A Season Charmed

FINAL STANDINGS

Team          W    L   GB
Minnesota    96   66   --
Detroit      95   67    1
Chicago      90   72    6
Cleveland    78   84   18
Kansas City  62  100   34

25-33 (.431) on June 7.  71-33 (.683) since June 8.  One Major League Baseball batting champion.  One American League Cy Young.  One deserving Most Valuable Player.  Sixteen unbelievable weeks.  Team batting average of .287 (1st in MLB).  Team ERA of 3.95 (2nd in American League).  1,164 strikeouts recorded (1st in American League, tied).  Twelve games back in the middle of July.  Three game sweep of the Tigers by the Royals.

No matter which numbers you look at, which streaks, which stories, it doesn't make what happened Sunday afternoon any more believable.  On the last day of the season, the Twins managed to fend off the Chicago White Sox for the victory that they needed simply to qualify themselves for the division title.  On top of this, the 100-loss Kansas City Royals came back from a 6-0 deficit to tie the game at 7, ended up in extra innings, and eventually took Detroit out at the knees.

What A Season...

I have to admit that at this point I'm feeling just a bit delirious.  All afternoon, watching the Twins play and trying to grasp exactly how monumental this run has been, it just made sense that one of the league's worst teams would come back and beat one of the league's best teams.  On so many nights and for so many reasons, 2006 has been a season charmed for the Minnesota Twins.

It's not correct to say that "everything has worked out", because it hasn't.  Tony Batista and Juan Castro were dead weights.  Kyle Lohse had to be kicked out.  Rondell White was a disappointment for most of the season.  Brad Radke's arm almost fell off, Francisco Liriano's arm did fall off and Shannon Stewart still couldn't shake the injury bug.

In spite of all these things, it was the turnaround and the change that came up positive.  Nick Punto, Jason Tyner, Boof Bonser, Pat Neshek and Michael Cuddyer all played huge roles in the success of the team.  Replacements all seemed to work out, the stars who were supposed to shine did so, and still nothing came easily.

Even though the Twins were streaking in June and July, both Chicago AND Detroit kept pace.  On October 1, the Twins took over sole possession of first place, but it wasn't as if the Tigers or White Sox simply layed down and the Twins took the title from two dead teams.  Minnesota still had to fight tooth and nail for every game they gained in the standings, and with every beautiful and seemingly natural victory the magic surrounding this team multiplied.

Perhaps that's what makes this season so special.  Nothing was given.  The Twins didn't always win when they needed to, the Tigers didn't always lose when it was convenient.  It was the fact that no matter how dark things could have seemed, the team didn't give in.  So often there was a hero was born, or someone stepped in to do the job of a player who was more than marginally better.  Even on nights when the Twins couldn't get it done, rarely were there games when you didn't believe they could come back and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

There's Santana, Mauer, Morneau and Nathan, but everyone on this team has had the chance to be the star of the game.  Everyone on this team has their role to play.

This team has the mental makeup, the starpower and the belief they can succeed.

Sunday afternoon was the culmination of the greatest summer of baseball I've ever been witness to.  It's further proof that anything, yes, ANYTHING can happen in the great game of baseball.

Game 162

It's a long season; it's hard to believe that with that many games, everything boils down to the very last one.  I guess they were right...every game DOES count.

With Carlos Silva on the mound, there certainly weren't going to be any guarantees about how long the Twins could stay in the game.  He's been awfully awful his last two starts, and coming off of four days rest there was even more reason to doubt how effective he could be.

But, instead of turning in another piss-poor performance, he turned in his biggest outing of the 2006 campaign.  After surrendering one run to the White Sox in the first inning, he proceeded to shut Chicago's offense down.  For the rest of his appearance, he was absolutely solid.  Five hits, three strikeouts, two walks and one run allowed over 5.1 innings.  As he was lifted in the top of the sixth the entire fan base stood and applauded Silva's effort.  He lifted his hat to the crowd as he left the field of play, and for the first time in a long time, I believed in Carlo Silva.

Torii Hunter's 31st homer of the season broke a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the fourth, giving the Twins all the run support they'd need.  The two RBI gave him 98 for the season, just four shy of his career high from 2003.  Justin Morneau, feeling the pressure as chants of M-V-P...M-V-P rained down from the crowd, was 1-for-4 with an RBI, giving him 130 and tying him for the most RBI by a Canadian-born baseball player in a season.  The player he tied is Larry Walker.  Pretty good company, Justin.

The offensive display of the game, however, came Joe Mauer.  Entering the day in legitimate danger of being overtaken in the race for the batting title by both Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter, Mauer's performance on Sunday would dictate whether or not he could be caught.  After striking out in his first at-bat, he took outside pitches the other way in his next two trips to the plate; one went for a double.  As the Yankees went final and it was announced that Joe was not going to be caught by either of the Yankee bats, the crowd went crazy for the second time.  Joe Mauer was going to finish the season with the best batting average in the whole of baseball; he was going to be the first American League catcher to ever win the batting title.  With the crowd clammoring on, Joe found the cap he had lost, and came out of the dugout.  Just like Silva, in a classy and classic baseball salute to the fans, Mauer raised his cap to the adoring crowd.  Sunday was filled with beautiful moments, and this was one of the most special.

The final highlight of the day was in the top of he sixth inning, with Dennys Reyes in to relieve Silva.  Leading 4-1 and with the White Sox threatening, Reyes snagged a bouncer back to the mound and threw to second base.  Bartlett covered, reaching a bit for the relay, and was able to gun the ball to first to complete the 1-6-3 double play.  The play ended the inning and ended the last real Chicago threat.  Momentum swung entirely into the Twins' favor, and Reyes left the game with the crowd in a frenzy.

Oakland

I still haven't completely wrapped my head around this.  We, the Minnesota Twins, who were blocked for so long by Chicago and Detroit even when we were winning, bagged the division crown on the season's last day.  This means we take on the Athletics instead of the Yankees; it also means they come to us for this round.

A couple of days ago I wrote how I hoped we had the Yankees.  Well, now it's a moot point, but I wanted New York because I didn't want anything to come easy...because nothing this season has come easy.  Certainly this isn't meant to be ANY disrespect to the Athletics, who I believe are the team best suited to take down the Twins, it's just that Minnesota has had such a hard time with New York in the postseason in recent history.  Defeating New York was, in my mind, a way to not only take down a great ball club but to also put to rest any doubts that our Twins are for real.

As it goes, though, we have the Athletics.  Billy Beane and his staff have been to the 2000's what the Braves were to the early 90's, in the fact that they're always playing in October, have good pitching, and are always a real threat.  Tomorrow I'll get more into a preview of the upcoming series, but for now, suffice it to say I'm excited.  The Twins were good from 2002-2004, but for the first time I believe we have a legitimate shot at taking home the World Series title.  Those three seasons I was a bit wary of the competition; this season the competition should be wary of us.

Oakland doesn't have the East Coast offense, but they have a nice offense and some great pitchers.  I'll see you tonight for a glance at the series to come.

Hopefully you enjoyed Sunday's amazing afternoon, like I did. The regular schedule has come to a close, but this charmed season isn't over yet. Enjoy your Monday, and oh yes...GO TWINS.

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