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Can this team flip the script on 2001 & 2011?

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It’s not how you start, but how you finish—right?!

Twins reliever LaTroy Hawkins sits alone in the Twins bullpen awaiting a late-inning call to the mound.

At the beginning of this season, I commented on how the 2001 & 2011 seasons could not have gotten off to more different starts. Somewhat oddly, however, both of those campaigns ended in roughly the same fashion—hope, followed by utter disaster (aka The Minnesota Sports Way TM).

In ‘01, the Twins entered the month of August at 60-46, battling tooth-and-nail with Cleveland for the AL Central crown. Even after a 1-7 skid to begin the dog days, the Twins were just a game-and-a-half-back coming into a crucial three-game tilt in The Land.

The first game of the series seemed to be trending towards an all-time Twins classic. Eric Milton faced off against Bartolo Colon (presumably just as Sexy in those days, if not quite as Big) and each squad traded blows into the late innings. Down by one in the top of the ninth, the Twins—thanks in large part to a 3-run triple off the bat of A.J. Pierzynski—battered around John Rocker (yes, that John Rocker) and Bob Wickman to take a 7-4 lead.

A.J. Pierzynski #26
Everyone’s favorite rabble-rouser

Looking to close out what would certainly be the biggest win of the season for the up-and-coming Twins, LaTroy Hawkins got two quick outs on just six pitches in the bottom of the ninth. The next 13 Hawk offerings? Complete and utter meltdown. Omar Vizquel, Roberto Alomar, & Juan Gonzalez all drove in runs, and when the dust had settled it was 7-7.

In the bottom of the 11th, Kenny Lofton sent the first Bob Wells pitch into the right field corner. In a scene that will forever be burned into the memory of every Twins fan observing it, Twins OF Chad Allen turned to pursue and immediately blew out his ACL. Only Allen’s dogged—and excruciating—pursuit of the ball prevented Lofton from circling the bases entirely (he ended up on third).

After a long delay in which Allen left the field on a stretcher, Gonzalez put an amen to the night’s activities with a walk-off single.

The ‘01 Twins were essentially done after that bizarro ending. They were swept by the Tribe and never got within four games of the division lead the rest of the way.

BBA-TWINS-INDIANS-ALLEN-INJURY
A sad scene in Cleveland
Photo by DAVID MAXWELL/AFP via Getty Images

While perhaps not as excruciating from a competitive aspect, the August/September stretch run of the 2011 Twins was every bit as bad simply by attrition alone.

After a season in which seemingly everything that could go wrong had (sound familiar?), somehow the ‘11 bunch—even sporting a paltry 50-58 mark—were just 7 GB the front-running Detroit Tigers. By no means a strong position, but within “spitting distance”, as they say.

From that point, however, the losing began—and never really stopped. Over the season’s final two months, the Twins would win only 13 more games total. A 2-19 record during one stretch certainly contributed to the bottom falling out. Only a year-end series win over the Kansas City Royals—who else?!—prevented three digits in the loss column.

Seattle Mariners v Minnesota Twins
2011: Back when Liam Hendriks was the furthest thing from a dominant arm
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The obvious parallel between ‘01 & ‘11: despite representing the beginning of two very different eras in Twins history, both squads put themselves in at least a position to succeed come the season’s final third, but then completely fell off the competitive map.

After slogging through their own disastrous month-and-a-half stretch—this time to begin the season rather than end it—the ‘21 Twins are hoping to upend that narrative. At this very moment, the opportunity is ripe to turn things around. Coming off the sweep of the Baltimore Orioles, the schedule goes Royals-Orioles-Royals. Essentially, one team the Twins have historically “gotten healthy” on (KC) and another they currently own (15 straight victories over the orange birds).

Baseball has long harbored the adage “you can’t win a pennant in April or May, but you can lose one”. While this team has come dangerously close to doing the latter, perhaps 2021 can be one of the—admittedly few—exceptions to the “Minnesota Way” (lifted expectations followed by crushed hopes). Either way, it starts this holiday weekend against the Blue Crew.