By JOHN ROMANO
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001
It is okay to doubt the Twins. It probably is wise to doubt the Twins.
They are, after all, coming off eight straight losing seasons and four straight 90-loss seasons.
The idea that they are sitting atop the AL Central with April about to end is the most improbable story of the young season.
So it is okay to doubt the Twins. Just do not write them off.
Minnesota may have baseball's lowest payroll at $24-million, it may not have much punch and it may be susceptible to injuries because of a lack of depth, but the way this team is built, it should remain consistent.
The Twins not only have an old-style payroll but an old-style way of playing. Minnesota has been winning with pitching, defense and smart execution on offense. And those are the type of teams that do not slump.
The infield -- first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, second baseman Luis Rivas, shortstop Cristian Guzman and third baseman Corey Koskie -- rivals the best in baseball defensively.
"We're used to seeing stuff like that happen against us, with Omar Vizquel or Roberto Alomar, the guys you see on highlights every night," infielder Denny Hocking said. "To sit in the dugout and be a part of that, you just shake your head and say, "Boys, we got a chance.' "
The Twins have gotten to this point by building through the farm system, resisting the temptation to trade ace Brad Radke to a contender and picking up Eric Milton, Guzman and outfielder Brian Buchanan in the Chuck Knoblauch trade.
Now, with Radke, Milton, Joe Mays and Mark Redman, the Twins can alternate between right-handers and left-handers in the first four spots of a rotation that is better than most.
"Much of what we do here is based on pitching," manager Tom Kelly said. "If we pitch well, we have a chance to win."
SMART MAN: The Padres keep a seat reserved behind home plate for the visiting team's general manager. This is where Kevin Malone was sitting when he got in an argument with a Padres fans that led to his forced resignation. Phillies GM Ed Wade recently was in the seat and was asked by nearby fans if he was the team's general manager. No, Wade replied, just a front office employee on a road trip.
SAD NEWS: Financial problems have forced former Royals star Willie Wilson to auction off much of his baseball mementos. Wilson, a coach in Arizona's minor-league system, saw his World Series ring sell for $16,000.
WATCH FOR CHADS: With the All-Star Game in Seattle, do you suppose Major League Baseball is eager to have Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki in the starting lineup? Baseball has shipped 5-million All-Star ballots to Seattle. League officials say the ballots will have little effect since there are 70-million distributed in this country and 12-million outside the country.
IN RETROSPECT: It always hurts to give up on a high draft pick, although this one might have been even more painful for the Rangers. They recently waived Jonathan Johnson, a right-hander from Florida State. Johnson was the No. 7 pick in the 1995 draft. Todd Helton was No. 8.
SNAKEBIT: For the eighth consecutive season, former Northeast High star Jeff D'Amico is on the disabled list. The Brewers say the injury (a compressed nerve near his elbow) is not serious because there is no structural damage. D'Amico is expected to miss at least a month.
JOB TALK: Jim Duquette has been mentioned as a candidate for the Dodgers general manager job, but the Mets may not let him go. A contract Duquette recently signed stipulates that the Mets can deny permission for him to talk to other teams even for higher jobs. There is talk that Mets GM Steve Phillips could be bumped up to a president's role, with Duquette taking over as GM.
TIME RUNNING OUT: It does not appear likely that Harold Baines will get the chance to go for 3,000 hits. Baines made the White Sox as a pinch-hitter and occasional designated hitter, but he has gone 2-for-19 with six strikeouts. At 42, Baines is 143 hits away from 3,000. Chicago manager Jerry Manuel said Baines is not in danger of being released. "He's a little bigger than we are," Manuel said. "I think he's man enough to let us know if it's time for him, and you have to respect that."
AROUND THE BASES: Tom Gordon has made two rehab appearances and could be activated by the Cubs this week. ... The Dodgers have until Saturday to bring up Carlos Perez from Triple A. If not, he can become a free agent. ... Deion Sanders, who was leading the International League in hitting, will be called up by the Reds this week. Sanders' contract with the Redskins allows him to miss training camp and the exhibition season if he is playing baseball. If he misses regular-season NFL games, he forfeits $205,882 in salary for each game.
MUM'S THE WORD: Astros pitcher Jose Lima has announced he will not speak to media members until September, a stance that seems incongruous for the excitable right-hander. "He may not realize how many months there are in a year," Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker said. "I can't see him being quiet that long."
-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.