Angels find their Twin on the field

Angels find their Twin on the field

MINNEAPOLIS -- There is always something good to be found when these two teams play, because on the field they both earn so much and give away so little.

The Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are both defending division champions, but it goes deeper than that. These are two teams that have, in recent seasons, been relentlessly aggressive and wonderfully versatile on offense, deep in quality pitching and fundamentally sound on defense.

The Twins are on a bit of a tear now, winning five in a row, and they have had the best of it in the current three-game series, winning the first two games Friday and Saturday night. But these two clubs are extraordinarily well-matched, not only in terms of talent, but in terms of approach.

There are obvious individual standouts and differences. Only the Angels have the 2004 American League MVP, Vladimir Guerrero. Only the Twins have the 2004 American League Cy Young Award winner, Johan Santana. But when it comes to sticking with an aggressive approach, taking the game to the other team, these two clubs mirror each other.

They have earned each other's respect. This is not lip service. This is the recognition that the other guys are playing the game the right way. You can tell, because this is the same way, in fact, that you are attempting to play it.

"They have some veteran players there, Vladimir [Guerrero] and [Garret] Anderson and [Darin] Erstad, who have been doing it a long time and are proven .300 hitters," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire says of the Angels. "They can do some things.

"They like to run around a little bit, they don't sit back and wait for three-run homers. Mike [Scioscia] is not afraid to bunt people over, he's not afraid to hit-and-run, he's not afraid to steal bases, and I think that's kind of like what we try to do. I think if you look at our lineup, there's not but one or two guys that I wouldn't bunt them over with in my lineup, and he might have about the same. I think he'd bunt them over with most of his guys. So it's pretty close."

Ah, aggressive, fundamentally sound baseball.

"Well, we hope so," Gardenhire says with a smile. "We try. It doesn't always work, but we try. And I think the Angels do the same. They work very hard at it and they take a lot of pride in doing the right things on the field."

"I think both clubs are similar," said Scioscia. "I think both clubs have good left-right balance, good left-handed hitters on both clubs, but also right-handed balance.

"They rely on pitching and defense as much as we do. And although in this ballpark (the Metrodome) they're able to probably capitalize on the long ball more than we do at home, they still have that element of little ball and situational hitting. And you know, that's why they won the division the last three years. They have a very diverse style offensively, and they get runs from a lot of different avenues."

Exactly. Saturday night, in a 4-2 victory, the Twins played some typical small ball, but first they had this majestic two-run home run by first baseman Justin Morneau. Morneau's first-inning blast went to right-center. It cleared the baggie. It cleared the retracted bleachers. It cleared the football press box. It touched down in the distant reaches of the upper deck, an estimated 456 feet away. If the Metrodome were not an enclosed space, this ball would have left the premises and could have been bouncing through several parking lots for much of the evening.

More typical of these two teams is a competitive ebb and flow. The Twins came back from a 4-1 deficit to win Friday night. Saturday night, the Angels were coming back from their own 4-1 deficit and closed to 4-2 in the eighth with a runner on, one out and two very fine chances to tie the game. Guerrero and Anderson, "two of the best hitters in the league," as Gardenhire helpfully noted, were yet to face. But Minnesota reliever Juan Rincon neutralized the threat, striking out Guerrero and getting Anderson on a bouncer to second.

These styles of play lend themselves to excitement and intensity, not always perfection. The Twins, in their incessant zeal to grab the extra base, actually committed a couple of base-running blunders Saturday night; rookie Jason Bartlett was picked off first, and, very surprisingly, the usually impeccable Torii Hunter strayed too far beyond third while advancing on an infield hit.

But it was like the night before when the Angels' Chone Figgins had made the first out at third, in a hustling attempt to stretch a double, thus breaking one of those unwritten rules.

"We don't have that rule," said Scioscia, who patiently explained how the Angels were not going to do or even say anything to curtail the aggressive nature of their game.

So it was with the Twins making an occasional out on the basepaths.

"We're playing aggressive baseball, maybe a little too aggressive at times," Gardenhire said. "But it's an awful lot more fun than just sitting there watching."

You know what he's saying, from the standpoint of his team and its style of play. But the fact is that when the Twins and the Angels match their aggressive approaches, one against the other, for the rest of us, just sitting there watching is an awful lot of fun.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.