October 2009

How sweet it is!

I’ve never been a part of a game that felt any better than this. The way we came back, the way we just refused to go down, it was just amazing to be in the middle of something like that.

I can’t tell you how good I feel for Vladimir Guerrero. This has been a very rough season for him, with all the injuries he’s had to overcome. To see him deliver like he did, driving that game-winning hit against Jonathan Papelbon, was unbelievable.

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This guy Vladdy is a Hall of Famer in my book. He’s an all-time great hitter, and a great teammate. I think that’s one of the reasons why everyone was so thrilled to see him get that big, big hit. Because he’s been so great for so long, and people were starting to doubt him. Who’s doubting Vladdy now? Who’s saying he can’t hit a good fastball?

There were so many big moments. Erick Aybar got it started with his two-out hit, then Chone Figgins worked a huge walk against Papelbon. Bobby Abreu comes up, and he’s a guy you want hitting in that situation, cool as can be. He drives one off the monster, and now we’re only one run down.

I was ready to hit, looking forward to it, but they walked me intentionally. Was I surprised? I can’t really say. Their manager, Terry Francona, knows what he’s doing. He’s a smart guy.

So is my man, Mike Scioscia – manager of the year! No doubt.

I’m happy they did walk me now, because of the way it turned out, but I really wanted to hit in that situation. It’s what you live for as an athlete, and that’s why we’re all so happy for Vlad.

The big man came through in a big way. Hits don’t get any bigger than that one. He’s not a guy who shows much emotion, but he was smiling over there at first base like you rarely see him. I was pointing over to him from second base, and I could just feel his joy. It was one of those magical moments.

This team has so much character, I can’t say enough about the heart of these guys. We have been playing for Nick Adenhart all season, and I know he’s proud of us now. Nick loved the game, everything about it, and this was as good as it gets, beating the Red Sox in Boston. I’ve got a lot of respect for that team over there, how good those guys are. That’s what makes this so gratifying.

No more talk about curses!

We beat the Red Sox in their house!

As for Nick, I like what our hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, said. If Nick’s up there writing the script, it’s a masterpiece.

We’re going to celebrate this, but we know we’ve still got work to do. We don’t want this to end. 

The Twins, my old team, are still alive. I’m not going to lie. I’m pulling for those guys against the Yankees. Hey, I raised some of those guys on the Twins team. How could I not be pulling for them?

Whoever we play, we’re going to be ready. We’ve got everything we need on this team, young guys with energy, smart veterans, pitching, hitting, defense, speed. And athletes. Man, we’ve got some athletes. We just have to go out and keep doing what we do.

We got the first three wins. Now we need four more to get to where we want to be, the Fall Classic.

Enjoy the ride, everybody. I guarantee you we are. I just need to find some goggles that keep the champagne out of my eyes.

Feeling good and staying hungry

We’re going to Boston feeling good about being up 2-0, but we’re staying hungry. We won’t be satisfied until this is over. We’re going to enjoy these two wins, but we know how dangerous the Red Sox are, and we’ve got a job to finish now.

So many guys came through in this second game, but you have to start with Jered Weaver. Man, he was dealing. I’ve got a great view out in center field, and he was on his game, just like John Lackey in Game 1. Weaver’s been doing it all season, and he really brought it out on the big stage. And that was great to see, after the way he’s performed all year long for us.

We’re having fun, playing our game. It’s something we’re talking about. Let’s have fun and let our God-given ability take place.

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Josh Beckett is a big-game pitcher, one of the best. It’s not easy to beat a guy like Beckett. His ball was moving, like usual, but we had some great at-bats and scored some runs.

How about Vladimir Guerrero, going the other way for a big hit and then drawing that walk to get our seventh inning started. We were having a lot of fun with Vladdy over that. The big man really came through. He’s a Hall of Famer.

Then Howard Kendrick comes in to run for Vladdy and steals a big bag. Beckett’s quick over to first, so it’s not easy to run on him. Howie got a nice jump and beat it cleanly. Then Maicer Izturis, who hadn’t even played for about a week, walks up and does what he does – he slammed that huge base-hit to center field for the lead.

Maicer is one of those quiet guys people don’t pay much attention to, but he can play the game. He does it all, and he’s a guy you want up there in a big situation, because he’s so cool.

Big Mike Napoli goes old school and takes a pitch in the back, and that keeps it going. And then Erick Aybar — what a season he’s had — he goes up and crushes that ball to center field, and he’s flying to third base. That’s the way we play the game, hard, aggressively. Aybar’s not scared. He loves to compete.

We know all about the Red Sox. Those guys are not going to let up. They’ve been down before and come back. We can enjoy this now, but starting Sunday, forget that and go out and play the game.

The next one is at noon on Sunday, East Coast time, and we’ve got a day to get adjusted and be ready. I might have a cup of coffee before that one. Hopefully, we’ll all get some good sleep and be ready to go.

 

 

A night to dream about

I couldn’t sleep the night before the series started. You just want the game to be here. Then it’s finally here, and you go out and play, get a big win, and it’s just an incredible feeling.

What you do after a game like this is you go home, dream about it, get up tomorrow, and come back and do it again.

Sure, it’s a big win, and my home run felt great. But it’s just one game, and we know how good these Red Sox are. Nobody has to tell us.

The first thing I want to mention is the crowd. Man, it was loud. I’ve never heard Angel Stadium get that loud. That was exciting.

It was a great duel starting out between two of the best, John Lackey and Jon Lester. Lackey was Lackey. He came through big with his A game when we needed it. And Lester, man, he’s tough — one of the best lefties in the game. He throws hard, and he brings that slider down at your feet.

In my second at-bat, when I walked, he actually hit me on the back foot with a pitch. I looked back at the umpire, Joe West, but he didn’t see it. So I stayed up there. Right now, my big toenail is sore.

When I came up in the fifth, we had runners on first and third. It was a good hitting situation. Erick Aybar doubled, and Chone Figgins bunted him to third. Then Bobby Abreu walked. Four walks in one game – can you believe that? That man is too much.

I took a pitch from Lester and then he threw a two-seam fastball. Bobby was running, and I saw him going. I hit a mistake, I guess. I usually pop it up. Truth is, I didn’t know where the ball was. I closed my eyes and swung.

Running the bases, the crowd going crazy, the adrenaline was pumping so hard, it was unbelievable. I wish everyone could know what that feels like. It’s hard to describe. Just an unbelievable experience. I was running the bases and talking to myself, kind of like when I played football in high school. `Do what you do,’ that kind of thing.

When I got in the dugout, I was so excited I spiked my helmet. It was just one of those moments, a tremendous release.

This is special. I rank it way up there. But it’s just the start.

We played the way I know we can play in this first game. Now we have to keep it going. I try to lead by example. I don’t know if I’m going to hit a home run – you can’t just tell yourself to do it. You just react and play the game, have faith and confidence that you’re going to get it done.

What I like about our team is that the guys brought the dog with them. You can’t be scared, or you’re never going to make it happen.

We have to keep believing in ourselves and keep playing the game with passion and playing smart. If we do that, I like our chances.

 

This is what we play for — a shot at the ring

This is my sixth postseason, and it’s a whole new season. It doesn’t matter what you do in the regular season. It’s all about who wants it more. You see guys who hit 30, 40 homers, drive in 100 runs, and they don’t do a thing in postseason. You’ve got pitchers who dominate in the regular season and don’t win in the postseason. It’s the same game, but different. 

I think guys here learned from last year, losing in four games to Boston. I’m not saying any names, but I can hear it in their voices, see it in their eyes. It’s totally different. The younger guys have that bulldog in them now. It’s what I was waiting to see, and I’m seeing it now.

I love this time of year. It takes me back to high school football in Pine Bluff, Ark., when I just wanted to go out and hit guys. I still want to hit — just a different kind of hitting.

Even though it’s the same game, the adrenaline and hype of it take you up to another level. You’ve got to block it out, go out and have fun. I don’t think anything needs to be said. We finished off on a good note, winning seven of the last eight, and we’re carrying that momentum into the postseason.

One thing about the playoffs – you don’t need any coffee. You don’t want to get too boosted up. I hurt my knee jumping up and down on a play last year against the Red Sox where I thought I was safe – and I wasn’t. The adrenaline was going crazy on me. I’m drinking straight water. Pure adrenaline is going to take over for you.

My whole focus is on the Red Sox, of course, but I’ve got to say, that Twins-Tigers playoff game was awesome. I watched it at home, and I caught myself every once in a while cheering for the guys I used to play with in Minnesota. They battled through it and got it done, and to do it without Justin Morneau, one of the best pure hitters in the game, and Joe Crede, that was impressive. But I know those guys, how much heart they have, how they battle.

Now they go on to New York. In 2003 and 2004, the Yankees put it on us. Hopefully, they can get it done. I texted most of the guys after it was over and told them how happy I was for them. It was a roller-coaster ride, and I was really excited for Alexi Casilla, getting the big hit, and of course for Joe Mauer and the rest of the guys.

Now they just go on straight adrenaline. The Twins probably have momentum, coming off a playoff game, a great win, but that’s a good team they’re playing.

The Twins are probably the closest team to us in their style. They’ve got a batting champion in Mauer, and they always play hard. I think we might have a couple more athletes. Put us on a football field, and we’d win. We have some old quarterbacks on this team – John Lackey, Jeff Mathis, Scott Kazmir, myself. Mathis would be our QB. He was a division I recruit, by Florida State.

I’ve got a lot of confidence in Lackey in Game 1.  John’s a bulldog who wants the ball every fifth day. He’s not afraid to throw strikes. The passion he has on the mound, when he comes into the dugout, either he’s upset or excited. I always like our chances when he’s out there.

As for our offense, you can’t say enough about what Bobby Abreu has brought to this team. Bobby’s whole thing is swing at strikes – whether it’s the first pitch or the last pitch you see. It’s simple, but it’s hard, especially for young guys and a hitter like Vladimir Guerrero, who’s always been so aggressive. Vladdy’s Vladdy. He’s been playing and doing it his way for a long time. And he’s a Hall of Famer.

Bobby definitely had a positive impact on me. I’ve been playing for years, but I’m getting better. Besides his approach on the field, another thing Bobby brings is the way he prepares himself. He gets here early, does his running, lifts his weights. Guys see that, and they want to be like Bobby. They know he’s always on the field.

The way Bobby carries himself, that’s another thing he brings to the clubhouse. He’s always relaxed, always singing. He’s a bad singer, but that’s OK. He’s suave. One of a kind.

I really like the way we set up with Chone Figgins and Bobby up top, then the rest of us. Those two guys know how to get on base and run the bases. Guys like Vlad, Juan Rivera, Kendry Morales, we’ve got some bangers in the middle. We have a lot of weapons.

I think we’re ready. Now it’s time to go out and get it done.

 

 

Molitor, Abreu: two of a kind

When I first came up to big league camp with the Twins in 1997, Paul Molitor was nearing the end of his career, and he had a big impact on me. What’s interesting is that I now see so many similarities between Molitor and Bobby Abreu, who has been such a great teammate this season.

Molly came over and didn’t talk about himself, what he’d done. He just talked about things that he thought could help me. It wasn’t like he was trying to tell me what to do – he was giving me options, things to think about. He wasn’t about changing your swing. It was about figuring out the best ways to use your natural ability.

One of the things Molly stressed was getting a good pitch to hit. Be aggressive, but also be smart. Don’t bury yourself in counts swinging at pitchers’ pitches. I’d been a very aggressive hitter in my Minor League career, and Molly stressed that I had a better chance of getting hits swinging at strikes.

He had so much information and was so willing to share it, I couldn’t understand why more guys didn’t go to him. Corey Koskie, Jacque Jones and myself, we all tried to pick his brain every chance we got. He was a DH in ’97 and ’98, at the end of his career, but we knew everything he accomplished – 3,000 hits, clutch hitter, World Series champion.

He had a short stroke and was aggressive up there. Back in those days, it wasn’t about on-base percentage and walks as much as it is now, and from my point of view that’s more about how the strike zone has changed than anything else. You look at old game film on MLB Network, and you’ll see strikes called that are balls now.

With Bobby, it’s the same thing here, working with all these young guys, as it was with Molly in Minnesota. Bobby will talk about hitting, baserunning, defense, anything you want to talk about. He knows the game inside-out.

He’s been a huge help to Erick Aybar, Kendry Morales, even veteran players like Chone Figgins and myself. Howard Kendrick, I’m sure he’s gone to Bobby. When you have somebody like that in your clubhouse, you take advantage of his knowledge.

One thing Bobby pushes is that you’ve got a better chance to get a hit in the strike zone – the same thing Molly talked about. With Bobby, he can tell you about it and show you how to do it. His approach up there is amazing. He has such great awareness of the strike zone and confidence in his ability to hit with two strikes. He’s always looking for that pitch he can handle, and when he sees it, he goes after it.

Something else about Bobby: He’s always been a clutch hitter. Just like Molly. When I was in Minnesota, Bobby was the one guy we didn’t want to beat us. Everybody knew what kind of hitter he was in the clutch.

It seems like Bobby is finally starting to get the respect he deserves with the media and fans. He’s always had much respect from the players. Everyone in the game knows what a great player he’s been for a long time.

When you think about it, it was that way with Molly too. Late in his career, people started looking at his numbers and seeing how great he’d been for a long time.

I’ve been lucky to play with two guys like that – total pros who play the game right and love to share their knowledge and experience.

   

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