In every losing Twins season, there is usually a moment I can think back on and declare “this is when I knew it was all going off the rails”. In 2016, the 0-9 start did the trick. The ‘18 campaign prolonged the suspense a bit longer, but back-to-back walk-off losses against Cleveland in early August represented my final straw.
Just recently, the Twins’ postseason eligibility was mathematically revoked. This got me thinking—in the vein of Whitney Houston’s eternal query—when did I know ‘21 wasn’t going to be a playoff three-peat?
It all started on a long, painful afternoon in Oakland...
The date was April 21. Despite jumping out to a 5-2 start to the season, the Twins had fallen to 6-10 in short order. The day before, they were shutout in 14 innings of doubleheader play. Looking to salvage a game from the A’s, the Twins sent Kenta Maeda to the mound—and he got rocked. After four innings, the score was 7-3 green guys and it looked like the brooms were coming out in the pandemic-influenced Coliseum crowd of 3,405.
But then, showing the first spark of life in days, the Twins offense rallied. Run-producing hits from Cruz, Polanco, & Astudillo—as well as errors and a wild pitch from the opposition—led to a 10-9 margin for the good guys going into the bottom of the ninth.
This was the (prophetic) point where everything went off the rails.
Taylor Rogers had struck out the side in the 8th—but had also been pitching since the 6th. So, it was Alex Colome who ascended the Coliseum mound for the save opportunity. This was just about the time I got the game on the radio, having been working all afternoon and finally driving home.
Colome plunked Ramon Laureano to begin the frame and that proved a spoiler, with his run touching home plate on a Matt Champman sac fly. After all that work, it was knotted up and heading to Manfredball. Having lost every > or < 9-inning campaign to that point, the extra frames did not bode well for the Twins.
Yet, after Mitch Garver struck out to open the 10th, Byron Buxton pounded a mammoth home run plating himself and (fatefully, as you may remember) pinch-runner Travis Blankenhorn. 12-10 Twins!
For the bottom of the 10th, Blankenhorn stayed in the game at 2B & Luis Arraez shifted to 3B. Not the greatest defensive alignment, to be sure, but it seemed small potatoes as Colome set down two A’s in short order. But then there was a walk. And another walk. Gulp.
With the tying runs on the basepaths, Mark Canha hit a routine grounder to second—which Blankenhorn inexplicably couldn’t get in his glove, allowing a run to score. Three pitches later, Laureano hit a chopper to third. While a tough play for Arraez, he got himself to the ball and was able to set himself for the throw to first—which sailed impossibly wide of Astudillo’s personage and down the right field line. Two Athletics rounded third and kept going. Ballgame.
I will never, ever forget the mixture of incredulity and disgust expressed by radio mic-men Corey Provus & Dan Gladden. Just pure disbelief at what they had witnessed.
It was only late-April, and the Twins were only 5 games below .500. Almost laughable to declare the season over. But emotionally, that is exactly how the Oakland debacle felt (and I’m a big believer that if we as fans are feeling it, the players are no more immune). It was at that moment I realized that the Twins were more-likely-than-not going to be a bad team in 2021.
What about you—when did it really sink in that the ‘21 squad was destined for October vacations rather than playoff series?