Last season on Twinkie Town—said in my best movie trailer voice—I did a series of posts reaching back into the archives of Twins history (via my own memory banks). This year I’m continuing that tradition, and since everyone likes round-number remembrances the first installment will take us back to the beginning of the 2009 season. Well, almost the beginning...
Each season, much ado is made about Opening Day. The winter has been long and baseball comes along right when one’s sanity is at the breaking point. There’s pomp, circumstance, ceremony, and maybe even a renegade eagle. Plus, no team wants to start out 0-1.
I’ve attended two Twins home openers, and my memories of both are “this is freezing” and “the Twins really suck today”. Seeing Vance Worley toe the rubber on one of those occasions did not help.
But what about game number two? That’s when the season really settles in and the day-in, day-out routine begins. Gone are the ceremonial trappings and—often—a decent share of the paying customers. Now it’s time for the focus to be put squarely on the baseball itself.
In 2009, I was at the second home game of the season and ended up being treated to a ninth-inning comeback I will never forget:
The Twins drew the Seattle Mariners at the Dome to open ‘09 and fell 6-1 on Opening Day. No shame in succumbing to King Felix Hernandez, though, so it was on to Game #2 and a chance to even the record.
Sitting down the right field line in those seats turned towards home plate (adjacent to the Baggie), I watched the M’s build a 4-0 early lead off of Nick Blackburn. The Twins rallied back in the fifth inning with run-scoring hits from Denard Span & Michael Cuddyer, cutting the deficit to 4-3, where it stayed going into the ninth.
When Franklin Gutierrez singled in a run off Luis Ayala to push the lead to 5-3, I started to lose hope. This was not helped by two quick outs—a Joe Crede strikeout and a Delmon Young fly-out—recorded by Mariner closer Brandon Morrow. The Twins’ Win Expectancy at this point? 2%.
Carlos Gomez represented our last hope, but there ended up being another, as he ran the count to 3-2 and drew a walk. What with Gomez’s penchant for swinging at everything, I should have known right then that something special might be afoot.
Jason Kubel then ambled to the plate and let four wide ones go by without taking the bat off his shoulder.
Nick Punto, the next scheduled hitter, was called back to the dugout in favor of Brian Buscher. The Busch-man also worked a full count...and took the third consecutive walk.
Though too caught up in the bases-loaded moment to distinctly recall, I’m sure the Metrodome Jumbotron was flashing its ominous warning to opposing pitchers...
Speaking of, the Mariners swapped out Morrow for Miguel Batista at this point, presumably hoping for some pitches to cross home plate. Technically, this is exactly what happened, as Batista threw 3 pitches—all strikes—to end the game: the second was chopped to third by Span and Adrian Beltre had no play. 5-4 Mariners. The third was immediately jumped on by Alexi Casilla and pounded right up the middle. Brendan Harris (running for Kubel) scored, Buscher chugged in behind him and, well, would you look at that...Twins win 6-5!!!
Because it transpired so early in the season, this game will never go down in the history books. We tend to remember the dramatics when they happen in September or October, not early April. For me, however, it remains one of the greatest ninth-inning comebacks I have ever seen. Two outs, down by two, no one on, and twice down to the last strike. Somehow, the home team found a way to get it done.
So even after the Twins won their ‘19 opener, remember that baseball is a long season and the next game will come soon enough. With the pressure off and the nerves settled, Game two may even eclipse Game one in terms of overall quality. Ten years ago, that is exactly what happened.