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Days Gone By

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"Don't worry," said the man, "the Twins have come back against seemingly-insurmountable odds before.  They'll find a way."

It's true enough that the Twins have risen from the dead before.  In 2003, I spent much of the summer loudly editorializing against Shannon Stewart, before his spark (and Mike MacDougal's inability to throw in the same cardinal direction in which he had aimed) brought the Twins their second straight title.  In 2006, I officially gave up on the Twins by April 30, a decision I later very much regretted.

But the off day - and the Twins' struggling pre-vacation - seems to have knocked the optimism right out of just about everyone.  The talk is no longer about the acquisition of a Ty Wigginton or Dmitri Young.  It's become defeatist - who should we trade, and what can we get?

But before I succumb to such pessimism, I thought - why not examine the history pages?  Have the Twins truly been in such a hole in days gone by, or is this a good sign that they should be ready to unfurl the white flag?

On July 26,...

1965: Twins 61-36, 4.5 games ahead of Baltimore.  Killebrew had 20 homers, Hall was hitting .307, Oliva had the most hits of anyone in the league, and all was right with the world.  A month later the Twins were 8.5 ahead, the class of the American League, and nobody came close to catching them.

1969: Twins 60-39, 3 games ahead of Oakland.  At the time, the third-place club - the Seattle Pilots - were seventeen and a half back in the AL West.  The Athletics hung around until mid-September, but eventually Minnesota took it in a laugher, nine games ahead, 26 ahead of third place.

1970: Twins 60-33, 5 games ahead of California.  This time it was the Angels hanging around until mid-September before collapsing, giving Minnesota another walk away with the division.

1987: Twins 54-46, 2 games ahead of Oakland.  The Twins were busy performing magic that year, not least of which involved allowing more runs than they had scored and yet still leading the AL West.  Minnesota never broke away from the pack, but was just good enough to finish ahead of the rest of a weak division.

1991: Twins 57-40, 4.5 games ahead of Chicago.  The team was preparing for an August tear, winning 22 more by September 1st and running away from the rest of the division.

2002: Twins 62-42, 14 games ahead of second-place Chicago.  Minnesota had put together an outstanding July, just as the four other teams in the Central had put together months of comprehensive futility, and discussions had already turned to the playoff starting rotation and other pressing October questions.

2003: Twins 51-52, 5.5 games back of Kansas City.  The Royals, surprise division leaders at the All-Star Break, were heading resolutely back towards the pack.  The White Sox were preparing for their then-annual summer collapse.  But the Twins were playing their best baseball of the year, had won seven of ten, and as it turns out, had been only one bat - Stewart's - away from making the playoffs.

2004: Twins 55-44, 1.5 games ahead of Chicago.  The Sox collapsed again, winning only ten games in the month that followed, and the Twins needed do nothing spectacular to walk away with the division.

2005: Twins 53-46, 12 games back of Chicago.  Minnesota was just about where it always was at that time of year, only the White Sox had won every one-run game in every manner possible, and managed to leave their late-season collapse just late enough to outlast Cleveland for the division title.  The Twins would muddle through the rest of the way and finish, grumpily, sixteen games back.

2006: 59-41, 8.5 back of Detroit.  It would take a miracle, thought everyone, for the Twins to catch Detroit.  And it nearly did.

Ten division titles and one third-place finish in that list, and Minnesota came from behind to win the division exactly twice.  In fact, the most common thing the Twins did was get on top of the division and stay on top - in 1965, '69, '70, '91, 2002, and '04, the Twins had nothing more to do than watch happily as the competition fell away.

Does it mean they can't come back?  Hardly.  Does it seem unlikely at this point? You bet - no matter what the 2003 version of the team has to say.  (Remember, Kansas City and the White Sox went backwards that year, with Chicago losing about 35 games in September alone.)

And two comebacks in more than forty years - well, it's not as confidence-building as one might hope.