A season to savor

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October 12, 2009
By: John Bonnes
John Bonnes
// Forget the playoffs, the Twins gave fans all they could ask for in winning the 12-inning tiebreaker game to claim the division crown. One fan shares his memories from the game. //


It is quiet, still and dark now. That’s a stark contrast to the last 10 hours, but exactly what I need. I’m recovering from the best baseball game I’ve seen live in 18 years, a cacophony of noise, hope, rage, enthusiasm and community and — and I’m spent. The kids are in bed. So is my wife, The Voice of Reason. I should be — God knows I should be — but I’m not ready to fully embrace the quiet, still and dark.

I’d like to shift from “recover” to “reminisce” in the hopes of eventually reaching “relish.” There were 12 innings, and that’s just such a beautiful round number, full of biblical implications, so let’s go through the 12 innings and pull a memory out of each.


1st

I’m going to remember Joe Mauer taking that extra base. We took the kids to the game, and since they don’t watch that much baseball, they didn’t understand how extraordinary that is: A team leader, not especially fast, and a catcher to boot, running like his sideburns are on fire to squeeze an extra base. Justin Morneau did the same thing the first series of the season, and it impressed the heck out of me then, and Mauer impressed the heck out of me tonight.

But I didn’t explain that to my kids. They aren’t there yet; they wouldn’t get it. I’d just be their dad rambling on about something unimportant, the same way all parents do. And logically they would be right, because Mauer is stranded there as the inning ends.

But it was important. I believe that.


2nd


The Tigers have a runner on third base with one out and failed to drive him in. When I got home, I wondered out loud how many times that happened to Detroit tonight. The answer is four, which is less than I thought.

But it’s enough. Note that this isn’t how many times that runners were in scoring position and a batter didn’t get a hit. This is how many times a productive out would’ve scored a run, but didn’t. It happened in the second inning, and twice in the ninth and once in the 12th. All in a game the Tigers lost by one run.

I haven’t reflected much on just how heart-breaking this loss must be to Tigers fans. Besides the lack of execution with runners on third, you have the misplays in the field, and that was the culmination of a week long collapse. (Shudder) I don’t envy them in their offseason.


3rd


I hate to say it — but I’ll remember the “al-cho-hol-ic” chant the crowd directed at Miguel Cabrera the most. I know, I know — you stay classy, Minneapolis. But the guy blew a .26 and was detained by police at 6 a.m. the day of a critical game, so I don’t feel the need to apologize for it.

It stops after his home run puts the Tigers ahead 3-0.


4th


I remember pitcher Scott Baker continuing to struggle, giving up a single and struggling to find the plate. Suddenly shortstop Orlando Cabrera called time-out to talk to him, with Joe Mauer joining them. One pitch later pitching coach Rick Anderson also came out to talk to him.

Good talks, apparently. From then forward, Baker was very good, and having him go into the seventh inning helped an exhausted bullpen patch together enough outs to win.


5th


Nothing much happened this inning, so let’s go with a pregame memory. We parked an hour and 20 minutes before game time thinking we’d stop at Maxwell’s and maybe get some waffle fries with that seasoned sour cream I could eat like pudding. We know we’re in trouble when we see a line of people waiting to get into Grumpy’s. Maxwell’s has no line, but didn’t need one, since it was so full of people it was physically impossible to get inside the door. We skedaddled and just went to the dome.

Strangely enough, I’m encouraged by crowds. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — this is a football town. But we’re getting there. The pregame insanity and the reaction of tonight’s dome faithful is a testament to it.


6th


Jason Kubel, after two very bad at-bats, hits a home run to inch the Twins within a single run, down just 3–2. I’ve been told that’s when others thought the crowd got into the game. Maybe. But I gotta say, I was more impressed with the crowd tonight than I’ve been in years, even before Kubel’s shot.

50,000 people in the dome can make a lot of noise, but they can also make a lot of silence. I didn’t notice the silence even when the Twins were down 3–0. It was exactly as if the crowd knew that they were going to need to pack a lunch, that this was a game that was going to be decided late.

(Let me add one caveat — my enthusiasm for the crowd might be a result of sitting in the second level. There were plenty of times I would look around and see the more expensive seats sitting while upper deck sections were rising and screaming for a third strike. I think this was a case where the farther you were from the action, the more fun it was.)

And there were times I’m sure the crowd affected the players. I’m quite sure it helped the Twins score in the bottom of the tenth. It might very well have kept overmatched umpire Randy Marsh from hearing Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge’s uniform get scraped by a pitch. And I’m convinced we carried relief pitcher Bobby Keppel in the twelfth. All he had to do was throw the first strike and the crowd would take it from there.


7th

I remember the pandemonium during and after Orlando Cabrera’s line drive home run which put the Twins in front 4–3. My kids were elated. Everyone is giving high fives or just hugging. And I dared to think my kids might just experience the rarest of events in Minnesota sports — a big win that really means something.


8th


Or not. The Magglio Ordonez home run that tied the game was quick enough that we were all sort of numbed by it. But following was a battle between Tigers batter Rick Raburn, Twins pitcher Matt Guerrier and confused umpire Randy Marsh that got us all worked up. The umpiring so enraged the fans that night that I assumed we were just in a terrible position to evaluate it. After talking to several fans and reading some stories, it enraged plenty more than just those of us in the upper level.


9th


Twins centerfielder Denard Span lays down a perfect bunt to advance sparky Nick Punto to second base, and gets congratulated. Except that it’s a critical strategic mistake. He not only gives the Tigers one of the three outs they need, he makes it easy to walk Joe Mauer and pitch to the much weaker hitting Carlos Gomez, who grounds out to end the inning.

The Tigers will likely be criticized for some fielding gaffes in this game, but it’s worth pointing out that Brandon Inge made a diving stop of a rocket by Cabrera to keep the Twins from scoring in this inning. It was a breathtaking defensive play.


10th

I’m going to remember my 9-year-old son spinning toward me with his lower lip out and tears in his eyes. The umpire makes two questionable calls just before Inge hits a double, driving in the leading run for the Tigers. The Boy is convinced that there is an injustice being done. Nothing makes that kid madder than injustice, except maybe losing, and now we had both. And I’m wondering what kind of depraved father turns his son into a Minnesota sports fan.

His faith is saved in the bottom of the frame. But it’s worth noting that Matt Tolbert’s RBI single came within inches of that being a double play that would’ve ended the game. When it was hit, I did not think that grounder was getting through.

11th

As the Twins used three pitchers in this frame, I remember The Voice of Reason turning to me and asking if manager Ron Gardenhire was going to run out of pitchers soon. I said I didn’t think so, because the Twins have plenty of extra arms on their bench, since rosters can be expanded in September.

And meanwhile, the Tigers have their closer, Fernando Rodney finishing his third inning, and don’t have anybody warming up in the Tigers bullpen? Really? He would end up throwing a career high in pitches. And losing.


12th


I’ll remember the crowd trying desperately to will Twins reliever Bobby Keppel through a scoreless inning. I’ll remember Gardenhire charging out of the dugout but NOT making a pitching change. And I’ll remember thinking he’s insane. The Twins escape the top half of the inning without giving up a run.

But mostly I’ll remember Carlos Gomez sliding across home plate with that winning run. Two innings earlier I had watched him fly into a rage as he entered the dugout, furious at himself for not getting the clutch hit the team needed in the ninth. Now he’s sliding head first (for no reason other than just to slide head first) across home like a rapturous superman. Golly, it’s fun to watch him love this game.

Almost as much as the 50,000+ that watched him. That seems like a good memory to hold onto as I go to bed. It’s time for quiet, still and dark to have their turn.


The Twins Geek, John Bonnes, believes the baseball is a beautiful game and the more you know about it, the more beautiful it is. He is the co-owner/editor of GameDay Independent Program and Scorecard. If you want to obsess about the Twins postseason or offseason with him, stop by TwinsGeek.com for daily updates or TwinsCentric.com to purchase the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook.