I’ll just come right out and say it: I’m a big fan of both the Home Run Derby & the All-Star Game. Though often I hear complaints about either event, I can legitimately say it is usually one of the highlights of baseball-summer for me. Perhaps it was my dad who really got me going on the Midsummer Classic (he has always made it a big ordeal, cooking up brats and a big spread), or perhaps it’s just that I love seeing all the greatest stars of my favorite sport gathered in one place. Either way, the time on the calendar that many fans seem to view as “four days without real baseball” seems to fly by for me.
Ten years ago, Justin Morneau of YOUR Minnesota Twins almost single-handedly took over both events. So, in the words of the immortal Duke, “think back, pilgrim”, as I take you on a little journey back in time...
America was a wild and wooly place a decade ago:
-The bottom was falling out of the stock market.
-Eli Manning was beating Tom Brady in the Super Bowl.
-A Senator from Illinois came seemingly out of nowhere to take the Presidency.
-No Country For Old Men swept the Academy Awards, Breaking Bad premiered on AMC, and Katy Perry kissed a girl (and she liked it).
-A newfangled thing called “HD” or “BluRay” was making you update your film collection yet again.
Closer to home here in Twins Territory, the Twins came into the Break with a record of 53-42. As astonishing as this seems from the current perspective, I remember being mainly disappointed with the team’s first-half performance despite sitting just one game behind the division-leading White Sox at the time. I guess the late-2000s cultivated a bit of the “spoiled Twins fan”, as four of the previous six seasons had resulted in division titles.
On the plus side, the ‘08 team was one that would get 500+ ABs from both M&M boys (in the same season!), see five starting pitchers tally 10+ wins, and feature perhaps the most dominant statistical season by any closer in team history.
This was also a season in which Mike Lamb, Adam Everett, Craig Monroe, & Brendan Harris all saw significant playing time. Oh yeah, and Livan Hernandez (LIVAN HERNANDEZ) was the Opening Day starter.
As is customary, the HR Derby was held first, in what can oddly now be referred to as “Middle” Yankee Stadium, I guess? What most people remember about that event is Josh Hamilton putting on perhaps the greatest show that competition has ever seen:
As exciting as that show of raw power was to watch (and it was), I’m always quick to remind people that it was “our guy”, Justin Morneau, who actually took home the hardware from the contest:
Despite being repeatedly called “Jason” by the ESPN announcers that night, Morneau had established himself on a national stage as a legitimate slugger.
Next up: the game itself. Joe Mauer was in the starting lineup behind the plate and batting 8th (he’d go 1-1 with a walk, of course), Joe Nathan was out in the pen (he’d pitch a clean frame on just 8 pitches), and Cristian Guzman saw time (albeit with the Washington Nats).
The NL got on the board first with a solo home run by Matt Holliday (off future-and-current-kinda Twin Ervin Santana) and looked to be cruising to victory until J.D. Drew’s two-run bomb off Edison Volquez tied the game in the 7th inning. Each squad traded runs in the 8th inning, and then every AS manager’s worst enemy: extra innings.
For six consecutive innings, the goose eggs piled up on the scoreboard. Both teams had chances to score, but neither could push anything across the plate. In the bottom of the 15th inning, with each side down to their final pitcher, Justin Morneau singled against Brad Lidge to lead off the inning. Eventually, the bases were loaded with one out and Michael Young (who had already seemingly made a career out of ending All-Star games) lofted a shallow fly to right field. Desperate to end the game, Morneau tagged from third and juuuuuust beat the throw from Corey Hart...
The AL wins! A night after capturing the HR Derby prize, Morneau had scored the winning run in perhaps the most dramatic (and officially the longest) All-Star game in history!
Who knows if this year’s HR Derby will feature anything as dramatic as Josh Hamilton’s round for the ages (and it won’t be won by a Twin, as none are participating). There almost certainly won’t be the kind of drama at Nationals Park as at Yankee Stadium a decade ago. What I can say, however, is that I’ll be watching it all (with my dad, probably cooking up some franks-n-beans) and reveling at both the pomp and circumstance and the opportunity to see all my favorite baseball players under the lights at one time.
What happened to those ‘08 Twins, you may ask? Well, that’s another story for another time...