Now that was a discouraging loss

Back home at Target Field. Joe Mauer back in the lineup. Francisco Liriano – your Game 1 starter – on the mound. And the uplifting news that Justin Morneau could be on the path to recovery from a concussion. All of these factors seemed like just what the Twins needed to get over the five-game losing streak that had been snapped the night before.

Francisco Liriano

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Francisco Liriano, center, yielded five runs in 5 1/3 innings Thursday. Associated Press photo

Instead, Thursday’s game was just like five of the previous six, with the Twins losing to the Toronto Blue Jays 13-2 to open the team’s final series before the playoffs.

Minnesota has now given up double-digits in runs in five of the last seven games. But Thursday’s loss wasn’t comparable to the 11-10 loss the Twins took when Liriano left early with an upset stomach in his last start. Nor was it comparable to the Nick Blackburn 10-1 loss or the Kevin Slowey 10-8 loss. This was your Game 1 starter. And with Mauer back, the Twins lineup looked more like a playoff one rather than a Rochester Red Wings one.

Twins designated hitter and the state’s latest 40-year-old icon, Jim Thome, is expected to play Friday. Carl Pavano – the Twins workhorse, routinely going 7 innings in a start – pitches for Minnesota. Can Pavano be the stopper? Twins are going to need him to be. Momentum is overrated, but these losses are getting pretty embarrassing and will certainly be a talking point for baseball analysts as the playoffs approach.

Many managerial mainstays walking away

How’s that for a tongue-twisting headline?

I was watching a little bit of the Toronto Blue Jays-New York Yankees game on TV on Wednesday night, and the Blue Jays were honoring longtime manager Cito Gaston. I hadn’t realized it until then that Gaston will be managing the final game of his career against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday at Target Field. Gaston had announced prior to this season that 2010 would be his last.

Cito Gaston

Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston was honored Wednesday night in his final home game. He announced he's retiring after this season. The Jays finish the year with a four-game series at Target Field against the Twins. Associated Press photo

Gaston joins a number of other veteran skippers walking away from the game this season. Let’s look at some of the big names heading for retirement.

  • Cito Gaston. Let’s start with Gaston. He’s had two different stints running the Blue Jays, first from 1989-97, then again from 2008 until this season. Gaston led the Blue Jays to AL East titles in three of his first four years and back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. He’s had a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde tenure, because since 1994 his teams have never finished higher than third, and only once have the Jays finished higher than fourth. How can that be? Could be that he simply inherited some really talented players in the early 1990s. Or it might speak more to the economics of the game and Toronto’s inability to field a winner when the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox became perennial playoff teams. Either way, not too many managers can say they’ve successfully defended a championship in Major League Baseball. Gaston is one that can.
  • Bobby Cox. Like Gaston, Cox had two different stints as manager of the team he’s become synonymous with. In addition to his 26 years as Atlanta Braves skipper (1978-81, 1990-2010), he also managed the Blue Jays for four seasons (1982-85). All told, Cox led the Braves to 14 straight division titles from 1991-2005, plus led the Blue Jays to a division crown in 1985. Despite all of Atlanta’s success, he managed just one World Series title, as the Braves defeated the Cleveland Indians in the 1995 World Series. Cox ranks fourth all-time in managerial wins, trailing only Connie Mack, John McGraw and Tony La Russa.
  • Lou Piniella. Piniella walked away in midseason from the Chicago Cubs in what has been a frustrating season for the Bleacher Bums at Wrigley Field. Piniella managed 23 seasons in the big leagues for five different clubs from 1986-2010 (Yankees, Reds, Mariners, Devil Rays, Cubs). Among the five he spent most of his time in Seattle, helping the Mariners to a thrilling postseason berth in 1995, plus a 116-46 record in 2001. The highlight of his career was in 1990 with the Reds, when he guided Cincinnati to a National League pennant and a shocking four-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics in the World Series. When you looked at those two teams on paper, it’s still hard to believe that Series ended the way it did.
  • Joe Torre. There’s no reason to think Torre is done for good, but who knows? Torre announced earlier this month that he won’t be returning to his post as Los Angeles Dodgers manager after this season, giving way for Don Mattingly to take over. Torre is in his 30th season as a big league manager and is fifth all-time in wins. He had forgettable runs with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals. But he was at the helm when the Yankees snapped their nearly two-decade drought without a World Series title, leading NY to championships in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

McDonald’s blast makes for perfect Father’s Day tribute

Great story on the Big League Stew blog over at Yahoo on Toronto’s John McDonald hitting a homer on Father’s Day in a loss to San Francisco.

At first glance, it seems like a meaningless longball that came with a six-run deficit Sunday. But that was McDonald’s first at-bat since the death of his father, who had passed away earlier in the week from liver cancer. The team allowed McDonald to be away from it for nearly two weeks so he could be with his dying dad.

The 12-year big league veteran hadn’t played in a month. Sunday’s blast was just his 14th career homer.

"I was so happy to see him hit that home run, I almost cried myself," said Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston.

That’s what is great about baseball being a marathon, not a sprint. It’s 162 games. Every game means a little something in the standings, but not much in the big picture. Moments like McDonald’s homer can become bigger than the game itself. And it should be that way.

Those in the bleachers in Toronto might not remember years from now what the score was, or who won and who lost. But they’ll remember that game as being the one that McDonald homered in on Father’s Day in his first game back after his dad’s death.

A FEW LINKS

Here’s a video of John McDonald talking to reporters after his homer: