At the start of the 2021 season, I examined the 2001 and 2011 openers. Despite my hopes for an ‘01 repeat, ‘21 has hewn much closer to the ‘11 debacle. It seems only fitting that the Twins will play the Royals this weekend looking to avoid an embarrassing loss milestone. To quote J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan: “all of this has happened before, and will happen again”.
On September 28, 2011, Minnesota closed up shop—rather mercifully—on that season. Despite the healthy crowd of 36,488 at Target Field (still nearly selling out every night in its second go-round), the Twins limped into game 162 with a 62-99 record. After a 7-21 August and a 5-20 September to that point, it seemed like forever and a day since the Twins had played a solid, exciting ballgame. The only “moral victory” to shoot for? Avoiding a three-digit loss column.
Though not in the seats that 76 degree evening (like ‘21, unseasonably warm for finale baseball), one of the reasons I remember it so vividly was a pregame tribute to John Gordon—my favorite Twins broadcaster by a mile—calling his final game from the radio booth. Dan Gladden took Gordo around the field in a motorcycle sidecar, and it was a great sendoff to the Voice of the Twins (TM) for a certain generation.
After that emotional farewell, the game got underway and a remarkable thing happened: after two months of slop, a highly competitive ballgame broke out.
Carl Pavano—he of the 2011 Opening Day bludgeoning in Toronto—toed the rubber for the home team and scattered just 5 hits over 9 scoreless innings. For one night, at least, the Pav Stache recaptured his old magic.
The only issue? Bruce Chen was just as good for the royal blue crew: 8 IP, 8 H, 0 ER. Seeing as how the Twins lineup featured such offensive stalwarts as Ben Revere, Chris Parmelee, Rene Tosoni, Brian Dinkelman, Joe Benson, & Drew Butera, this perhaps is not as shocking as it seems.
Harboring just slightly less drama than, say, Game 7 of the ‘91 World Series, the scoreboard goose eggs piled up in similar fashion.
In the bottom of the ninth, Benson led off with a routine groundout. But then Denard Span (pinch hitting for the Son of Sal) roped a double down the RF line off KC reliever Blake Wood, and a Revere groundout quickly sent the Span Man scampering to 3B.
This brought shortstop Trevor Plou(uuuuuuuuuuuu)fe to the dish with a chance to send everyone home happy. He did—and provided one final John Gordon win call in the process:
Having avoided the 100-loss morass, the 2011 Twins celebrated like their two-decades earlier counterparts at the end of that season.
Back to the here and now, the Twins of the current vintage are looking for some similar year-end lift against Kansas City. If they can take the series at Kauffman, the round 90-loss figure will be averted.
Though sad, to be sure, to have such meaningless milestones be the consolation prize at the end of a season of high expectations (coming off back-to-back division crowns—just like ‘09-’10), it is at least something to strive for over the final weekend.