Somehow, despite how late in posting these I am every year, I top myself the next year. Now's a good time to look back at the highlights of the 2010 season, however, considering the lack of highlights the 2011 Twins are currently producing. Without further ado...
4/12- Twins win first game in the history of Target Field
5/21- Twins score 7 runs in the first and lead 15-0, but Carlos Gomez still admires his 3-run homer in the eighth inning
6/26- Johan Santana pitches his first game against Minnesota, but Carl Pavano bests him with a complete game shutout
8/10- Twins hit five homers to beat White Sox and take over first place
9/4- Michael Young makes the last out when he contacts his third base coach, giving the Twins the victory
10. Liriano strikes out 7 straight hitters in outdueling Tim Hudson (June 11th vs. Atlanta)
It was a magical night during a fantastic season for Francisco Liriano. Having given up a run in the second inning to put the Twins down 1-0, Liriano came back with a vengeance in the next frame. Melky Cabrera started it with a groundout, but following that Liriano struck out seven consecutive Braves batters. Martin Prado, Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus, Brian McCann, Yunel Escobar, and Omar Infante all went down on strikes before David Ross grounded an 0-1 fastball to second base for an out. By then, Liriano had tied a Twins record with the 7 consecutive strikeouts, a feat accomplished once before in 1966 by Jim Merritt. All except Escobar struck out swinging, and five of them went down on sliders while two were victims of Liriano's changeup. When all was said and done, Liriano had pitched 8 innings of 1-run ball to go with 12 strikeouts, leading the Twins to victory over Tim Hudson and the Braves.
9. Valencia hits a walk-off single against the Tigers (September 1st vs. Detroit)
Francisco Liriano battled Max Scherzer in a pitcher's duel that saw the score tied at one after a full slate of nine innings. Liriano threw seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts before giving way to the bullpen, which gave up the game-tying run in the eighth inning. Scherzer, meanwhile, tossed a career-high nine innings and racked up nine punchouts, but did allow one run. That set the stage for Danny Valencia to come to the plate facing Tigers reliever Ryan Perry in the bottom of the tenth with one out and Michael Cuddyer on second base. And Valencia delivered, lining a game-winning single to left-centerfield that scored Cuddyer. The Minnesota victory, their second one-run win over the Tigers in two days, put the final nail in Detroit's coffin, pushing them 12 games behind the Twins in the division.
8. Kubel's pop up hits a catwalk at Tropicana Field, scoring the deciding runs (August 5th at Tampa Bay)
It looked like the Twins would grab an easy victory over the Rays. As the eighth inning rolled around, the Twins led 6-0 and Kevin Slowey was cruising. B.J. Upton led off the inning with a solo homer, however, and after a hit batter, single, and a walk--and getting two outs--Slowey was removed from the game. Jesse Crain and Ron Mahay offered no relief whatsoever, though, walking in a run and allowing a game-tying grand slam, respectively. In the next half-inning, the Twins were threatening with runners on the corners and two outs. That's when Jason Kubel hit a sky-high pop up that looked to be the end of the Twins' scoring chance; instead, the ball glanced off the highest catwalk at Tropicana Field, which is referred to as the A ring and sits about 190 feet above the playing field. Kubel, only the second player ever to have hit the A ring, chuckled as he stood at first base having earned an RBI for driving in the go-ahead run. Cuddyer singled to follow him, adding an insurance run that turned out to be unnecessary as Matt Capps closed out the 8-6 victory.
7. Span hits 3 triples in one game, helping the Twins beat the Tigers (June 29th vs. Detroit)
Having relinquished first place the night before to Detroit, the Twins were looking for a reversal of fortune on this Tuesday afternoon. Denard Span got them off to a good start, lacing a ball into the gap that rolled to the deepest crevice of Target Field, right at the 403 foot sign, and racing into third base for a triple. In the fourth inning, following a single in the third, Span hit a deep drive over the head of Magglio Ordonez, whose attempt to catch it was vaguely reminiscent of Delmon Young. It then bounced back past him after hitting the wall, allowing Span to scamper in for an easy triple. The very next inning Span came up again, blasting a pitch deep into right field, looking like it was a sure homer. It hit high off the wall, though, and bounced over Ordonez's head; it was actually misplayed so badly by Ordonez that first baseman Miguel Cabrera ended up fielding the ball, giving Span another easy triple. He had a chance to set the modern era record with 4 triples in a game, but instead drew a four-pitch walk, settling for becoming the 29th player to hit 3 triples in a game since 1919, the third since 1990, and the second Twin ever to do so. His five RBIs also helped the Twins take over first place with an 11-4 victory.
6. The Twins steamroll the Royals 19-1 (July 26th at Kansas City)
It was just one of those days where everything went right for the Twins. And, once more, it was Francisco Liriano pitching a great game, as seems to be becoming a pattern in these highlights. He threw seven scoreless innings, allowing only three hits and walking no one. But obviously the bats were the real story on this day, as the Twins set a season-high with 19 runs, the most since their 20-run outburst against Chicago the previous July. Danny Valencia set the tone by smacking a 2-out grand slam off Zack Greinke in the first inning to put the Twins up 6-0. Joe Mauer was the star of the show, though, collecting five hits in as many at bats, doubling, homering, and driving in 7 runs. Valencia and Delmon Young also had four hits apiece, making this one of three times during the 2011 that three teammates had at least four hits. The team combined for 11 extra base hits, the most in one game for the Twins since 2002, and tying the most since 1979. All in all, it was a fun day to be a Twins fan.
5. The Twins clinch the AL Central division title (September 21st vs. Cleveland)
Unlike the 2008 and 2009 season, the Twins had a relatively comfortable September, locking up the division title with 11 games to go in the 2010 season. On this day, it was Scott Baker who started and gave the Twins five solid innings. Still, Minnesota trailed until late in the game, when a 4-run eighth inning put the Twins up 6-4 on the Indians. Denard Span drove in the go-ahead run with a single, and Orlando Hudson brought Span in with a double to stretch the lead to two. Matt Capps came on for the ninth and picked up the save, ending the game with a strikeout of Michael Brantley. The win meant the White Sox would have to win every remaining game on their schedule, along with the Twins having to lose all of their remaining games, to even achieve a tie in the division. When Chicago lost later that night, it was official: the Minnesota Twins were the 2010 American League Central Division Champions!
4. The Twins score 4 runs in the ninth to walk-off against the White Sox (July 18th vs. Chicago)
Coming into this four-game series with the White Sox, the Twins were 3.5 games out of first place. After a tough series-opening loss, they trailed Chicago by 4.5 games. They won the next two, however, giving themselves a chance to cut the lead to 1.5 games with a victory in this one. That didn't look all that likely when the ninth inning arrived, given that Minnesota was down by the score of 6-3. Bobby Jenks was in to close the game, but he didn't even manage to get an out. Walks to Orlando Hudson and Joe Mauer and singles by Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer brought Jenks' night to a quick end with the White Sox clinging to a 6-5 lead. Sergio Santos came in and promptly walked Jason Repko, loading the bases for Delmon Young, who hit a shallow fly ball to center. It dropped in front of Alex Rios, bringing in the tying and, after Rios threw the ball in the vicinity of the third base dugout, the winning run. With that, the Twins had scored four runs in the ninth to win in walk-off style without making an out in the inning.
3. The Twins make up 5 runs in the ninth before beating the Phillies in 11 innings (June 19th at Philadelphia)
It was a wild night in Philadelphia, as the Twins and Phillies had more combined players hit home runs than in any other game in either 2009 or 2010. Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Joe Mauer, and Drew Butera all homered for Minnesota, while Philadelphia had five players each hit one, for a total of 9 different players. Down 9-4 in the ninth, the Twins looked dead to rights in the final game of the series. But four of those homers were yet to come, as Jim Thome followed an inning-opening single by Delmon Young with one of them. With a Nick Punto walk and a Denard Span single, the Twins trailed by just two with a man on and Mauer coming to the plate, but the Phillies had also gotten two outs in between. No matter, though, as Mauer tied the game with a 2-run blast. In the tenth, Butera and Ross Gload traded solo shots, keeping the game even at 10. An RBI infield single and a 2-run double by Young and Matt Tolbert, respectively, finally stretched the lead to 13-10 and gave the Twins the victory once Jon Rauch had taken care of business in the bottom of the inning.
2. Kubel's grand slam off Mariano Rivera lifts the Twins over the Yankees (May 16th at New York)
It was the Yankees again. You knew the story. The Twins go to Yankee Stadium, they get beat. Blowout, walk-off, it could have been either, but you knew they would lose. They lost all 10 games against the Yankees in 2009 (including playoffs), and lost the first 2 of this series. Since 2007, they had run up 11 consecutive losses at Yankee Stadium. So when the eighth inning opened with the Twins trailing 3-1, no one would have blamed you for turning the game off. Even when the Twins loaded the bases with two outs, it still seemed a foregone conclusion that they would lose, especially with Mariano Rivera about to enter the game. Then Jim Thome drew a walk, forcing home a run; but how many times had the Twins come close against the Yankees, only to lose in painful fashion? Well, Jason Kubel changed that pattern when he drilled a 1-0 pitch from Rivera into the seats in the right field corner for a grand slam. All of a sudden, Minnesota led New York, 6-3. After Brian Duensing, Matt Guerrier, and Jon Rauch combined to end the game with two scoreless innings, Twins fans could finally celebrate a win in Yankee Stadium for the first time since 2007.
1. Thome hits a walk-off homer against the White Sox (August 17th vs. Chicago)
The White Sox rode into Minneapolis as losers of six of their last eight games. The Twins opened the series on the heels of a 4-game winning streak. Minnesota's division lead was up to 3 games. A good series against the White Sox could utterly deflate them, whereas a bad series could have the opposite effect. After Matt Capps blew the save, allowing a game-tying solo home run to Alexei Ramirez, Jon Rauch gave up a go-ahead RBI single to Ramirez in the tenth inning. The Twins weren't done though. Delmon Young opened the bottom half of the frame with a single, and then Jim Thome strode to the plate. Matt Thornton delivered an 0-1 fastball that Thome absolutely crushed for the first walk-off home run in Target Field history, a no-doubter that gave the Twins a 7-6 victory. As Thome circled the bases, the rest of the team circled home plate, awaiting his impending arrival with gigantic grins on their faces. With the benefit of hindsight, it sure seemed like a turning point in the season for both teams.