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All-Time Twins Tournament, Johnson Round, Day 1: Two walk-off homers jumpstart bracket

A pair of franchise Hall of Famers provide late-inning heroics.

1991 World Series
Exactly who you thought would come through in the clutch.
Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images

The first set of games were above and beyond what I’d expected from this tournament. Let’s dive in.

(Each day of the tournament, I will let you know which game I played through, giving strategy for both teams. The rest were entirely simulated by the computer.)

1 vs. 16 (played)

(16) ‘17 Twins 4
(1) ‘91 Twins 5
‘91 leads 1-0

Down two runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Kirby Puckett blasted a walk-off three-run to give top-seeded ‘91 a bracket-opening victory.

With the game tied 2-2 entering the ninth, ‘17 put men on the corners against ‘91’s Carl Willis. Terry Leach entered the game, but Miguel Sano drove in one on a sacrifice fly and Eduardo Escobar singled home another, giving ‘17 a two-run advantage.

After Taylor Rogers came in to start the home half of the ninth. pinch hitter Scott Leius doubled, and after a strikeout, Chuck Knoblauch walked to bring the winning run to the plate. Closer Trevor Hildenberger entered and promptly struck out Shane Mack, but Puckett lined a 2-0 slider over the wall in left-center to bring a sudden turnabout to the bracket’s opening game.

Stars of the Game:
‘17 — 3B Eduardo Escobar: 4-5, R, 2 RBI, HR
‘91 — CF Kirby Puckett: 3-5, R, 4 RBI, 2B, walk-off three-run HR

8 vs. 9

(9) ‘25 Senators 5
(8) ‘10 Twins 3
-11 innings-
‘25 leads 1-0

Despite holding ‘10 to five hits, it took 11 innings for ‘33 to cap off a 5-3 victory.

Having watched ‘33 stretch out a 3-0 lead into the seventh, ‘10 strung together offense in the bottom of the frame to knot the score. After two quick outs, Michael Cuddyer singled and Jason Kubel walked, knocking Walter Johnson from the game. But the bats kept coming against Win Ballou, as J.J. Hardy walked to load the bases before singles from Orlando Hudson and Denard Span brought the tally to 3-3.

‘33 finally pulled ahead for good in the top of the 11th, against Matt Capps’ third inning of relief work. After Joe Harris and Sam Rice singled, Earl McNeely sent a line drive into center that Span misplayed, scoring Harris. Roger Peckinpaugh brought in Rice with a sacrifice fly to finish the scoring before Firpo Marberry, in his third inning of relief, set ‘10 down in order.

Stars of the Game:
‘25 — DH Joe Harris: 4-5, 3 R, 2 RBI, 2B, HR
‘10 — 2B Orlando Hudson: 2-3, RBI, BB

5 vs. 12

(12) ‘06 Twins 3
(5) ‘70 Twins 5
-10 innings-
‘70 leads 1-0

Despite running himself into three outs, Rod Carew redeemed himself by launching a walk-off three-run home run in the 10th inning off Joe Nathan to lift ‘70 to a 5-3 victory.

Carew had twice been thrown out by Torii Hunter while attempting to score on Harmon Killebrew flyouts, and once been caught stealing second base.

‘06 took a 2-0 lead in the third on a Joe Mauer solo shot and Hunter RBI single, but would watch ‘70 tie the score with runs in the fifth and seventh innings.

‘06 would reclaim the lead in the 10th when Justin Morneau singled home Jason Bartlett, but in the bottom of the frame, George Mitterwald singled, Leo Cárdenas reached on an error, and Carew sent a baseball into the night.

Stars of the Game:
‘06 — C Joe Mauer: 3-5, R, RBI, 2B, HR
‘70 — 2B Rod Carew: 4-5, R, 3 RBI, walk-off three-run HR

4 vs. 13

(13) ‘03 Twins 8
(4) ‘65 Twins 3
‘03 leads 1-0

A late-inning surge of offense broke a 3-3 tie and led ‘04 to an 8-3 upset victory.

‘03 struck first, putting two runs on the board in the second, but ‘65 pulled ahead with three solo-score frames. Their lead would not last half an inning, though, as Matt LeCroy singled in Doug Mientkiewicz to tie the score in the top of the sixth.

Starters Johan Santana and Jim Kaat had both left the game by the seventh, but it would not be until the eighth when the game flew out of reach for ‘65. Johnny Klippstein would not record an out in his second inning of work, giving up four hits, including a tiebreaking double by Corey Koskie, before being replaced by Jim Merritt. Merritt would surrender a pair of hits and let his sole inherited runner score, stretching ‘03’s lead to 7-3. Another LeCroy RBI single in the ninth would finish the scoring as LaTroy Hawkins pitched a 1-2-3 inning to end the game.

Stars of the Game:
‘03 — DH Matt LeCroy: 4-5, 2 R, 4 RBI
‘65 — CF Jimmie Hall: 2-4, R, BB

3 vs. 14

(14) ‘04 Twins 3
(3) ‘69 Twins 2
‘04 leads 1-0

In a low-scoring contest, ‘69 matched ‘04’s individual runs frame by frame until the final one. It was all ‘04 would need, scratching out a 3-2 victory against third-seeded ‘69.

‘04 pulled ahead in the fourth and sixth on Corey Koskie’s solo home run and RBI single, only to watch ‘69 promptly re-tie the game on run-scoring doubles by Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva. But in the top of the eighth, Koskie singled and José Offerman brought him in with a two-out triple. ‘69 would put two on in the bottom of the frame, but Juan Rincón retired César Tovar and Bob Allison to complete the scoreless frame. Joe Nathan pitched a perfect ninth for the save.

Stars of the Game:
‘04 — 3B Corey Koskie: 3-3, 2 R, 2 RBI, HR
‘69 — SP Jim Perry: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, BB, 8 K

6 vs. 11

(11) ‘87 Twins 2
(6) ‘24 Senators 5
‘24 leads 1-0

Walter Johnson’s right arm was no match for nine ‘87 bats, as the Hall of Famer struck out 11 batters in seven-plus innings en route to a 5-2 win for ‘24 to open this match between World Series champions.

‘24 clumped all their runs into two innings. In the second, ‘24 loaded the bases and brought in a pair on Ossie Bluege’s single and Nemo Leibold’s walk. Four frames later, with Keith Atherton relieving Frank Viola, ‘24 put up a three-spot. Atherton surrendered consecutive doubles to Sam Rice and Roger Peckinpaugh before plunking Bluege. Bucky Harris took Bluege’s place on a fielder’s choice, Leibold’s fly ball brought home Peckinpaugh, and Ruel singled in Harris. Juan Berenguer entered in relief, but ‘24 had already tallied all the runs they would need.

‘87 would finagle a pair of runs in the final two innings, but with the tying run coming to bat, Firpo Marberry struck out pinch hitter Don Baylor for the final out.

Stars of the Game:
‘87 — RP Juan Berenguer: 1.1 IP, H, 0 R
‘24 — SP Walter Johnson: 7+ IP, 3 H, R, ER, BB, 11 K

7 vs. 10

(10) ‘02 Twins 1
(7) ‘19 Twins 5
‘19 leads 1-0

Although this game was a shutout through six and a half innings, the Bomba Squad demonstrated their name in a powerful seventh inning, providing all the required offense in a 5-1 victory.

Aces Johan Santana and José Berríos had matched each other through six, allowing only three hits each through two-thirds of the game. But in the bottom of the seventh, Miguel Sano broke the dual shutout with a solo home run. Max Kepler’s subsequent single chased Santana from the box, only for J.C. Romero to douse the embers, inducing a C.J. Cron double play. But Luis Arraez followed with a single, Byron Buxton reached on a Corey Koskie error, and Mitch Garver cleared the bases with a 437-foot blast. Eric Milton replaced Romero, only for Jorge Polanco to go back-to-back with Garver.

Cristian Guzmán would lead off the top of the eighth with a mammoth 453-foot shot off Tyler Duffey, but no one would cross the plate again.

Stars of the Game:
‘02 — SP Johan Santana: 6+ IP, 5 H, R, ER, BB, 6 K
‘19 — SP José Berríos: 6.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K

2 vs. 15

(15) ‘09 Twins 13
(2) ‘33 Senators 11
‘09 leads 1-0

‘09 only scored in two innings, but that six-run second and seven-run seventh put them over the top, rallying past ‘33 for a 13-11 upset victory.

After ‘09 sent 10 to the plate in the top of the second, their key hits coming on back-to-back doubles by Denard Span and Orlando Cabrera, ‘33 batted around in the home half of the frame, scoring five to tie the score without notching an extra-base hit. ‘33 would extend the lead in the home half of the fourth, scoring four times on just three hits thanks to two walks, a hit batsman, and an error.

But in the top of the seventh, ‘09 set 12 batters up, scoring seven runs again without benefit of an extra-base hit; Joe Mauer singled twice in the inning. ‘33 would get one back in the bottom of the inning on a Joe Kuhel sacrifice fly, but would come no closer.

Stars of the Game:
‘09 — C Joe Mauer: 3-5, R, 3 RBI
‘33 — 1B Joe Kuhel: 4-4, R, 4 RBI, 2B, 3B, SF

Thus, the bracket stands as follows after one game:

Walter Johnson Round: Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3 / Day 4 / Day 5
Harmon Killebrew Round: Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3 / Day 4 / Day 5
Kirby Puckett Round: Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3 / Day 4 / Day 5 / Day 6 / Day 7
Joe Mauer Round: Preview / Game 1 / Game 2 / Game 3 / Game 4 / Game 5 / Game 6 / Game 7