All the best stories are told in threes. It took three movies for Marty McFly to get the timelines sorted out, three books for Frodo Baggins to arrive at Mordor, and three seasons to figure out just what in the hell HBO’s The Leftovers was all about.
Over the course of this Twins season, I’ve looked back ten years on Justin Morneau’s All-Star dominance and a late-season sweep over the Pale Hose. The final chapter in that saga? As Rocky Balboa said...
With the 2018 season featuring not one but two extra contests to decide division winners (Cubs/Brewers & Rockies/Dodgers), it seems fitting for one more look back at how 2008 came to a close. Let’s pick up right where we left off:
After that stunning sweep of the White Sox at the Dome, Chicago dropped two of three to the Cleveland Indians. All the Twins had to do to snatch the division crown was take two games from a Kansas City Royals team (at home, no less) that would ultimately finish 75-87. Alas, the Twins dropped the first two games of that series before salvaging the “season finale”. When the Sox beat the Detroit Tigers in a rain-makeup game the next day, it put both teams at an identical 88-74 record. For the first time in Twins franchise history, an extra game would be needed to decide who advanced to the playoffs and who packed their bags.
The first thing I remember about 163 ‘08 is the Chicago Black Out (Sox fans wearing all black to the game). To this day, I don’t think I’ve seen a stadium of fans as “all-in” as that particular night. A little intimidating, to say the least.
The Twins sent Nick Blackburn to the mound, and he pitched the game of his life (6.1 IP, 1 ER). For a guy whose modus operandi was typically “give up a lot of hits and hope to scrape by on ground-ball double plays”, he was actually overpowering that night. Unfortunately, John Danks (8 IP, 0 ER) was even better. Not only did Danks relegate one of the Twins’ key offensive weapons (Jason Kubel) to the bench, as Kubes struggled mightily against southpaws, but he stymied the likes of Denard Span, Joe Mauer, & Justin Morneau (also port-siders).
In all honesty, though, this game was decided by two plays...
- Big Jim Thome doing what Big Jim Thome does. Even before he became the Man with the Ox in the Batter’s Box, he was one of the (few) White Sox I had any respect for (Paul Konerko being the only other).
2. Ken Griffey Jr., winding down his HOF career, gunning down Michael Cuddyer at home plate. Nothing wrong with sending Cuddyer in that situation, IMHO, as it took a perfect throw to get him and that’s exactly what The Kid provided (with old friend A.J. Pierzynski hanging on after contact).
1-0. One-freaking-nothing. Two teams tied after 162 games, and the season turns on one digit in #163. While at the time I was devastated that the Twins lost out to the Sox, of all teams, I eventually grew to understand that losing out to a Thome HR wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. It was an incredible game from start to finish and, to use a little manager-speak, Chicago just “made a couple more plays” than Minnesota.
It’s been fun looking back at the 2008 season and remembering how much differently (for better or for worse) I viewed the Twins and baseball in general at that time. Primarily, the fact that 88 wins could seem like a colossal disappointment. There was absolutely NO WAY 2009 could ever top that kind of drama, win or lose, right? Right?!