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Sports Then and Now




Twins Playoff Diaries: Minnesota Magic in October

Posted on October 08, 2009 by JA Allen
The Twins celebrate following their dramatic 12-inning win over the Tigers.

The Twins celebrate following their dramatic 12-inning win over the Tigers.

Baseball is simple and timeless – there is a man, a ball, a bat and unending athleticism.  American baseball strategy has not changed that much in the past 100 years.  Pinpoint execution and smart play are the keys.  Always has been – always will be.

So at the end of a long season in 2009 the Minnesota Twins faced the Detroit Tigers for all the marbles in a one game tiebreaker to determine the American League Central Division champion for the privilege of playing the Yankees in the ALDS.  You had to expect one helluva game.

No disappointment there.  It was a classic.  Like alternating hotrods driving to the edge of a cliff, stopping on a dime as one wheel hung over the edge – playing chicken in the dome with the playoffs waiting just out of reach over the chasm.

At the end of each Detroit at-bat the Twins pulled themselves back from the precipice to begin another run at the win.  Exhilarating stuff in the claustrophobic dome with the hankies flying and fans swooning in anxiety.

The coaches dueled on the sidelines with bunts and bullets, pinch hitters and runners and bullpen substitutions without reservation because unless they won this one, there would be no tomorrow.

The game was filled with magnificent moments that mattered.  In the third inning after remaining scoreless through the first two, Detroit jumped out to an early 3 – 0 lead after Magglio Ordonez singled bringing in Curtis Granderson followed by Miguel Cabrera’s two-run homer blast.

You could hear a pin drop in the cavernous dome.  Hankies were wiping brows and anxious eyes – as the Minnesota fans waited for something to cheer about.

But the Twins patiently edged closer, finally taking the lead in the seventh inning when Orlando Cabrera cracked a two run homer to give the Twins a 4 – 3 lead.  The dome exploded with noise reverberating the length and breadth of the State of Minnesota.

Silence descended in quick order, however, when the Tigers Magglio Ordonez tied it up 4 – 4, the result of a solo home run in the top of the eighth.

The score remained deadlocked at four until the tenth inning when each team scored a run.  Outstanding pitching and outstanding defense were the order of the day for both teams.  Breath-taking, on-your-feet howling double plays, strike outs and sterling catches kept fans and commentators spouting superlatives.

The game almost ended in the tenth inning when Minnesota threatened.

But the Twins came up empty-handed – the result of a double play as Tiger right fielder Ryan Rayburn gunned down Twins Alexi Casilla at home to keep the 5 -5 score intact and the Tigers playoff hopes alive.

Both teams were fighting, scrambling, gambling and throwing everything but the kitchen sink at each other to stay alive one more inning, one more at-bat.  But the Tigers whose swoon had begun in September seemed destined to fade out in the closing moments of this tiebreaker.

Finally inevitability played out when Alexi Casilla singled home the winning run with one out in the 12th inning and the Twins rallied for a 6-5 victory Tuesday night, completing a monumental race to the top of the standings that began for the Twins just as Detroit began to lose.

The victory ceded the Twins the American League Central Division title and a quick trip to New York to face the media Goliath of Major League Baseball – the New York Yankees.

The Metordome will host one final playoff series. Is there any magic left in the Baggydome?

The Metordome will host one final playoff series. Is there any magic left in the Baggydome?

54,088 fans screamed and shouted their approval as the players swept onto the field after the winning run sprinted home.  The noise reached a crescendo as the players took a victory lap around the infield slapping hands with all the fans sitting on the front row.

In speaking of their upcoming game with the Yankees, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire pronounced,  “We’re not afraid. I can guarantee you that.” For the Twins, they, indeed, have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

While playing the Yankees is never a pleasant prospect, the Twins relish the opportunity to be in post-season play even against the snotty rich kids from New York.

It is like when you were in school as a kid and you had to bring your lunch in a used brown paper bag while your rich classmates all had metal lunch boxes with thermos inserts.  How you hated it having to sit down and pull out your peanut butter sandwich wrapped in wax paper while they had fancy stuff wrapped in tin foil.

The Yankees have all the money in the world and they have a team made up of the best players money can buy.  Minnesota on the other hand builds a team from the ground up.  They develop players and strive to build a team that works hard together for a common goal – post-season play.

While the Twins have built a new stadium it hardly compares to the coliseum built by the Yankees.  It will be a nightmare for the men in pinstripes to make the sojourn into the hideous Dome one last time when the series moves to Minnesota in game three. Greeting them no doubt will be 54,088 Minnesotans with pennant fever.

No doubt it could be the main reason the Yankees might have preferred playing Detroit  – to avoid the constrictive surroundings within the Hubert H. Humphrey Dome.  There is not an opposing team in the American League that looks forward to playing in that dreaded facility.

Why do we love baseball?  Remember playing baseball as you once played it at recess or on Saturdays in the empty lot next door?  Kids played baseball because it was what fun was all about.  The Twins recent run reminds us of that joy of play.

The Twins lost to the Yankees in Game One, 2-7.  Minnesota scored first but the Yankees had too much fire power for the Twins to contain.  New York also unleashed a suffocating pitching regime.  The Twins had a few moments, a few hits but nothing consistent that threatened the assured Yankees.

Whether they can take out the Yankees in 5 is the question of the day for the Twins and their fans.  The experts all say no – the Yankees simply have too many weapons – but then the Twins have too much heart to quit…so stay tuned…

JA Allen is a regular contributor to Sports Then and Now.

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