As Orlando Cabrera doubled up Magglio Ordonez in the top of the 9th, one could swear seeing Jack Morris walk off the mound with an exhilirating fist pump, while those lucky enough to glance at first base would see shades of Kent Hrbek – arms raised in celebration.
And after his two run shot to take the lead in the 7th, one could have doubtlessly heard the crowd’s eruption after Kirby Puckett’s Game 6 homerun.
And as Alexi Casilla came to the plate in the bottom of the 12th, the phantom of Gene Larkin revisited the hallowed ground, as the ball reached the outfield and the winning runner sunk into a sea of white pinstripes.
The ghosts of Metrodome past came out for one last night. One spectacular night. And strutted their stuff one final time.
The biggest night of baseball this year was a heavyweight fight. With critical moment after critical moment, match-point after match-point, and epic out after epic out; this game was everything everyone wanted out of a game 163. But where to begin? Simply a 20-year old rookie pitcher’s gutsy start, lasting well into the 6th inning, giving up a mere one ER, should suffice as a quality storyline. And if that’s not enough, maybe we can throw in a tiebreaking late inning homerun by a player acquired at the trade dealine, who simply wanted to get be a part of a winning team? And if that doesn’t quite do it, lets set a stage with runners on the corners, no outs, top of the ninth, and strike out a guy who K’s once every four games a second time in the evening – and then double up a guy who’s hit over .500 in his last 12 games on a line out.
And that’s the ballgame. Right? Is that not enough?
Is having a guy who has had 17 career hits and a lifetime .217 average step to the plate in extra innings and deliver a huge 10th inning hit for a team seeing their title hopes slip away believable? Is then following that up with having a guy, just as unlikely as the last, step up in the bottom of that same inning to send in the tying run on a single hit through a hole you couldn’t throw a ball through realistic?
That should do. Wait, it’s only 8:30 central time – we’re not ready to turn our television sets off yet. Let’s keep this game going.
Lets have a relief pitcher who’s ERA approached 6.00…in the minor leagues…take the mound, with bases-loaded, full count, and strike out a guy who swung on a pitch that fell out of the zone. And then lets have an outfielder, exiled from his leadoff role and starting position at the same time last season, get on base with a leadoff single into left field. If that’s not enough, finally, we’ll close this game out with a promising guy who has had a terrible year by every barometer, who’s been destined to the bench indefinitely, who’s been up and down the farm system all year, come in and deliver a game winning single into right field, erupting a record crowd into euphoria.
You can shut your televisions off now. But I won’t blame you if you keep watching post-game in shock.
But it was much more than the game deciding plays. It was a storyline from the start. It was a patented ‘never-say-die” Twins team on a tear after losing their 2006 AL MVP, their starting third basemen, and their top pitcher during the season to injury: not to mention a complete collapse of their opening day starting rotation. It was a Tigers team, trying to rally a city attempting to recover from a collapse of their own, hoping desperately that they could avoid an epic fall from the top of the standings after holding onto it for the past five full months.
It was the small battles within the war that set the stage. It was Cuddyer’s triple that setup the bottom of the 10th due in great part to the failed effort of an outfielder trying to make a play on the ball. It was Nick Punto fouling off his 4th straight foul-ball en-route to a walk before Cabrera’s two run homerun. It Justin Morneau tirelessly cheering from the bench as he’s done all month and it was Orlando Cabrera showing us the reason he came to Minnesota was to win. It was Ron Gardenhire revealing his rare in-game emotion, it was Jesse Crain finding his stuff at the perfect time, and it was a record crowd erupting – refusing to let their temple of baseball go quietly into the night.
Many will say this was the best baseball game played this season, perhaps one of the best baseball games played ever. The test of time will tell as rarely do games even of this magnitude hold memory if a championship does not ensue, however, the comparisons are irrelevant. What the Twins and their fans did was something special, something that takes more than money, but character. Perhaps it will be a moment that may be forgotten in time by the public, but will be remembered in the hearts of the fans of Minnesota for ages. It was a great moment, a spectacular moment, and that as fans is all we can hope for.