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Classic player video game ULTIMATE WORLD SERIES SHOWDOWN

It’s the final imaginary round of teams featuring old/new players (and a recently traded one).

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Minnesota Twins v Chicago Cubs
And you know it was Bill Veeck who planted the ivy, don’t you? At least, he said he did.
Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

To recap vol. 1 and vol. 2:

A widely-popular (for some people) baseball video game has about 200 historic players you can put on any modern team’s “real” roster.

I put most of them on most modern rosters, trimmed those rosters down to 26 guys, and started a 12-team playoff using the current postseason format, with the 12 teams determined/seeded by how the CPU ranked them.

Your Twins, ranked #3 in the AL, defeated #6 Boston in the wildcard round, #2 Houston in the ALCS, and #1 New York in the ALDS. Their forces of Goodness are Killebrew, Carew, Blylevn, Hunter, Nathan, Mauer and Morneau, plus my choice of the current “real” Twins.

Now, it’s World Series time!

Adios, Alex Kirilloff. He hasn’t been used once, and Willi Castro’s available as an IF/OF sub if need be. (Ryan Jeffers, who like Kirilloff has 0 ABs, is only in there in case I need to run for Mauer and use a new catcher afterwards.) Nobody gets injured in these playoffs, and while I wish I could assign Kirilloff as “dugout guy ready to douse walkoff hero with Gatorade,” it isn’t an option.

Plus, the Twins’ bullpen by the end of the Yankees series was reduced to getting by on “greenies” they bought from the 1960s players. To solve that problem, I’ve brought in Jordan Balazovic. It was either him or Jorge Alcala, and Balazovic can throw some innings in a blowout or lonnnnnng game if it comes to that. Now Louis Varland can be used to face a few RH batters without worrying I’ll run out of arms in extra innings.

Your opponent will be the Chicago Cubs, who completed the unlikely feat of coming back from 3-1 down against the Mike Schmidt, Ryan Howard-led Phillies. What was their secret? I simply re-simmed the CPU games until they won. Why? Well, for one thing, the Phillies were my dad’s favorite team, and I don’t want to poke that bastard’s ghost just now.

But mostly it’s because the Cubs have Mark Prior. Prior, of course, was the #2 pick in 2001 after Minnesota selected Joe Mauer. Some local fans and hack sportswriters suggested it was because the Twins knew they’d have to pay more for MLB-ready Prior.

He was MLB-ready, and it’s interesting to wonder if he might have helped the Twins’ chances of winning a title from 2002-2005 (he was injured in 2006, and never played in MLB again after that season). Of course, had he played for the Twins, he might have been hurt earlier, or later. And the Cubs didn’t get to the World Series with him, as close as they came in 2003.

Also appealing are the sheer number of classic Cubs in this game, including the one Cub everybody in the universe likes, Ernie Banks. Plus Ryne Sandberg, Billy Williams, Sammy Sosa, Andre Dawson, and Alfonso Soriano. That’s a lineup; with superstarter Kerry Wood and bullpenners Bruce Sutter/Lee Smith to boot. Urp...

World Series Game 1: Bert vs. LHP Justin Steele, Wrigley. And, yes, no DH. Screw Rob Manfred. (This will become a thing.) In 2022, sportswriter Ann Killion proposed that NL teams should get the DH “as long as a starting pitcher is in the game. Once the starter is out, so is the DH.” This WAS THE BEST IDEA AND MANFRED SHOULDA DONE IT. Anyhoo...

Harmon opens the scoring with a solo dong in the 2nd, but walks will haunt. Bert walks leadoff batter Sosa. He advances on a pitch in the dirt, because he isn’t the giant plodding roid monster he’d become later. Dawson singles him in to tie the game.

Soriano blasts a hanging changeup in the 6th, and Morneau does the same on a slider in the 7th. It’s 2-2.

Then everything goes to hell. Two lucky slow grounders by Banks and Dawson, then a duck fart from Soriano to make it 3-2, and Bert’s out. I use Brock Stewart, so good at escaping jams in 2023. Not here. Yan Gomes doubles and that’s just about it for the Twins.

(Morneau would get his second dong off 1970s reliever Lee Smith in the 9th with two outs. Yay.)

Bert gets tagged for 5 ER on 6.1 IP, 1 BB, 5 H, 6 SO. While Justin Steele utterly baBIPped the Twins to death; 0 SO in 7 innings, with 7 H, 0 BB, 2 ER. Oh; and he got a hit, too.

Duds: Lewis, Correa, and Mauer are a combined 0-11. Studs: Morneau, Harmon (3-5 and even his outs were rockets).

There might be one attentive reader out there asking who didn’t start, with no DH available; I put Lewis in right, leaving me Kepler and Buxton as PH options. It didn’t bite me, but didn’t help me either.

World Series Game 2: López and Kerry Wood. I consider starting Kepler and moving Lewis to short, as Correa’s been an offensive black hole almost all the playoffs. (I’m using the final player rating updates provided by the game last season, which had Lewis at Godlike and Correa at Less Bad Than He Was Before September.) Correa’s made so many great plays at short, though. Fewer balls have been hit to right. And Lewis has speed out there, if not a great “Reaction” rating (which affects how fast his CPU self adjusts to a bad read).

Yes, I let the CPU handle most fielding duties; I just pick which base fielders throw to, and how quickly/hard they throw it. There’s times you attempt the jump throw from short to first, and I want to pick when. I’ll let the CPU make fielders run around.

Pitch #25 for López is significant. Why? Because it’s the first one a Cub swings at and misses. Everything else was a called strike, a ball, a foul or a hit. López is still terrific (5 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 8 SO, 1 ER), although his pitch count is high. That makes it an easy decision to pinch-hit for him in the 6th, with Kepler.

Max hits it well, but it’s still an out. The same goes for Buxton’s PH in the 9th. That’s better than most of the Twins who played the whole game. Wood faces the minimum through six innings. (The one Morneau hit is followed by a Killebrew GIDP.)

The game feels over in the 7th, when the Twins fail to score on Carew’s leadoff double. Sandberg dives to stop Lewis from knocking him in. Actually, it felt over in the 2nd, when Sandberg hit a solo dong. Wood’s another one of those high-90s, Slider Of Death guys.

Carew gets the Twins’ third hit with one out in the 9th — and then gets picked off. Julien strikes out one pitch later to end it. The Twins slink home down 2-0, with Ryan and Paddack/Ober due to pitch the next two games. Mauer, Hunter and Correa are batting .196, .132, and .125, respectively, in the playoffs. ALCS hero Lewis is 0-14 in the series. Joe Ryan and Paddack/Ober are scheduled to pitch next — bring out the Ober/”over” puns.

(Did I promise you a happy ending to this ULTIMATE PLAYOFF SHOWDOWN? I did NOT! I promised to reach the World Series, that’s all!)

World Series Game 3: Ryan and Prior, Target Field. It’s time for that lazy first-ballot HOFer Mauer to show up.

Well... he doesn’t. 0-3 with a K. That's typical for most other Twins as well. Prior only allows five hits in 7.0 IP. Four of those are pretty weak hits, at that.

But! Butttt! As the wise one told us, timing is everything in this game. The Twins’ first/only solid hit comes with two on and two out, courtesy of Lewis. Dawson nails Carew trying to score from first; still, the Twins go up 1-0.

Which is all they’d need. Ryan has quietly put up the lowest ERA of any Twins starter, with just one run in 11.1 innings. He’s even better this time; 0 BB and 7 SO in seven full. Only Ernie Banks really bombs a ball, and it pulls foul.

Griffin Jax throws almost all sliders and gets almost all strikes in the 8th; Joe Nathan Ks the side in the 9th. One called K is on a ball well outside to Cody Bellinger, so that’s his karmic penance for not re-signing with the Cubs yet in real life.

The home plate umpire is named “Mike Fillmore,” which probably also adds a little karmic help. You can make the game have perfect ball/strike calls, but I prefer occasionally incorrect umps, to reflect the reality we have until Rob Manfred stops being an idiot and goes to the automated zone. (All the good changes in recent years have come from Theo Epstein, who, unlike Manfred, actually enjoys baseball.)

Honestly, if the Twins had gone down 0-3, I would have summoned the ghost of Bud Selig to end the season early, and yes I know he’s not dead. (Just dead to Twins fans after nearly contracting the team.) Video games are supposed to be fun, and being down 0-3 to this Cubs’ lineup would be like the video games I hated as a kid — where even if you win a level, you just repeat the same level with the difficulty setting increased, on and on until your money is gone.

(That was EVERY video game we had when I was a kid, actually. So, they all basically sucked. But the mall arcade was close to our apartment, and in Oregon there’s a $0.05 returnable deposit on all beer/soda cans/bottles. You’d spend an hour going through the apartment dumpster, lug a big Hefty bag full of stinky cans to the local convenience store, watch the clearly grossed-out clerk count ‘em, and you had money for an hour or so of frustrating entertainment at the mall arcade. Then go look at the lizards in the pet store. A typical summer day, and a good one!)

Ryan came through when the Twins were almost cooked against Houston, again in Yankee Stadium, and now here. If the series goes seven games, he’d line up for #7. Which would be on my birthday! But first, the bad odds of…

World Series Game 4: Justin Steele vs. Paddack/Ober. With Nathan and Jax essentially unavailable.

That lineup has no holes. Carew and Mauer are high contact/low power guys for Minnesota, with Correa and Buxton being the reverse. While EVERY Cubs full-time player is good at both.

Bellinger gets his revenge for that Game 3 bad call here, with two dingers. The first’s the killer. Paddack, who allowed only 1 hit and had five strikeouts through 4 innings, plunks Pat Wisdom and gives up a single to Yan Gomes with two outs in the fifth. I bring in Thielbar. Bellinger hits his 3-2 pitch to Target Center.

He tacks on a solo shot off Ober in the 8th, but it’s adding insult to ineptitude, since the Twins’ offense is even more punchless this time against Steele (who again has no punchouts). Twice, the Twins have runners on second and third with one out (in the third after a Sandberg error, in the fourth on a Morneau double); they go 0-4, with only a Lewis groundout providing the sole Twins RBI.

Futility watch: Mauer, 1-3, now hitting .183. Correa, 2-3, .167. Hunter, 0-4, .117. That’s for the WHOLE PLAYOFFS, not just this series. I’m tempted to start Buxton, Castro, and Jeffers, just because.

The Twins haven’t had a homer in the last three games.

I’ll play Game 5, because it’ll be Bert. But this has become a bit of a chore. The Cubs’ pitching is making this like one of those seasons where the Twins were regularly starting guys like Drew Butera and Brian Dinkelman and even if I eased up the difficulty settings, they STILL couldn’t hit.

World Series Game 5: Bert vs. Marcus Stroman, Metrodome.

With the Twins’ trade of Polanco yesterday, he’s definitely starting tonight, as this’ll be the last time I get to use him in a video game. Buxton in center, and Jeffers catching. Hunter flailing away annoys me, and Joe doing so reminds me of times he was hurt.

My one consoling thought: almost none of the classic Cubs in this game ever reached the World Series (Soriano did, as a Yankee). So their digital selves get to be happy.

Guess who from this game WAS on that 2016 Cubs championship team? You’ll never guess. And I didn’t know, either.

Joe Nathan. He pitched in three games for the Cubs that year. Then they traded him, so I doubt he got a postseason share, alas.

So... how do the bench Twins hit? Mostly, Not Well. Jeffers GIDPs with two on and no out in the eighth, and the Twins down 4-2. Buxton’s defense saves one run, while his offense loses the Twins 100 million runs. Polanco is 0-everything…

Until the 10th! Mr. James says “f**k Manfred extra-innings runner,” so it helps when Polo leads off with a hit and advances to third on a one-out Carew single. The Cubs go to LHP Jordan Wicks, and I bring in Correa to hit for Julien. He grounds into what should be a patented Correa DP — but, SO DUMBLY, the CPU 1B decides to throw home. This gets Polanco, but the extra time it takes to apply the tag means Correa beats the return throw to first. And then, boom! Lewis brings Carew home. Walkoff win! (No Kirilloff upending the Gatorade barrel.)

That dumb CPU 1B? “Wisdom.”

Wisdom had kicked off the Cubs' big late go-ahead rally. He was stoopid at the wrong time, though! And it cost Chicago the clincher.

Comeback homers from Julien in the 8th (off Bruce Sutter) and Kepler (off Lee Smith) in the 9th to tie the game — Kepler’s into the upper deck, above the Baggie.

That looooong 6th inning for Bert means I have to use Moran, Duran, Jax, Nathan, and Stewart. Even if the Twins had lost, it would have been worth it to watch Sosa swing helplessly at a 102 fastball almost higher than his head. And, for this neat ballkid catch:

(I've never made a YouTube video before and likely never will again but you can't upload video straight to the SB writing interface so it has to be through YouTube or some such and so once SB dies as all web things do YouTube will probably be around a little longer and the entire e-remnant of my existence will be this shitty slo-mo screencap until YouTube dies, but that's life, we're all nothing in the end)

Anyhoo, Polanco’s staying in until this series is over. Which it will be, back at Wrigley, possibly in...

World Series Game 6. López and Prior. Polanco at third, Lewis at short, Julien in right. Hunter’s back in CF and Mauer catching, suitably chastised by their one-game benching. (Because “sending a message” to veteran players always works in real life, right?)

Having been so stumped by Prior the last time, I decide to try the strategy hitters have used against tough pitchers since breaking balls were invented; I guess. This results in a bunch of strikeouts (seven over Prior’s 6.0 innings), but also three runs.

Yes, Prior is pulled for a pinch-hitter in the seventh. This doesn’t work, AT, ALL. Up to that point, Lewis had struck out three times; with the bases loaded, against reliever Jameson Tailon, he does not strike out. 9 Twins bat in the inning. It’s a blowout!

Remember how, in López’s last outing, the Cubs didn’t have a swinging strike until the 25th pitch? Try the first, here. And the second. And the third. López throws nine pitches and gets three strikeouts — an immaculate inning. The announcers are suitably impressed.

On his 95th pitch, López gets Sandberg to ground out to second. It’s the last pitch of the game; a World Series, two-hit, one-walk shutout. Nine strikeouts.

Polanco and Hunter are both 2-4. Mauer’s 1-5, with several fouls into Steve Bartman’s seat. Julien is 4-4; Morneau and Carew have 3 RBI apiece. Even López got a hit! And scored!

So, the entire bullpen (even Ober) will be available for...

World Series Game 7: Ryan and Wood. They’re both perfect through three innings. Carew gets the Twins’ first hit in the fourth, yet he's soon out trying to advance on a bounced pitch.

Soriano gives the Cubs their first threat in the fifth, with a two-out double. But he’s batting seventh, and this is the NL. Intentional walk time! Wood hit a homer in the 2003 NLCS; not here. K. We’re still 0-0.

Hunter and Polanco lead off the sixth with hits, great! Except Polo’s is a double, and Ryan’s up next with runners on second and third. He can’t bunt now!

I decide to leave him in; he did ground out the first time. That would score a run here. At 0-2, he fouls one over the 1B’s head…

...that bounces on the chalk line! I’m laughing my a** off as both runners score.

Ryan leaves in the bottom of the inning, letting Jax get the final out. 5.2 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 8 SO, no runs.

Jax is perfect in the 7th, too. So’s Nathan (against his former team, kinda) in the 8th. Some nerves in the 9th: Lewis airmails an easy groundout over Moneau’s head, putting Sandberg on 2nd with Billy Williams and Sosa due up. Jhoan "Hungry Like The Wolf" Duran K’s Williams. One out left.

Will Sosa swing at high heat in his eyes again? YES! The classic + modern Twins are MEGA CHAMPIONS!

OK, they’re counting the 1924 Senators. I am not.

Julien had big hits in two of the wins, but was an 0-fer in Games 3 and 7. So... your MVP of the Series is Ryan: 12.2 scoreless — with 2 RBI! MVP of the playoffs is Morneau, with his 1.127 OPS against pitchers past and present. Mauer gets the Duds award; too much partying after his HOF news. And Polanco gets special mention for key hits in games 5 and 7, after his real-life departure.

Now the real Twins can try to end their playoff streak of 21 seasons without reaching the Championship Series round; that’s longer than every team except Seattle (last reached in 2001), Cincinnati (1995), and Pittsburgh (1992). Yes, the Twins haven’t done it since Bush II, and Pittsburgh hasn’t since Bush I.

Could all four reach the championship series round this year? FanGraphs says “unlikely.” But anything can happen, as Matt Monitto showed us with his less digital, more human (in the best way) imaginary Series. Even in real life, sometimes Philip Humber pitches a perfect game. You never know, until you do.