Friday, October 10, 2008

Season Highlights

Well, it took me a little while, but I've finished my write up on the Twins' season highlights. The term "highlights" is used lightly, as some of them are clearly negative (though most are positive), so maybe memorable is a better way to describe these moments. Whatever you call them, the following is game by game descriptions of various memorable moments from the season. I really enjoyed looking back on the season to find them (despite how long it took), so I hope you enjoy reading about them. You can expect more season wrap-up items to come soon; this will certainly be the longest of them, so it shouldn't take nearly as long for me to write up the rest. Oh, and click on the link for the game for the wrap, which includes videos.

The game: March 31st vs. Los Angeles
The situation: The Twins open the season with a 3-2 win against Torii Hunter and the Angels.
The description: The new acquisitions were on display in the first game of the year. Livan Hernandez started with a perfect inning, and wound up pitching 7 innings, while allowing 2 runs on 7 hits. Carlos Gomez followed by starting off the Twins’ offensive year with a double, and added another hit, a walk, two runs, and two stolen bases. Joe Mauer singled him in to provide the year’s first run before its first out. Delmon Young went 2-4 with a walk, while, in a sign of things to come, Adam Everett left six on base in an 0-4 night. Torii Hunter also went 0-4 in his return to the Metrodome.

The game: April 2nd vs. Los Angeles
The situation: Nick Blackburn pitches excellently in his first career start.
The description: After Baseball America tabbed him as the Twins’ #1 prospect, a lot of us didn’t know what to think. Well, this start was a sign of things to come. Obviously, he didn’t pitch 7 innings, give up only one run on 6 hits and a walk, and strike out six in every game, but he surely exceeded my expectations and proved himself a very solid pitcher. Unfortunately, the hitters didn’t put it together for him in this one, as the Twins lost the game 1-0. Blackburn would lose one more game 1-0, and I don’t think you need to be reminded of which one that was.

The game: April 3rd vs. Los Angeles
The situation: Jason Kubel hits the Twins’ first home run in their fourth game.
The description: It took until the eighth inning of the Twins’ fourth game for Jason Kubel to hit the team’s first home run. That’s not surprising for a team that wound up finishing last in the AL and 29th in the Majors with 111 home runs. Incidentally, for all the talk that the Twins didn’t do the “little things” well anymore, which I agreed with, they did finish first in the Majors in sacrifice flies (72) and first in the AL in sacrifice hits (52).

The game: April 7th at Chicago
The situation: Denard Span collects his first career hit.
The description: In and of itself, this is of no specific importance, other than a 7-4 loss in the first game of the season versus the White Sox. But, when Span ended up contributing the way he did for much of the season, his first career hit deserves some recognition. He also stole his first career base in going 1-3 with a walk in the loss.

The game: April 9th at Chicago
The situation: Jason Kubel hits a Grand Slam and drives in six as the Twins beat the White Sox 12-5.
The description: It was an odd 3-game, 4-day series with a day off on Tuesday that only got stranger when Thursday’s game got rained out. But when they played the second game of the series, the Twins showed up, especially Jason Kubel. Up 8-4 with two outs in the sixth, Kubel sealed the deal early with a grand slam, helping his final line look like this: 2-4, R, HR, 6 RBI. Not a bad day at the office, huh?

The game: April 12th at Kansas City
The situation: The Twins record two consecutive shutouts.
The description: Granted, it was the Royals, but the Twins still went eighteen innings without allowing a run. Just to get a sense of how long ago this was, consider the following: in the first game, Livan Hernandez went seven innings and picked up his third straight victory in lowering his ERA to 2.57. In the second game, Boof Bonser started and went six innings, and was relieved by Matt Guerrier (who didn’t allow runs every time he pitched back then!) and Pat Neshek. News that Francisco Liriano was going to return to the big leagues was breaking for the first time—he would make his first forgettable start on April 13th. And Mike Lamb was still playing, Brendan Harris was hitting .367, and Justin Morneau was stuck on RBIs.

The game: April 13th at Kansas City
The situation: Francisco Liriano makes his first Major League appearance since August 2006.
The description: Although the results weren’t pretty, this was a pretty exciting day for Twins fans. In the end, it turned out to be too early, but that doesn’t take away from the excitement surrounding Liriano’s return to the big leagues after 19 months of rehab and Minor League toiling. Less than five innings later, it was clear that it would still be a while before we saw a Liriano that even resembled his 2006 self, even if it took another week or two for us (and the Twins’ front office) to admit it.

The game: April 19th vs. Cleveland
The situation: Nick Blackburn pitches 7 2/3 shutout innings to pick up his first career win.
The description: Blackburn was at his best, allowing eight hits and striking out one in the game. Four double plays and Delmon Young’s throw to get Asdrubal Cabrera at home plate helped preserve the Twins’ shutout.

The game: April 20th vs. Cleveland
The situation: Justin Morneau hits the third consecutive 2-out single to give the Twins a walk-off win.
The description: After Scott Baker and Paul Byrd dueled for seven innings, each allowing only a run, the bullpens kept the game scoreless for two more innings. On the Twins’ side, this was largely thanks to Carlos Gomez’s amazing diving grab—one of his best of the year—in the ninth inning with one out and a runner on second. With two outs and nobody on, Brendan Harris singled. Jason Kubel followed with another single, moving Harris to 3rd base. Up came Justin Morneau, who hit a sharp groundball just past the diving attempt of Ryan Garko to bring home the winning run in the bottom of the tenth.

The game: April 24th at Oakland
The situation: Francisco Liriano gives up 6 ER and only gets two outs.
The description: It started off well enough, as Carlos Gomez led off the game with a home run, his first with the Twins. But in the bottom of the inning, it went downhill like an avalanche racing down a mountain. Liriano got just two outs, and one was a runner thrown out going to third, and gave up 6 earned runs before he was replaced by Brian Bass. Here’s what it looked like: walk, single, pop out, walk, single, walk, single, single (runner thrown out), single. And Bass would give up another single to leave Liriano charged with 6 runs. It was a depressing day for Twins fans, as we realized Liriano was really not back, and would have to spend more time at Rochester.

The game: April 25th at Texas
The situation: The Twins build a 5-0 lead behind Justin Morneau’s grand slam, but lose in ten innings.
The description: With Francisco Liriano’s abominable start fresh in Twins’ fans’ minds, this started off just the way we needed it to. Justin Morneau singled in Carlos Gomez in the first and then hit a grand slam in the third to put the Twins up 5-0 and give himself five RBIs on the day. But the bottom of the inning turned out to be as bad for Nick Blackburn as the first inning was for Francisco Liriano the day before. The Rangers started the inning with seven straight hits, the first five being singles and the last two being doubles, to knot the game at 5. Only thanks to a strange double play on the seventh hit, in which they got an out at home and third base, did the Twins keep it tied. The game would be scoreless from that point until Juan Rincon gave up a walk-off single in the tenth inning.

The game: May 4th vs. Detroit
The situation: The Tigers score six in the first, but the Twins rally back and win 7-6.
The description: One of the top three comeback wins of the year (the other two still to come), the Twins fell behind very quickly. Curtis Granderson led off the game with a homer, and the Tigers would score five more times off of Boof Bonser before the inning was over. Bonser, however, came back and pitched five more scoreless innings to give the Twins a chance—a chance they would fully capitalize on, as they scored once in the fourth, twice in the fifth, and completed the comeback with four runs in the seventh. Joe Mauer delivered the go-ahead single with runners on second and third and two outs to give the Twins their fifth consecutive victory. Dick Bremer’s call of the play still rings soundly in my ears: “High chopper, over the mound, INTO CENTERFIELD! And the Twins take the lead!”

The game: May 6th at Chicago
The situation: Joe Mauer ends Gavin Floyd’s no-hit bid in the ninth inning.
The description: Despite having scored a run, the Twins entered the ninth inning without a hit against the White Sox’s Gavin Floyd. Mauer walked, Morneau moved him to second by reaching on an error, Cuddyer moved him to third with a fly out, and Kubel got him home with a sac fly. After Brendan Harris struck out looking to start the ninth, Joe Mauer came to bat. He had already walked twice, while the rest of the team had reached base twice combined, one via a walk and the other via the aforementioned error. He came through with a double to left field to keep the Twins from having a very humiliating day.

The game: May 7th at Chicago
The situation: Carlos Gomez hits for the cycle.
The description: The Twins beat the White Sox 13-1 and Livan Hernandez had a shutout through 8 1/3 innings (and ended up with a complete game), but the story of the game was Carlos Gomez. He led off the game with a home run, but that was only the beginning, both literally and figuratively. By the end of the night, he had collected four hits in six at bats to go along with two runs and 3 RBIs. And, of course, he had the double, triple, and single necessary to hit for the eighth cycle in Twins history, and the first since Kirby Puckett did it in 1986.

The game: May 9th vs. Boston
The situation: Mike Lamb hits a two-run walk-off single with two outs in the ninth.
The description: Down 6-5 with two outs and Delmon Young on second, the Twins’ prospects of winning were looking fairly bleak, largely because Jonathan Papelbon was on the mound. That changed quickly though, after Young stole third, Carlos Gomez walked, and then Gomez stole second. Up to bat came Mike Lamb, with his average hovering just above the Mendoza line. But, in what was certainly his best moment as a Twin, he hit a soft line drive into left field that easily scored both runners, and gave the Twins a walk-off victory over the Red Sox.

The game: May 15th vs. Toronto
The situation: The Twins lose 3-2 in 11 innings and are swept by the Blue Jays.
The description: After squandering numerous scoring opportunities, Jesse Crain allowed a two-out, bases loaded single in the eleventh inning that put the Blue Jays up 3-2. Jason Kubel made a critical mistake earlier in the game, running through a stop sign and getting thrown out easily at home on Justin Morneau’s bloop hit. This meant the Twins would be swept at the Metrodome and would lose the three games by a total of four runs.

The game: May 19th vs. Texas
The situation: Howie Clark (?) and Bobby Korecky (!) win it for the Twins.
The description: Down 6-5 going into the ninth, the Twins rallied and tied it at six on Joe Mauer’s RBI single. They still had a great chance to win the game right there, with only one out and runners on the corners, but they failed to do so. The tenth inning passed uneventfully, but then Juan Rincon entered the game in the eleventh. He got one out, but left the bases loaded for Bobby Korecky, who had pitched all of 4 1/3 Major League innings to that point. But Korecky was up for the challenge, getting Ian Kinsler to pop out and Michael Young to strike out. In the bottom of the inning, Korecky was forced to hit due to a double switch made earlier in the game, and hit a single, certainly his first-ever hit, and the first hit ever by a Twins pitcher in an American League game! Unfortunately, Korecky wound up 90 feet from scoring the winning run, as the Twins failed to capitalize on a bases loaded, one-out situation. A 1-2-3 twelfth from Bobby Korecky, and this time the Twins took care of business in their half of the inning. Howie Clark played hero by hitting an RBI double to center field to win the game.

The game: May 24th at Detroit
The situation: Matt Macri makes his Major League debut, as the Twins get shellacked 19-3.
The description: Macri went 2-3 with a run, RBI, walk, and stolen base in his first Major League game, but unfortunately it was overshadowed by the Twins’ most lopsided loss of the year. By the time the game had ended, Alexi Casilla’s game-tying home run in the top of the third seemed like it happened in a different decade. The Tigers scored nine runs off of Boof Bonser and seven off of Brian Bass on their way to putting up 19 runs in the first five innings.

The game: May 27th at Kansas City
The situation: Mark Teahan ties the game with an inside-the-park homer in the ninth.
The description: Nick Blackburn entered the ninth inning having pitched eight scoreless innings, but things got messy very quickly. After hitting a batter, inducing a pop out, and allowing a single, Ron Gardenhire called upon Joe Nathan to replace him with runners on first and second and Mark Teahan coming to the plate. The game unraveled in a flash, as Delmon Young’s misguided and poorly executed dive fell short, and the batted ball bounced around in the left field corner. As Young seemingly jogged after the ball, Teahan motored all the way around the bases to tie the game and give Nathan his first blown save of the season. The Twins were able to win the game, however, on Michael Cuddyer’s single in the twelfth inning.

The game: May 28th at Kansas City
The situation: Craig Monroe hits a 2-out, 3-run homer to tie it and cap a 5-run ninth inning rally. The description: After the events of the game the day before, you wouldn’t have thought the next game could be more exciting. Obviously, you would have been wrong. This time it was the Twins who would rally in the ninth inning, after being down 8-3 to start it. Mathematically, their chances of winning were certainly the lowest they would be all year in a game in which they wound up on top, as they had just a runner on first with one out to go in an 8-3 game. But what followed was simply amazing, and also the second of the three top comebacks I mentioned earlier: a wild pitch, a Mike Lamb single, a Brendan Harris single, a Carlos Gomez single, and up walked Craig Monroe, pinch-hitting for Alexi Casilla. And, down to his last strike, Monroe hit a frozen rope over the left field fence to tie the game. Unlike the Royals the night before, the Twins capitalized on their comeback when Justin Morneau homered to lead off the tenth and Joe Nathan closed it out to hand the Royals their tenth straight loss in heartbreaking fashion—again.

The game: June 1st vs. New York
The situation: Nick Blackburn takes a liner to the face off of Bobby Abreu.
The description: Watching this live, it was very scary. As Blackburn recoiled from his pitch, the ball came screaming off the bat of Bobby Abreu and clocked him right in the face. Initially, he collapsed, rolled over, and lay sprawled out next to the mound. After a second or two, he got up and was bleeding from the nose, but I was letting out a sigh of relief. For the second that he lay on the ground, things seemed like they could have been extremely bad. Fortunately, though, he would recover and even make his next scheduled start.

The game: June 2nd vs. New York
The situation: Joe Mauer hits his first home run of the season.
The description: Trailing by a run in the seventh, Joe Mauer belted his first home run of 2008 to knot it at five apiece. Delmon Young put the Twins ahead for good by doubling Michael Cuddyer in for the third time in the game. This was only after Cuddyer made an absolutely perfect play in the top of the inning, playing the carom off the baggie perfectly, barehanding the ball, and tossing a strike to second to nail Derek Jeter in his bid for a double.

The game: June 4th vs. Baltimore
The situation: Joe Mauer’s sacrifice fly scores two runs.
The description: With runners on second and third, Joe Mauer hit a deep fly ball to center field, which Adam Jones tracked down and caught close to the warning track. Nick Punto, who was on third, scored easily on the play, while Carlos Gomez, who was on second, took off for third. Immediately after catching the ball, Jones tripped and fell, and then tossed the ball to a fellow outfielder. Gomez was sent home and beat the relay throw easily, surely marking the first time in Joe Mauer’s career he’d hit a 2-run sacrifice fly.

The game: June 5th vs. Baltimore
The situation: Carrying 13 pitchers, Kevin Slowey is forced into the game as a pinch-runner.
The description: The arguments against a 13-man pitching staff were quickly validated in this game. After Mike Redmond singled in the eighth inning, Gardenhire logically wanted to pinch-run for him. A quick look at the bench, though, and it became evident that there was no one left. Therefore, he was forced to send Slowey into the game to pinch-run for Redmond.

The game: June 7th at Chicago
The situation: Delmon Young finally hits his first home run as a Twin.
The description: Down 7-0 in the seventh inning, it would be hard, as a Twins fan, for something exciting to happen. And it shouldn’t have been really, but Delmon Young’s homer was exactly that. For weeks on end I’d been turning to my brother when Young came to the plate and saying, “You’d know what it’d be a good time for?” And he would invariably respond, “Delmon Young’s first home run!” Now, I didn’t say it this time, with the score being so lopsided, but nonetheless it came as quite a relief.

The game: June 9th at Chicago
The situation: The Twins get humiliated in Chicago, losing all four games by a combined score of 40-15.
The description: Entering the series 2.5 games behind the White Sox and with a chance to take the division lead, the Twins got blown out in the first three games and coughed up a late lead in the final game. As a result, they fell to 31-33, 6.5 games out of first place. Many desolate fans considered the season to be over, while others cited the similarity to the three-game shellacking the Twins took at the hands of Detroit in 2006, when they managed to rally and win the division. Oh, how close they were to being right.

The game: June 15th at Milwaukee
The situation: Scott Baker collects four strikeouts in one inning.
The description: The title is pretty self-explanatory for this one. In the third inning, Baker struck out the foursome of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder (who reached base via a wild pitch), Russell Branyan, and Mike Cameron to achieve the feat. He became the first Twins pitcher to do so, and it was the first time it had happened in the American League since April of 2003.

The game: June 24th at San Diego
The situation: Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher hit back to back homers to break a tie in the ninth.
The description: The Twins were tied with the Padres, 1-1, heading into the ninth inning. The all-time saves leader, Trevor Hoffman, took the mound for San Diego, and got the first two outs. So, with no one on and two outs, Brendan Harris stepped to the plate. And what happened? Well, obviously, you know—he hit a home run! And then, just as Padres fans were gathering their breath and convincing themselves they only needed a run in their half of the inning to keep the game going, Brian Buscher made it back-to-back homers with his first career home run.

The game: June 25th at San Diego
The situation: The Twins beat four Cy Young winners in five games.
The description: From June 20th to June 25th, the Twins played 5 games, won them all, and four of them were against former Cy Young award winners. On this night, it was Greg Maddux who they pounded for the victory. Previously, it had been Randy Johnson (8 IP, 7 R), Brandon Webb (7 IP, 5 R), and Jake Peavy. Granted, some of them are shells of their former selves, but it’s an accomplishment nonetheless.

The game: June 27th vs. Milwaukee
The situation: The Twins win a season high 10th consecutive game.
The description: The Twins were behind by scores of 2-1 and 6-3, but managed to wrestle the game away from the Brewers and end up on top, 7-6. Joe Mauer hit a solo shot with two outs in the eighth to put the Twins up by that final score. It was their tenth straight win, which would turn out to be their longest winning streak of the season, and it included sweeps of Washington, Arizona, and San Diego. Clearly, interleague play was kind to the Twins, as it was to many AL teams.

The game: June 29th vs. Milwaukee
The situation: Kevin Slowey pitches a 3-hit shutout.
The description: It was Kevin Slowey’s day, as he had the Milwaukee batters baffled all game long. He allowed just three hits and, in typical Slowey fashion, no walks in pitching an efficient nine innings of shutout ball. He also set a (short-lived) career high in strikeouts, with eight. Incidentally, this was both the conclusion of interleague play and the first game of the (mathematical) second half of the season.

The game: July 10th at Detroit
The situation: Justin Morneau leads the Twins to victory with five hits, including a go-ahead home run.
The description: The Twins fell behind early, 6-2 in the fourth inning to be precise. Still trailing by the same score late in the game, they pushed across one run in the seventh and another in the eighth before entering the ninth with a 2-run deficit. That lead wouldn’t last long; Nick Punto and Denard Span’s singles, followed by Joe Mauer’s sacrifice fly, would force the game into extra innings. It was then that Justin Morneau once again came through for the Twins. Already 4-4 with a walk, Justin Morneau added a little extra by hitting a go-ahead home run in the top of the eleventh, to finish the game 5-5 with 2 runs, a home run, an RBI, and a walk. For Denard Span, it was too bad, because his day (4-4, 2 R, RBI, BB, SB) was lost amidst Morneau’s performance.

The “game”: July 14th at Yankee Stadium
The situation: Jason Morneau is crowned the Home Run Derby champion.
The description: It was the Josh Hamilton show in the first round, and with the cumulative scoring, his lackluster second round posed no problem as he easily advanced to the finals. Morneau, however, was the more consistent hitter on the night, and therefore was able to walk away with the title. Of course, no one cared about that—they all just wanted to focus on Hamilton’s record-setting first round (rightfully so, I suppose). But they could’ve interviewed Morneau before him after he won the derby, right? And they certainly could’ve called him Justin Morneau.

The game: July 15th at Yankee Stadium
The situation: Justin Morneau scores the winning run in the AL’s 15-inning victory.
The description: This must have been Bud Selig’s worst nightmare; he must have just been praying for someone to score. What if he had had to call another tie? The chants of “Let them play” from the last time remain vivid in my mind. Fortunately, Morneau came through for him, scoring the winning run in the bottom of the 15th. OK, so maybe Morneau did blow an opportunity in the 10th with the bases loaded and two outs, but overall he was 2-4 with a double, a walk, and two runs scored. Joe Mauer was 1-1 with a walk. Joe Nathan pitched a perfect inning with a strikeout. Also, I forgot how amazing this game was. In the tenth, the AL loaded the bases with none out after two straight Dan Uggla errors an an intentional walk. Aaron Cook got three straight groundouts, however, to get out of that huge jam (the first one could have been a double play, but Uggla was SO deliberate about his throw home after his two errors that they didn’t even have a play at first). And then in the following inning, Nate McClouth threw a perfect strike from centerfield to home plate to get Dioner Navarro out and preserve the tie game.

The game: July 19th vs. Texas
The situation: The Twins score a season-high fourteen runs and hit four homers.
The description: In their second game back from the All- Star break, the Twins were firing on all cylinders. They plated 14 runs on 16 hits and 4 walks; they had 9 extra base hits (5 doubles and 4 homers); six Twins had multiple hits; and each starter reached base and all had a hit, save Brendan Harris. Even Livan Hernandez showed up and pitched his last good game before the Twins would later release him. Considering the day before they won 6-0, the second half started off very promisingly.

The game: July 20th vs. Texas
The situation: Scott Baker pitches eight spectacular innings, but takes the tough luck loss.
The description: Baker was cruising and had a perfect game 5 2/3 innings in, but that was when Taylor Teagarden launched a homer to left-center field. Baker recovered and only allowed one more hit and a walk before exiting after eight innings. He added eight strikeouts, too. Unfortunately, the Twins offense mustered just three hits, all singles, and they lost 1-0. Oh, and can you believe Carlos Gomez was still leading off at this point in this season?

The game: July 23rd at New York
The situation: I attend my only Twins game of the year.
The description: This one obviously only has value for me, especially because it was a 5-1 loss.

The game: July 25th at Cleveland
The situation: Carlos Gomez makes, in my opinion, one of the top catches of the year.
The description: This one needs a video, so here’s the link. Or, of course, you can click on the regular link below. Fortunately, Gomez wasn't seriously injured, although he did have to leave the game on a stretcher. And wasn't it strange that it seemed like the exact same ball was hit later in the game, with Denard Span manning centerfield. He got his glove on it but couldn't hold on. There’s not much more to say about, except that it was simply amazing.

The game: July 28th vs. Chicago
The situation: Kevin Slowey pitches a shutout and Denard Span hits his first career home run.
The description: Slowey pitched his second shutout of the year, this one coming against the hated White Sox. This time around he gave up six hits and a walk, but threw just 102 pitches over the nine innings, while striking out five batters. Denard Span got the scoring started to aid Slowey with his first career home run in the third, and Justin Morneau followed with one of his own three batters later.

The game: August 3rd vs. Cleveland
The situation: Francisco Liriano returns to the Twins and pitches them into first place.
The description: Liriano started his first game since his April debacle and was excellent. He threw six shutout innings, surrendering 3 hits and 3 walks in the process, and punching out five. Later in the game, Juan Rincon made his first appearance against the Twins since being released in mid-season. Denard Span, the first batter he faced, rudely welcomed him back with a home run in the eighth.

The game: August 6th at Seattle
The situation: Denard Span makes a game-saving catch of a would-be home run.
The description: The bullpen woes were just beginning for the Twins, but the previous two games of the series were extremely tough to stomach. In the first game, the Twins led 6-1 heading into the seventh, when Glen Perkins exited with a lead. Before it was over, though, Brian Bass, Boof Bonser, and Matt Guerrier had combined to give up six of the ten runs the Twins allowed in that one inning. In the next game, the offense pushed four runs across in the eighth to take a one-run lead, but Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan promptly gave two runs right back. Then, in this game, the Twins were leading 4-3 in the seventh when Jesse Crain came on to face Adrian Beltre with a man on. He crushed the ball to right for what looked like a home run, but Span set himself up against the wall and made a leaping grab over the wall to save two runs and end the inning. And just for good measure, he also had 4 RBIs in the game.

The game: August 12th vs. New York
The situation: Delmon Young hits a home run off Rivera to tie the game, but the Twins lose in extras.
The description: With two outs in the eighth and two Twins on base, Joe Girardi called upon his closer, Mariano Rivera, to get the final four outs of the game. Up 6-3, one would have to assume this was pretty much a done deal, even with two men on—it was Mariano Rivera, after all. And, on top of that, he even had Young behind 0-2. But it was Young who got the best of Rivera, slicing a ball just over the baggie and inside the foul pole for a game-tying 3-run dinger. It was the first time a Twin had ever homered off of Rivera. Unfortunately, much of the excitement was taken away because the Twins wound up losing in twelve innings when Matt Guerrier gave up a home run, a double, and then another home run.

The game: August 15th vs. Seattle
The situation: Carlos Silva returns to the Metrodome and gets dismantled.
The description: Silva had been bad all year, and this game was certainly no exception. He made it through just 3 1/3 innings while allowing 9 earned runs on nine hits and a walk. On the other end of the spectrum was Francisco Liriano. He pitched seven innings, and Seattle managed only two unearned runs, thanks to a Brian Buscher error, on two hits and two walks. I’m fairly certain that, by this point in the season, the Mariners were slightly regretting the money they gave Silva.

The game: August 19th vs. Oakland
The situation: Kevin Slowey strikes out 12 and the Twins score 13.
The description: Following a horribly frustrating 3-2 loss to the A’s, the Twins came ready to play. Slowey was magnificent, breaking his career high in strikeouts, while stymieing the A’s offense to the tune of five hits and two runs (one earned) in seven innings. I don’t think I even need to mention it, but of course he also walked none. The offense did its share, too, plus some extra. Brian Buscher led the way with three hits, a home run, and five RBIs, but everyone contributed as they put 13 runs on the board with 16 hits.

The game: August 21st at Los Angeles
The situation: The Twins open their marathon 14-game road trip with a twelve inning win.
The description: This was it—the stretch that Twins fans had been dreading for a good portion of the season. It started off encouragingly enough, with this 2-1 victory over the Angels. Scott Baker dueled John Lackey for eight innings, with both allowing one run, walking two, and striking out six. Baker, though, surrendered five hits to Lackey’s four. The game remained tied at 1 until the twelfth inning, when Nick Punto tripled to center on a ball that Torii Hunter admitted he should have caught. Denard Span singled him in, and the always reliable Joe Nathan sealed the deal for his 35th save. If only the remainder of the road trip could have been that good…

The game: August 27th at Seattle
The situation: Span preserves a victory with a perfect throw to home plate.
The description: On the verge of their fifth consecutive loss and a sweep at the hands of the lowly Mariners, the Twins rallied to score three runs in the top of the eighth and take a 6-4 lead. Predictably, the bullpen tried to give it back in the bottom of the inning. Having already allowed one run, Eddie Guardado gave up a single with the Mariners’ Tug Hulett on second base. It seemed fitting that this was the way yet another game would turn, but Denard Span saved the game with a frozen rope to home plate that allowed Mike Redmond to apply the tag in time.

The game: August 29th at Oakland
The situation: Joe Mauer collects five hits and Justin Morneau gets four of his own.
The description: It almost seemed like a replay of their game from a week and a half ago. Again, Kevin Slowey was dominant, allowing two earned runs on six hits and a walk in six innings. He also struck out ten A’s, the second time he’d recorded double digit K’s. And again the offense backed him up with double digit runs, this time scoring 12 times. Joe Mauer went 5-6 with 4 RBIs and Justin Morneau was 4-5 with two doubles to lead the Twins to another lopsided victory over the A’s.

The game: August 30th at Oakland
The situation: The Twins lose another heartbreaker, this time due to a throwing error by Joe Nathan.
The description: The heartbreaks just kept on coming during the road trip and then for the rest of September. Francisco Liriano started this one and gave the Twins seven innings of one-run ball. Then Matt Guerrier bridged the gap seamlessly (for once) to Joe Nathan with the Twins leading 2-1. But this time it was Nathan who let the game get away. After allowing a hit, he hit Emil Brown with a pitch, putting runners on first and second with none out. A sacrifice bunt was in order, and that’s exactly what happened. Nathan decided to go for force at third, but he spun and threw just wildly enough to get it past Brendan Harris. It rolled around long enough in Oakland’s endless foul territory to allow both runners to score. Game over.

The game: September 13th at Baltimore
The situation: In their only double-header of the season, the Twins sweep the Orioles.
The description: Making up a game that was rained out the day before in addition to their regularly scheduled game, the Twins dismantled the Orioles. Although it wasn’t quite the 20-14, 12-0 doubleheader sweep of the White Sox two years ago, it was still two impressive wins by scores of 12-2 and 12-6. After winning the first game behind a strong outing from Scott Baker, a four-hit game from Justin Morneau, and two home runs from Denard Span, the Twins jumped all over Baltimore with six runs in the first inning of the second game. Glen Perkins struggled, giving up six runs over three innings, but the bats picked him up, scoring eleven runs in the first four innings. It was a very nice day in what was, to that point, a very bad month.

The game: September 16th at Cleveland
The situation: The Twins come back from a 7-run deficit, but Nathan gives up a walk-off homer in extras.
The description: It was the definition of heartbreak. Having lost their last two games, and eight of twelve overall in September, the Twins really needed a big win. Francisco Liriano dug them a deep hole early, exiting after just 2 2/3 innings with the Twins down 8-1. Things looked bleak, but the bullpen really stepped up, specifically Boof Bonser, who pitched 3 1/3 shutout innings. The offense did their part, scoring eight runs despite amassing only two extra base hits (both doubles). They took the lead in the eighth on Delmon Young’s sacrifice fly. It was the perfect opportunity to pick up everyone’s spirits, as they headed to the bottom of the eighth inning with the lead in a game they had trailed by seven runs. But Eddie Guardado promptly gave up a solo shot to re-tie the game. And the game would remain knotted at nine until Joe Nathan came to the mound in the eleventh inning. To that point, the bullpen had been spectacular, giving up just the home run in 8 1/3 frames. And Joe Nathan was yet to pitch! It was not to be, though, as Nathan got just one out before giving up a walk-off, 3-run homer to Victor Martinez. It was the epitome of desolation and devastation for a baseball game. Without a doubt, it was the worst I’d felt the entire season—and it would stay that way until game #163.

The game: September 18th at Tampa Bay
The situation: The Twins score five in the ninth to beat the Rays.
The description: As badly as they’d needed the win against Cleveland, it was just that much direr now. It was a roller coaster game, as Jason Kubel hit a homer in the first to put the Twins up 3-0. Then, Glen Perkins didn’t make it out of the first, and the Rays went up 5-3. They built their lead up to 7-3, before the Twins cut it to 7-6. A third Evan Longoria home run made the score 8-6. Coming into the ninth, on the verge of their fifth straight loss, I had turned the game off long ago. But, before Tampa even had time to get an out, Alexi Casilla had crushed a two-run homer to tie the game. Joe Mauer doubled and Justin Morneau was intentionally walked, bringing Jason Kubel to the plate. But Gardenhire decided to pinch hit for him with Adam Everett, obviously intending to have him bunt the runners over. Instead, Everett took a huge cut and sent the ball to the left field wall, scoring the go-ahead run. A Delmon Young single and a Matt Tolbert sac fly would add insurance runs, which helped put everyone at ease.

The game: September 23rd vs. Chicago
The situation: Kubel hits two homers in the Twins’ 9-3 win in the series opener.
The description: It was finally here. Many of us had been anticipating this for a good portion of the season, and certainly for the last month. If only they could stay in striking distance until this series, I kept thinking, then they’d have a chance. Despite all their struggles, they did just that. 2 ½ games out certainly wasn’t ideal, but they had a chance. In reality, they needed a sweep. But at least they had a chance. And they certainly took care of that in the first game, pounding the White Sox 9-3, behind Jason Kubel’s triple and two home runs.

The game: September 25th vs. Chicago
The situation: Do I really need to remind you?
The description: No doubt, the best moment of the year. One of the most exciting moments since I’ve been following the Twins. They needed a sweep. They got just that. They moved into first place, a ½ game ahead of Chicago. It wasn’t easy, though. The first game was, and the second game was close, but they led the whole way. This one was completely different. I can write more about it, and I will, but just go watch the videos of Denard Span’s game-tying triple and of Alexi Casilla’s walk-off single. Look at the energy and the passion those guys had and tell me this wasn’t one of the most exciting games you’ve ever seen. Look at the crowd roar in jubilant support of its time, and remember just how amazing this game, and season, was. Every single time I watch it I get goosebumps. The Twins fell behind 6-1 after Kevin Slowey injured his wrist and subsequently made a throwing error. But things, for once, did not look bleak. It sounds fabricated, but I absolutely did not give up on the Twins in this game. Usually when they fall behind I try to convince myself they have a chance, but I don’t really believe it. This time, I did believe it; I just felt that they were going to come back, win this game, and sweep the White Sox. I can’t write anymore about it—there’s just too much. Just go relive the experience yourself.

The game: September 28th vs. Kansas City
The situation: The Twins clinch a tie for the division lead.
The description: Despite faltering against Kansas City in the first two games, the Twins still had a chance to force the White Sox to play the Tigers on Monday (before a possible play-in game) with a win. They did just that, as once again Scott Baker came through with a great performance (7 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 9 K). After the tumultuous off-season, and their faltering at the end of the season, the Twins still would at least force a play-in game to determine who would be crowned the AL Central Division champion.

The game: September 30th at Chicago
The situation: One game for the playoffs.
The description: It was game #163. The Twins’ regular season was supposed to be over on September 28th (and most would’ve said their season in general too), but they found themselves playing one more on this day. With Kevin Slowey’s injury, Nick Blackburn would take the ball for the Twins in this all-determining game. He pitched what may have been his best game of the year, considering the circumstances, but it was just not enough. One mistake to Jim Thome in the seventh inning was all it took; the Twins would wind up losing 1-0. The Twins were very close to taking the lead earlier in the game, when Michael Cuddyer attempted to tag up on a shallow fly ball hit to center by Brendan Harris. With Ken Griffey manning the position, I thought it was a good idea to send him home. But, to my surprise, Griffey delivered a throw that was right on target and took away the Twins’ only scoring opportunity of the game. Brian Anderson replaced him for defensive purposes later in the game, and he immediately showed his importance by making a diving catch of Alexi Casilla’s soft liner for the final out of what was an incredible season.

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