Let’s Hear It Now For the Team that Came to Play

In April, fans of the Minnesota Twins had high hopes. The team lost a one-game playoff for the AL Central title in 2008, but we had put together a starting rotation with five good young pitchers and the team featured established stars like Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer complemented by role players like Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel and up and comers like Denard Span and Carlos Gomez. Plus, we had Joe Nathan in the bullpen and signed Joe Crede in the off-season to fill a hole at third base. As I said, Twins fans had high hopes.
But the season proved to be a frustrating one. The Twins weren’t bad; they were never more than three games below .500. But they weren’t very good either; until the last couple of weeks, they were never more than three or four games over .500. They couldn’t hit on all cylinders. The starting rotation came apart at the seams: by the end of the season, as a result of injury and ineptitude, only two of the five projected starters were still in the rotation. Sometimes the bats went quiet, and sometimes the wheels came off the bullpen. What with one thing and another, the Twins were never able to rip off the sort of winning streak that would put decisive distance between them and .500.
Still, because the AL Central is mediocre, they were never too far off the pace, either. It looked like the end was near when Justin Morneau, the team’s top slugger, went down with a stress fracture in his back. This forced Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to move Cuddyer from right field to first base, insert Jason Kubel in right full-time, and play the enigmatic and until now disappointing Delmon Young every day in left.
Amazingly, the team caught fire, winning 16 of their last 20 games. Twins fans have long been looking forward to this weekend as the Metrodome’s swan song. Next year, the team moves into brand-new Target Field. Don’t ask about the pine trees; the less said, the better:
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To celebrate the end of 28 years in the Metrodome, the team invited players on past teams–Frank Viola, Tom Brunansky, Greg Gagne, Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, and many more–to return for the weekend. I’ll have more to say about that when the Metrodome is officially finished as a MLB venue. For now, let’s just note that no one could have foreseen how much fun this weekend’s series against the Kansas City Royals would prove to be.
The Twins beat the Royals 10-7 on Friday. Yesterday, they started out a game behind the Tigers. But they won 5-4 while the Tigers lost to the White Sox 5-1, so the Twins tied for the division lead. Today, the Tigers beat the Sox 5-3 while the Twins exploded with five home runs, clobbering the Royals 13-4. A crowd of over 50,000–the Metrodome has been sold out for months, in anticipation of the last baseball game ever played there–cheered them on. It was reminiscent of past playoff series at the Dome.
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Here, Delmon Young crushes one of his two line-drive home runs:
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Jason Kubel hit two three-run homers today and went over 100 RBIs for the season. Twins fans think our team has more fun than most; maybe it’s an illusion, but this is what our dugout looks like:
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So the last regular-season game at the Dome has been pushed back to Tuesday, the one-game playoff with Detroit. I can’t be there, as I’ll be traveling on business as usual during the week. But maybe I’ll be able to slip a couple of kids into the audience for what may or may not be the last major league baseball game played in the Metrodome. So, all together now: Cheer for the Minnesota Twins today!

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