Of the many striking moments during the farewell-to-the-Metrodome ceremony after the Twins’ game Sunday, three stand out, and not all for the same reason:
• Radio announcer John Gordon’s voice broke as he spoke of the late Kirby Puckett, the only deceased member of the all-Metrodome team.
• Johan Santana’s brief video acknowledgement was classy, though whoever plopped a Mets cap on his head needs to learn that some things are better left unworn.
• Then we had Kent Hrbek, the Bloomington kid, the big-bellied regular guy, who playfully ragged the current Twins for adding a couple of unscheduled days to the Metrodome’s major-league baseball life. “You guys messed everything up,” Hrbek said. “We’ve got to come back Tuesday and drink some more beer!”
A big Metrodome exit
What the hell. Typical Dome: They can’t even close the place right. Try to bring down the curtain, and it jams. But if you’re going to out, might as well do it in a big way.
Nothing these Twins do surprises me anymore. Forgive the coarseness of the analogy, but the piranhas of 2006 are the cockroaches of 2009. You can’t kill ’em, and they will not go away. Getting to this point after stumbling around .500 all season defies explanation, though the Colorado Rockies’s September 2007 run shows the value of three hot weeks in a close race.
Pick your favorite Twins deficit: Seven games back of Detroit on Sept. 6, 5-1/2 games back on Sept. 12 (after the last game Justin Morneau played), and three games back with four to play. Somehow, the Twins persevered, winning their last four games and 16 of 20 without Morneau to tie Detroit and take it to game No. 163. Again.
“I really didn’t think we could do that again this year, especially where we were a couple of weeks ago,” said right fielder Jason Kubel, who keyed Sunday’s 13-4 drubbing of Kansas City with a pair of three-run homers.
All that whining and crying by the Twins last year got Major League Baseball to eliminate the coin flip deciding home field for tie breakers and base it on head-to-head competition. Now, it’s easy: The Twins won the season series from the Tigers, 11-7, so they host Tuesday afternoon. The home team is 4-for-4 in American League tie breakers.
“I’m not going to get on Major League Baseball,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “They’ve got plenty of my money [in fines].”
All in all, this was some weekend. Delmon Young wiped out two years of singles-hitting and indifferent fielding with 10 RBI over three stunning games: His first career grand slam in the first inning on Friday, a big three-run double Saturday, and two homers on Sunday, his first multi-homer game as a Twin. We even learned that the usually guarded Young can be clever and funny when he wants to be, a side he rarely shows reporters.
Saturday, Young said his biggest problem with a tie breaker game is deciding how much clothing to bring to the ballpark for the road trip. Asked about Joe Mauer’s big RBI single against Zack Greinke, when Mauer pulled a nasty 95 mph inside fastball to break a scoreless tie, Young offered this about the two Mauer-Greinke matchups: “Cy Young beat him in Kansas City, and the MVP beat him in this park. They took care of each other in their home ballpark. I want to see them at a neutral field now.”
Paul O’Neill, the former Yankee, once said that in every championship season, you can find five critical games that could turn the season either way. The Greinke game, an eventual 5-4 victory decided on yet another big Michael Cuddyer home run, was one of them. That afternoon, backup catcher Mike Redmond, a veteran of the Twins’ 2006 run, sat at his locker and mused about the matchup against the likely American League Cy Young Award winner. Even Redmond had to wonder if the Twins, shut down by Greinke the week before in Kansas City, could beat him.
“I’m a big believer in fate,” he said. “If we can beat this guy today, maybe it’s fate. If we can beat this guy, with the Metrodome going out and all that, maybe it’s meant to be.”
Later, Mauer showed how great a hitter he is. Twice in Kansas City, Greinke fanned Mauer on sliders. Mauer remembered that in his big at-bat in the sixth, taking an 0-2 slider before pulling a fastball. That hit was just as impressive as the 98 mph Justin Verlander fastball at his hands Mauer turned on last Tuesday night for a double to right, a hit that Verlander, interviewed by Jack Curry of The New York Times, called “a joke,” and meant it as a compliment. Verlander couldn’t fathom how Mauer kept it fair without breaking his bat.
(Hint: That’s why the .364-hitting Mauer is about to win his third batting title. If he finishes at .363 or better, Mauer will own the highest average by a catcher for a single season.)
And here are some more numbers to chew on. Cuddyer, after replacing Morneau at first base, has eight homers in his last 18 games. Young, since Sept. 1, is batting .344 in 25 games with four homers and 15 RBI. And Orlando Cabrera, the glue of this infield even with his diminishing range, owns a .418 average through a 15-game hitting streak that could not come at a better time. Sunday, Cabrera staked a claim as perhaps the last Twin to lose a ball in the Metrodome roof, a John Buck popup in the fourth that fell for a single.
“I don’t have a lot of answers, other than saying we started playing really good baseball and maintained it until the end of the season,” Gardenhire said. “We felt if we got on a run, we could catch people.”
And Denard Span, whose sliding catch in the ninth inning Saturday after moving from center to right saved Joe Nathan and Twins fans from a potent dose of agita, felt relieved the Twins won with so many players from the 1987 and 1991 world championship teams on hand.
“I was a little nervous the last few days, wanting to show those guys we play the game the right way,” Span said. “It showed them we’re the same type team as in ’87 and ’91. And hopefully, we can have the same result.”