Commentary

Feeling groggy in city that never sleeps

Thursday's off day will give the Twins a chance to catch some much-needed Z's

Originally Published: October 7, 2009
By Jorge Arangure Jr. | ESPN The Magazine

NEW YORK -- In the first moments of a late-night flight to New York City, Minnesota Twins players -- despite severe exhaustion -- could not stop talking. Some Twins began to play music. Others cheered. Outfielder Denard Span sat slumped in his seat replaying every precious bit of the 12-inning win against the Detroit Tigers that sent the team to the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees.

"We had such a long night," Span said, "but such a wonderful night at that."

Before the plane ride, veteran players had spoken to the team about how the celebration needed to end in the clubhouse. Once everyone boarded the plane, the veterans said in the clubhouse, then the game the team had just played needed to be forgotten -- yet even the veterans themselves had a difficult time moving on.

"Last night was something special," Twins closer Joe Nathan said. "It was probably the best game of the year."

About an hour into the flight, players began to quiet down. Soon it was like any normal plane ride. Some players began to sleep; others just sat quietly reminiscing.

[+] EnlargeNick Punto
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesIf Nick Punto was tired, it didn't show. He made this Web Gem of a play and had a pair of hits in the Twins' 7-2 loss.
"For most everybody, the adrenaline was still pumping," infielder Brendan Harris said. "You couldn't just turn and go to sleep. We couldn't believe how quickly we had to turn around [and play]."

Near the end of the plane ride, some players were struck by how quiet the plane had gotten. A sobering moment occurred when the chartered plane landed at Newark International Airport at approximately 3:30 a.m. -- way past the airport curfew. Players groggily boarded buses and headed into Manhattan.

"It was a lovely ride through New Jersey," Harris joked.

The team didn't arrive at the hotel until close to 4 a.m. Most players did not get to sleep until almost 5 a.m. Several players slept until noon. Others slept even later. Michael Cuddyer said he woke up at 11:30 a.m. simply because he knew he needed to have breakfast. The team bus left the hotel for Yankee Stadium at approximately 1 p.m. Some players had woken up, gotten dressed and immediately boarded the bus without a moment to spare. The ones who had gotten up earlier had only a few hours of sleep. By 4:30 p.m., most players had trickled out for batting practice.

Speaking of batting, CC Sabathia's wicked fastball and unhittable slider surely were a large part of why the Twins lost Game 1 to the Yankees 7-2. Span said Sabathia's slider was so good he mostly could not differentiate it from a fastball when the ball left the pitcher's hand. Sabathia -- who allowed just one earned run in 6 2/3 innings -- moved the ball around the plate and generally made life miserable for Twins hitters.

Of course, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire didn't help himself by ignoring the numbers. Second baseman Alexi Casilla is a career 9-for-13 hitter against Sabathia, but he sat on the bench. Although second baseman Nick Punto reached base three times Wednesday, he could have played third base in place of Matt Tolbert, who was hitless and had never faced Sabathia.

Also sitting on the bench was catcher Mike Redmond, who is a career 13-for-26 hitter against Sabathia. Playing Redmond at catcher is out of the question with Joe Mauer in the lineup, but would it have been such a bad idea to use Redmond in place of the DH Harris, who is only 3-for-15 against Sabathia? The choice seems even more dubious when you consider that the Twins are carrying a third catcher on the postseason roster. Perhaps Gardenhire was sleepy when he wrote up the lineup.

Had the Twins gotten a good night's sleep, would the results have been different?

"I definitely think adrenaline took us through the first few innings, but then it kind of wore on us, the last four days or so," Cuddyer said.

Most Twins refused to blame the late-night flight for their loss, although most admitted they would cherish Thursday's off day.

"It's a big off day to rest, more mentally than physically," Cuddyer said. "To go through the 5-6-7-8 games we just went through and the emotional roller coaster, that's what we need a break from."

Harris said he likely would get plenty of sleep, then perhaps go to a movie. Others said they might not even leave their hotel.

"I don't know about you guys, I'm going to sleep all day and get my rest," Twins shortstop Orlando Cabrera told reporters.

Not even the temptation of a free day in one of the world's busiest cities will keep the Twins from getting their rest.

"After 12 years in the big leagues, I think I'm pretty much tapped out of being in New York," Redmond said. "I think I've done everything you could possibly do here."

Truthfully, it's not the exhaustion from Tuesday night the Twins need to get past -- it's the memory and excitement of perhaps one of the greatest games in regular-season history that need to be forgotten. After the game, Cuddyer could not help but recount what the team had accomplished.

The Twins -- despite the prognostications of every expert -- had gone from pretender to contender in a matter of mere days. They had trumped statistical evidence that said they could not make the playoffs. They had come back to win a game that appeared to be lost several times. Then they celebrated. When Cuddyer closes his eyes, he can still see the look of pure joy on his teammates' faces when the game had ended. Players ran around the Metrodome as if there were a track meet. Cuddyer won't soon forget that night. But if the Twins want to beat the Yankees, he might have to.

"We need to put this behind us; we're in a series now," Nathan said. "Sure it was a nice night and I'll want to someday watch that game again when the season is over, but right now there's work to be done."

Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

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