White Sox fall short in bid for sweep
Three-run sixth does in Floyd after strong start to outing
MINNEAPOLIS -- The move certainly would have gone against the basic principles of baseball.
Then again, Ozzie Guillen pretty much has torn up and set fire to the so-called book used by most managers.
With Minnesota well on its way to a 7-1 victory at the Metrodome on Sunday afternoon before the final home crowd of the 2007 season, Guillen actually thought about intentionally walking left-handed-hitting Joe Mauer with a runner on third, two outs in the eighth and left-handed reliever Matt Thornton on the mound. And what caused this interesting managerial thought to run through Guillen's mind?
Torii Hunter stood on deck as Minnesota's next hitter.
Minnesota's current favorite son had received nothing but standing ovations from the moment he exited his car on Friday afternoon until Sunday's series finale with the White Sox. Yet, Guillen deprived the Twins faithful of fully appreciating Hunter's last trip to the plate, which also could be the pending free agent's last trip to the plate at home as a member of the Twins, by ordering an intentional walk to be issued by Mike Myers in the seventh with one run in and a runner on second.
Guillen's decision drew laughs from both dugouts and deafening jeers from the 29,382 in attendance.
"I understand the fans, but I'm getting paid to do a job," said Guillen after watching his team drop to 68-88 overall and finish 9-9 this season against the Twins. "My job was walking him to face the next guy. In that situation, I had to do it. But that's the last guy I wanted to do it to. I have good friends out there, and they are great people. Unfortunately, it happened to [Hunter]."
"That was a lot of courage," added Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire of Guillen's controversial walk call. "He's doing it to win a baseball game. I understand. But I started laughing, going, 'That's courage, Ozzie. I'll tell you.'"
In a strange twist, the next destination for Hunter, who finished 1-for-3 with two runs scored on Sunday, could have an impact on where a player such as Josh Fields ends up for the White Sox in 2008. The Fields experiment in left field, which began in Chicago on Aug. 26 against the Red Sox, came to a close for the 2007 season as he moved back to third on Sunday.
This switch came out of necessity, with Andy Gonzalez (stitches in right hand) and Alex Cintron (bruised right thumb) both done for the year, leaving Guillen out of options.
Fields didn't exhibit even a hint of rust, handling the grounders off the artificial turf slightly better than he had navigated the fly balls played against the tricky Metrodome light system. When the move to left began, Fields wasn't expected to perform like a Gold Glover, not with only Venezuelan Winter League experience at the position behind him.
A lack of playing time didn't lessen Fields' expectations. Although he has made a few mistakes, Fields believes he has adequately acquitted himself in regard to making the basic plays and catching the ball.
"To move out there and not really being very fundamentally sound, my job was to catch the ball, and I've done a pretty good job of that," said Fields, who had two hits on Sunday and still plans to take part in the team's fall instructional league to get more work in left field. "I wasn't spectacular, but I did a pretty good job of that."
"I've been playing in the outfield my whole life, but even when I go back and forth from left to center, which I have done in my career, it's tough," added White Sox center fielder Jerry Owens, who finished with one hit in Sunday's setback. "He's [done] a great job."
Gavin Floyd (1-5) didn't pitch great on Sunday, ending his string of four straight quality starts. Floyd did set a career high with seven strikeouts and yielded just four runs on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings. The right-hander has one more start on Saturday to continue to prove his value.
There's nothing really left for Hunter to prove. The question currently on the table is whether Hunter could be staying in the American League Central -- in Chicago, perhaps? -- if he does move on from the Twin Cities. It's a scenario that's intriguing to both the White Sox and the All-Star outfielder.
Placing Hunter in center could mean Owens moving to left, with the White Sox expressed desire for a quality leadoff man -- unless they fill that void through another position. All of that uncertainty leaves Fields in a similar precarious state, especially with a healthy Joe Crede expected back at third base for Spring Training 2008.
"They told me 'Come in ready and willing to earn a spot,' and I've been told left field is the best place for me to fit in," Fields said. "Things have gone pretty well up here, for the most part. I've been satisfied, although I definitely know there's room for a lot of improvement."
"It depends on what kind of ballclub we have," added Guillen regarding Fields' prospects. "I think [general manager] Kenny [Williams] and the White Sox people have seen him enough [in left field] to see what he can do."
Williams has watched Guillen enough that he wouldn't have been stunned if his manager had given Hunter another at-bat in the eighth. But with Williams in attendance, Guillen decided the team was better served by facing Mauer.
Hunter was given one final mammoth ovation when Gardenhire pulled him off the field before Joe Nathan threw his first pitch in the top of the ninth.
"It wouldn't [have looked] very professional, but I don't get paid to please the fans," said Guillen with a smile of the possibility of walking Mauer.
"The crowd is trying to cheer him on, and he intentionally walks him," Gardenhire added of the seventh inning scenario. "That guy [Guillen] kills me. [He's] one of my favorites. He just loves baseball."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.