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AROUND THE HORN MIKE DiGIOVANNA

Twins Look Like Contract Players

May 04, 2003|Mike DiGiovanna

They were the darlings of 2002, "The Little Team That Could," the tight-knit band of brothers who fended off contraction and ignored their small-market limitations to advance to the American League championship series.

But unless the Minnesota Twins recapture that fire, that passion, that I'll-pick-you-up attitude that fueled 42 come-from-behind wins and an AL Central title last season, there will be no feel-good sequel in 2003.

"This game is about playing with heart and guts, and this team is not playing with any heart right now," closer Eddie Guardado said after a loss last week. "We need to pick it up. We need to have more intensity, a little more pride."

The Twins, on the strength of a three-game sweep of lowly Tampa Bay, took a 13-14 record into the weekend, but a team with playoff aspirations has already lost seven times in seven tries against the New York Yankees and is 1-4 against division rivals Chicago and Kansas City.

"We try to go out there with some energy every day," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "We have smiles in [the clubhouse], but when we go out there, we don't go out with any energy."

Even those outside the Twin Cities have noticed. Former major leaguer Harold Reynolds, now an ESPN analyst, said it looked as if the Twins "were resting on their laurels." Rekindling that "us-against-the-world" mentality would probably help.

"Last year they were known as the contraction kids, and several players were underpaid," Reynolds said. "Now they're starting to get the money and aren't going to be contracted. They need something to take them to the next level."

Fall Guy

There are loud rumblings in New York that Met General Manager Steve Phillips will be fired soon -- perhaps as early as this week -- if the Mets, whose $120-million payroll is the second highest in baseball, don't rebound from their awful start.

Almost every move Phillips has made the last two years has backfired. Mo Vaughn, acquired before the 2002 season, will have to go on a tear to hit his weight; he's at .197 with three homers and 15 runs batted in.

Second baseman Roberto Alomar, acquired before 2002, seems uninterested and is hitting .240 with no homers and eight RBIs. Recently signed free agent Cliff Floyd is at .238 with two homers and eight RBIs and just informed the club he has an Achilles' tendon injury that will affect him all year.

New shortstop Rey Sanchez is hitting .178 with four RBIs, and outfielders Roger Cedeno (.218, one homer, four RBIs) and Jeromy Burnitz (.279, three homers, seven RBIs), both acquired before 2002, have been unproductive.

A horrendous defense has committed 30 errors, second most in baseball, and the Mets' .229 batting average is the worst in the NL. They inspired memories of the bumbling 1962 Mets last Sunday, striking out 27 times and making eight errors while being swept in a doubleheader by Arizona.

"My name's on every move that's been made here -- that's how I look at it," Phillips said Thursday. "We're all accountable, and we knew that all along. I worry about things in my control."

The Mets may fall off that list soon.

Make My Day

Cleveland pitcher Brian Anderson did his best Harry Callahan impersonation last weekend, teaming with fellow pitcher Carl Sadler to chase down a purse snatcher on the streets of San Francisco.

"The guy picked the wrong place to snatch a purse," Anderson said. "He ran into two left-handers on a losing streak."

The pitchers witnessed the crime in a restaurant near the team hotel, apprehended the 16-year-old suspect, brought him back to the restaurant and held him for about 20 minutes until the police came.

"I told the kid, 'Buddy, we've just been watching the NFL draft for the last four hours. All I've been hearing about are big hits, closing speed and 40-yard dash times. So don't try anything.' "

Did it ever occur to Anderson that the suspect could have had a gun or a knife?

"We were running across streets, so cars could have hit us," Anderson said. "We could have slipped, since we were just wearing street shoes. The kid could have pulled something out on us. There were a lot of things we didn't think about until after it was over. It was all instinct and adrenaline."

From Bad to Worse

Cincinnati pitcher Ryan Dempster, who gave up nine runs and five walks during a 13-run inning by the Phillies on April 13, had his own "Ground Hog Day" Wednesday at Coors Field, giving up seven runs and one hit in the second inning of a 13-11 Red victory over the Rockies.

After a 1-2-3 first, Dempster began the second with eight consecutive balls. He walked the pitcher, walked three straight with the bases loaded and then walked to the clubhouse. The game lasted 3 1/2 hours, and although Dempster has a home in Denver, about a block from Coors, he was waiting for reporters afterward.

"It was one of those times when it was embarrassing to be in a big league uniform," he said. "It was terrible, just ridiculous. I should go the Gulf Coast League [rookie ball] or they should put me to sleep. The only thing that makes it easier to stand is that the club won."

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