Tigers 4 after two innings.

Sparma retired the Twins in order in the top of the third. Grant wondered if his day was going to be over soon when Willie Horton led off the bottom of the third with a booming double to right center, but Mudcat retired Northrup, Wert and Freehan in order to keep the score knotted at 4 apiece.

Mincher led off the Minnesota fourth with a five-pitch walk, and when Battey grounded a single up the middle, Sparma faced runners on first and second with nobody out. This day was not proving easy for the 23-year-old. He got Kindall on a strikeout, so his mound opponent Grant laid down a one-out bunt to give Versalles two runners in scoring position. The only problem was Grant’s bunt was so good he beat the play at first base, loading the bases with one out. When Versalles followed with a grounder to Lumpe forcing Grant at second, he beat McAuliffe’s relay throw allowing Mincher to score the go-ahead run for the Twins. Then Valdespino added to the margin by stroking a single to left scoring Battey. Rollins flied out to end the threat, but when the dust had settled Sparma had now give up 6 runs (only 4 earned) and trailed by two in a game that was far from orderly.

Grant put the Tigers down one-two-three in the bottom of the fourth. Detroit got out of the top of the fifth without damage, but after walking Mincher with two out reliever Phil Regan was brought in to replace Sparma. Battey was able to get his second ground ball single up the middle, but Regan struck out Kindall to nail down the inning.

In the bottom of the fifth, Grant walked Cash to start the inning, and after retiring Kaline and Horton, Northrup pulled a sharp ground ball down the first base line and past the diving Mincher for a double that scored Cash to draw the Tigers to within 6-5. Mudcat then uncorked a wild pitch that sent Northrup to third, but he got Wert on a grounder to end the inning and retain a one-run lead.

Both teams went down in order in the sixth, and though the top of the 7th was marred by another McAuliffe error and a walk, and the bottom of the inning Kaline got a base hit, the seventh also ended with neither team tallying a run and the score remaining Twins 6, Tigers 5.

With the game approaching its climax, Kindall started the Twins 8th with a base hit up the middle off Regan, and Grant successfully bunted Kindall into scoring position. The Twins were set up with the top of the order, one out, and a badly needed insurance run at second, but Regan, showing grit in his third inning of work, turned them away by striking out Versalles and getting Valdespino to ground out. Grant came out to pitch the bottom of the inning still protecting his narrow lead. Northrup gave him a scare with a line drive to right but Oliva made a running catch for the first out. Grant struck out Wert, but when he walked Freehan on five pitches he was clearly tiring. When Gates Brown was announced to pinch hit for Regan, Minnesota manager Sam Mele decided to bring in lefty Bill Pleis to face him. Pleis struck out Brown to finish the eight inning, the 6-5 score left from the fifth inning still in force as the game headed to the final regulation frame.

Tigers manager Charlie Dressen, whose return from a spring heart attack had come in the middle of the Detroit losing streak, brought in lefty Ron Nischwitz to pitch the 9th. After getting the righthanded Rollins to ground to short, Nischwitz retired lefties Oliva and Hall, both of whom put up 0 for 5 batting lines for the game. That left the visiting Twins with their narrow 6-5 lead entering the bottom of the 9th. Minnesota did so with the hope of a win, a first-place tie, and a chance to leapfrog the Tigers with another win in the nightcap.

Pleis was left in to face lefties McAuliffe, Lumpe, and Cash. He got McAuliffe on a ground ball, and he struck out Lumpe to put the Twins within an out of their goal, but wary of Cash’s power he walked him on five pitches. With powerful righties Kaline and Horton due up next, 36-year-old veteran righty Al Worthington was summoned to perform his customary role and nail down the win. Worthington was not having the best of seasons. He’d given up more hits than inning pitches, and he had issued walks at an alarming rate of 6 per 9 innings. But some of that was due to his overuse, and he did have one noteworthy stat…he had allowed but a single home run in his thirty relief innings, a key stat under the circumstances where an extra base would result in a tie and a homer in a loss. Worthington finished his warmup tosses, settled in and delivered his first pitch to Kaline, who must have anticipated the “get-ahead” fastball. He lined it to left center and it rolled nearly to the wall while Kaline pulled in at second. Only a good play by Allison and the solid reputation of his arm held Cash at third, preventing him from attempting to score the tying run. Suddenly the Twins faced not only the loss of their lead, but the loss of the game on a hit to the outfield.

With two out, first base open and his potential run meaningless, the strong and powerful bat of Horton was nullified by an intentional walk despite the fact that it brought left-hand hitting Jim Northrup to the plate against Worthington. Northrup was not the hitter that Horton was. Still, it was Northrup who had narrowed the gap to 6-5 with an RBI double in the fifth. Worthington’s shoulders heaved with a sigh as he stepped on the rubber and faced the rangy Tigers rightfielder in the climactic at bat of the game. But he fell behind, ball one outside. Ball two, again outside off the plate. The only thing worse than a game-tying walk would be a game-winning hit, so Worthington had to be careful. He targeted yet another fastball towards the outer half of the plate, but again he missed and the umpires signal confirmed what he knew, that he had run the count to 3-0 despite the fact that a fourth ball was unthinkable. Battey interrupted the bad karma with a visit to the mound, trying to settle his pitcher down with the game on the line. Worthington went into his windup, delivering his fourth fastball of the at-bat, and he winced upon releasing the pitch because he realized as he did so that he had missed badly…and walked Northrup to force in the tying run. Everything the team had worked for those 9 innings had just gone up in a humiliating smoke.

But the game was not over yet. It was only tied, his team still had a chance. The veteran righthander tried to collect himself at the same time that he was berating himself. He looked at manager Sam Miele in the dugout, who was inscrutable with his encouraging expression. Al knew that, given the weary state of Minnesota relief corps, his manager had no better options right now than himself. He stood on the mound for a moment, facing the plate, briefly glanced heavenward, the stepped on the rubber. In his stance, at the plate, was young veteran third baseman Don Wert, a right-handed batter, solid but not a feared bat. If Worthington could induce a ground ball, and out would take them to extra innings. He went into his windup, delivering the only pitch he could under the circumstances, a fastball aimed at the heart of the plate but down as best he could. Wert made a veteran decision to take the first pitch, his predecessor having seen four straight balls. Right arm raised, the umpire called it what it was, a strike. Finally ahead, Worthington relaxed a bit. He could do it. But could he? He wanted to mix in a breaking ball and Battey agreed, but it bounced in the dirt as Wert held his swing in check and Battey corralled it. 1 and 1. Back to the fastball, the one he was having trouble commanding today, the one Wert no doubt was anticipating. But he left it high out of the strike zone and the count ran to 2 and 1.

Control of the fastball having deserted Worthington, Battey felt he had to call for the curve aimed at the middle of the plate in hopes of avoiding solid contact by Wert. Worthington wanted the fastball again, determined to control the pitch that every hurler had to control. The next one would be a strike, he told himself. He shook Battey off. Twice. Battey called time and went to the mound. They had to be on the same page on this one. A few words exchanged, a few glances at the Minnesota dugout, the batter, and the home plate umpire, and the decision was made. It would be the fastball again. Worthington convinced Battey that he couldn’t just throw curveball after curveball hoping they’d be called strikes. Battey cautioned him against leaving it high. It HAD to be down in the zone. The catcher returned to his position behind the plate and settled in his crouch. The umpire signaled to play ball as Worthington peered in for the sign he now knew was coming. He rocked, delivered, and the fastball hurtled towards the plate. Low. Oh no. It was low. It was LOW. With a 3 and 1 count Worthington was one pitch away from walking in both the tying and winning run in the 9th inning. As a veteran, he had faced this situation before. Sometimes he’d won, sometimes he’d lost. He did not want to lose this time. Wert had shown no inclination to swing unnecessarily, and he seemed content to let the Twins pitcher bury himself or throw a second strike that he liked. Everyone in the stadium who knew baseball knew the fastball was coming next. And it did. And Wert liked it. But he missed it. Right over the plate it came, but it had just enough movement and Wert’s swing was just enough off the timing that the pitch skipped off the top of the bat and careened back into the net protecting the crowd.

Worthington sighed as he received the new baseball put into service by the umpire. He had avoided further humiliation and worked his way back to a full count. This was the inning of decision. This was the batter of decision. Now, this was the pitch of decision. Game tied, game on. As he wound up to deliver the crucial pitch, Worthington felt at the same time completely engaged and completely detached. He would remember that strange feeling later. But as he delivered yet another fastball aimed low in the strike zone he could see that he had found his mark, that Wert was swinging, and that the ball went off his bat to his right, down, down towards the ground, down where he had wanted it. As he turned to watch the ball bounded sharply…and swiftly…towards the gap between short and third…and then it was past the infield, a ground single that enabled Kaline to trot home from third as the Detroit crowd cheered, and the Detroit dugout emptied in jubilation, having rallied to beat Worthington’s Twins 7-6.

Worthington was left to muse on the mound which was worse, the humiliation of walking in the tying run, or the frustration of having battled back from a 3-1 count to get the very ground ball he wanted, only to see it elude his infielders. That’s baseball, he told himself. Gotta get myself together for the nightcap.
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