The 2008 Minnesota Twins started the season by beating the then-Anaheim Angels at the Metrodome. Carlos Gomez looked like a return-on-investment alone from the Johan Santana trade, and Joe Nathan struck out recently-departed Torii Hunter in the ninth inning.
After a 2007 season that had been a severe disappointment, ‘08 looked to be on the right track.
Not so fast.
Despite a magical All-Star game showing for Justin Morneau, the ‘08 Twins entered the final week of the season at 85 wins and two-and-a-half GB the division-leading White Sox. While today’s Twins fans might be salivating for that type of late-season opportunity, the late oughts were a different time. T.I. (before being crowned Joe Mauer’s hype man) was on the radio spittin’ “Whatever You Like”, and Twins fans were used to exactly that. This was a team that had recently won back-to-back-to-back division titles, and another (‘06) that was the most improbable in baseball history. We were used to winning, and for two straight years that hadn’t exactly been happening to the usual standards.
The only saving grace? A three-game series with the Pale Hose in the Dome. Us vs. them in the showdown that would likely distribute the AL Central crown.
I’d like to say I was in attendance for Game 1 strictly due to the hype, but I was in town for more practical matters: the Twins Job & Internship Fair. You see, I had recently finished my undergraduate studies and after a summer of lifeguarding, teaching swimming lessons, and generally decompressing following 17 straight years of education, it was time to look to the future. The admission to that job fair was a $25 ticket that came with a free hot dog & soda.
While the job fair was a bust (showing up in a Joe Nathan jersey while the rest of the future interns were in suits and ties probably didn’t help) I did get to see the Twins win 9-3. Scott Baker was fantastic, while both Jason Kubel & Delmon Young hammered out three hits and a homer each. I figured that I’d make the three-hour drive back to Fergus Falls the next morning and catch the final two games of the series on TV.
But that was before I got the call (on my grandparents’ landline phone they’ve had since the 1970s, if not earlier) from my Aunt, who had been stricken with Twins Fever. So, instead of gassing up my ‘92 Ford F-150, I found myself back inside the Dome for Game 2.
Once again the Twins prevailed, this time by a much tighter 3-2 margin. Nick Blackburn somehow scattered eight hits over five innings to only allow two runs (so basically just being Nick Blackburn), and then Breslow-Bonser-Mijares-Nathan didn’t allow the Sox on the board again. Delmon banged out three more hits, Brendan Harris (perhaps my least-favorite Twin of all-time, Jesse Crain excluded) added two more, and Carlos Gomez robbed A.J. Pierzynski of what looked to be a sure extra-base hit in the ninth inning. The Twins were now just a half game behind the Sox, with one more big showdown left.
Yet again, I prepared to catch that finale from my couch. Yet again, fate intervened in the form of my grandmother’s brother, who happened to have two tickets to that night’s game...and needed to unload two more.
Now, most of the games I go to I make sure to arrive in plenty of time for the first pitch. Due to some scheduling conflicts, however, I was dropped off at Kirby Puckett Place at about 6:50 and remember running up the aisle to join the other 43,600 fans in attendance that night. Also, these were the worst seats I had ever found myself in for a Twins game. Down the right field line in the upper deck, one row from the giant blowers.
The game didn’t start out any more positive than the sprint up the aisle or the nosebleed seats. After the top of the fourth inning, the Sox were up 6-1 and had knocked Kevin Slowey out of the game (literally, a ball came up the middle and clanged off him). But then, Denard Span & Carlos Gomez stepped up and delivered perhaps the most incredible two-man show in Metrodome regular-season history:
- Bottom of the 4th: Gomez triples & Span drives him in with a double. 6-3 Sox lead.
- Bottom of the 6th: Gomez triples & Span bunts him in. 6-4 Sox.
- Bottom of the 8th: Gomez singles, scoring Harris (okay, maybe I don’t hate Brendan’s guts at this point).
Once again, Span stepped to the plate with the opportunity to tie the game (or at least keep the line moving):
To this day. To this very day. I still do not quite understand how Span’s bouncer got between Paul Konerko & the first base line. But it did. I saw it with my own two eyes.
I’m usually a pretty passive watcher of sports, even in a live scenario. Years of Vikings fandom has likely conditioned me to expect the worst outcome instead of cheering for the best. In that moment, though, it all went out the window. For the first (and thus far only) time in my life, I jumped out of my seat and literally leapt straight up into the air when I saw Gomez sliding across home plate. I will never forget that moment as long as I live.
Alexi Casilla winning it on a 10th-inning single? That almost seemed anti-climactic for what had come before.
I walked (no, no, was blown) out of the Dome that night in a state of unreality. Had this really happened? Had the Twins really swept the rival Sox and moved into first place with just three games left to play? Yes, and yes.
What happened during those final “three” contests? Again, perhaps another story for another day...