BOTTOM OF THE TWELFTH: TWINS 3 2 – 2 ANGELS
These Twins are making a comeback, folks. Optimism is coming out of its winter hiding like a Baseball Groundhog Day, hope spreading around the upper midwest from Duluth to Fargo, Winona to Winnipeg.
First nine games of the season: L L L L L L L L L. But then, something changed.
On Friday, Minnesota came back from down 4-2, with late win thanks to Byung-Ho Park and an RBI double in the 8th—a player they’re now calling the oddly sexual “Park Bang,” an apparent crossover nickname from his time in the Korean league (Sidenote: the only popular result for this term on YouTube turns out to be Gorky Park’s “Bang,” a sort of Russian Bon Jovi / Poison knockoff from 1989. Very strange.) Then, on Saturday, Park came to the rescue again with another narrow win, he and Oswaldo Arcia each hitting solo home runs in the 8th to win 6-4, after again being down 4-2.
Where is it?
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) April 16, 2016
So tonight they’re going for the sweep, their third win on the season, and a small step closer to erasing the woeful mark of an 0-9 start.
It would end up taking extra innings.
The pitching held up all game after going down 2-0 early, and the Twins inched back into it, tying the game—once again in the 8th inning—with a small-ball rally.
Now, the 12th. Joe Mauer at the bat, long-time twin cities star, hoping to end things before losing the chance with the top of the Angels order due up in the 13th.
Cory Rasmus on the mound for L.A., who’s got nasty stuff, and—I had to look this up—is the younger brother of Houston’s Colby Rasmus. How many Rasmusses can be out there, really?
There’s a live organist playing as Mauer steps into the box, a nice touch I wouldn’t expect from a brand new stadium.
And this Twins club is emerging from a sort of transition period: Gone are the days of the indoor Metrodome and the “baggie” covering the outfield walls; gone are the days of highlight-reel catches from Torii Hunter; gone are the days of playing (and unfortunately losing to) the Yankees seemingly every year in the ALDS; and gone are the days of the great Ron Gardenhire at the helm (update: today he was re-hired as special assistant to the GM), always leading Twins teams to, well, not any sort of promised land, but a level of consistent success the current squad can now only hope for.
So there’s big change, but then there’s Joe Mauer—St. Paul’s greatest son, the hometown kid, still around after 12 seasons with the Twins. He steps in against Rasmus, exhaling calmly and setting up for the chance to bring home a win.
The announcers discuss two facts here that surprise me:
1: Joe Mauer only has 120 career home runs?
2: Joe Mauer has never hit a walk-off home run?
Nasty curveball in the dirt, but Mauer checks his swing. 2-2 count. Next pitch high. 3-2.
The TV camera now cuts to two fans in the outfield bleachers, the backs of their t-shirts reading MINNIE and PAUL for the names, like an animate pair of the actual Twin Cities.
Back on the field: ball four. A slider curls outside, and Mauer trots on to first.
I’m now looking at the backstop behind Byron Buxton, who’s walking up to the plate, thinking: If someone’s done some sort of market research and found an advertising trick of subliminal color-coded advertising, then whoever’s behind this is a genius—you have the Twins, wearing the alternate red unis (with some blue), the Angels wearing red, the Twins logo painted on the grass in red white and blue, and three red signs behind home plate advertising, respectively, the Mayo Clinic, Target Field, and the upcoming Twins series. And now they’ve got me writing about it. Gotta snap out of the advertising wormhole. Back to Buxton.
He fouls a bunt up high behind home plate, then pulls back from another bunt attempt on the next pitch, and on the following pitch he pulls back yet again. 3-1 count now, Buxton looking down to third for the sign.
He goes for it again, getting down a hard bunt toward first, and C.J. Cron in one motion bends down, gloves the ball, spins, and whips it to second, as Mauer slides in and is called out. Long review period by the umps, and they uphold the call—Mauer out, Buxton on first with the fielder’s choice. And Mike Scioscia points to the bullpen for Huston Street.
Eduardo Escobar comes up now, lining a pitch to center on a hit-and-run, as Buxton sprints past second, Mike Trout makes the catch and then cannon-throws the ball to first, just barely missing the double play, with Buxton’s speed far and away the best on the field.
Rally chances preserved.
Now: here comes Oswaldo Arcia, striding up to the plate—Saturday’s hero. But he’s up with two outs, nothing happening, everything looking like we’re heading for the 13th.
Street juggles the ball in his palm behind his back, looking for the sign, enters into a tense windup, and whips the ball home.
Arcia fouls it off, 2-1 count. And on the next pitch: Buxton’s off for second!! Safe with the throw from Carlos Perez, just under the tag.
Now, finally, hopefully, luckily, we’ve got something going.
Arcia, on the next pitch, hits a long fly ball, going foul.
Wait, no—staying fair?
It’s soaring down the line, switching quickly from routine late-afternoon fly-ball into a suddenly dangerous hit, as Rafael Ortega sprints into the corner trying for the game-saving dive and he’s missed it—the ball sneaks down safely onto the warning track like a tennis lob lofted perfectly onto the opposite service line.
Buxton rushes home for the win, and Target Stadium erupts as the Twins bench run out to the field to celebrate—let us not forget—just the third win out of twelve games on the season. A bright flash of red streaks out from the dugout, spreading out into a dozen blurs of running, hugging, happy jerseys mobbing together on the edge of the infield, chasing the man of the hour, Oswaldo Arcia, with a big sloshing tank of ice-water Gatorade. It’s the first hit Street has allowed all year long, and the first great series for Arcia, who hasn’t yet had the playing time for such a chance.
He walks it off.
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) April 17, 2016
The Twins are 3-9. They’re in last place. But it’s a start. It’s a turning point. It is, after all, a sweep.
Come June these guys just might still be around. It is, as the British say, still early days yet.