The the closest thing the Twins would come to October baseball is five hours and a 38-year-old centerfielder's arm away. They would come within one former catcher's clutches away from mass producing ticket strips. Twins fans were six days away from the smell of stale air that lingers when one emerges from the Dome in a time of mid-autumn baseball, that is, if it were not for one pitch and one 37-year-old swing. A swing that had haunted Twins fans since the mid-1990s. The game had all of the makings for an ESPN Instant Classic - except for those residing in the land bordered between Wisconsin, Iowa, the Dakotas and Canada.
Two inexperienced arms dueled tirelessly in the chill of the Chicago night. The starting pitchers, like soldiers charging into No-Man's Land, tossed pitch after pitch like wielded bayonets at their opponents just sixty-feet and six-inches away. The White Sox's John Danks twirled curves and sliders while Minnesota's Nick Blackburn countered with cutters and running-fastball. Thousands of fans swirling in black, engulfing the field, willed strike three out of Danks every time he sped ahead by two strikes on a Twins batter - a request that he was happily to oblige on Justin Morneau twice and Joe Mauer once. Blackburn showed great movement as he darted, dipped, dived, dodged his way around the strike zone - almost always seeming to work ahead of a lineup that had out-slaughtered the Twins lineup 234 to 111 in home runs. It was, however, the 235th would decide final playoff berth and execute the Twins like swift justice.
According to Hittrackeronline.com, it was the definition of a proverbial moonshot. Thome's home run traveled upwards of 458 feet into centerfield - leading to no need for video assistance. It was only fitting that a team that lived by the home run, won by the home run. During one of managing-great Earl Weaver's frequent post-game radio shows, Weaver once made an extensively insightful tirade as the response to an on-air question in which a listener called in to inquire as to why the Baltimore Orioles were not interested in acquiring more speed. In a particularly foul disposition, Weaver sounded off: "Team Speed?! For christsakes, you get g*ddamn little fleas on the f*cking bases getting picked off, trying to steal, getting thrown out, taking runs away from you...Get them big c*cksuckers that can hit the ball out of the ballpark and you make no mistakes." The Twins had a roster of "g*ddamn little fleas" as the White Sox contained "them big c*cksuckers that can hit the ball out of the ballpark."
The game transpired on a stage that should be viewed as more than one playoff game in which two successful teams clashed - it goes so much deeper. It was a living case study for baseball researchers that will assist in compiling evidence to support power over speed when nine innings are at stake. US Cellular turned into a battleground for these two different baseball theories: One ideology residing in the third-largest market in the United States that would acquire expensive, aging talent that can hit the ball a ton but couldn't run and the other had cheap labor that could gain an extra base and cover substantial ground for the basis of their success. In game 163, the record will indicate that power succeeded when Thome's blast cleared the deepest part of centerfield to create the lone run of the game - circling the bases like Judd Nelson a la the Breakfast Club exiting his Saturday of detention.
Some will certainly will state that this season was miraculous insomuch as the Twins were not expect to compete. The team was expected to sink to the bottom of the division, exchanging places with Kansas CIty and develop for the future. We, as Twins fans, should consider ourselves lucky that we were one of seven teams that would have the possibility to face an elimination game with such magnitude. (Ask any Mariners fan if they would enjoy the same thrill.) Still, it feels like there are much more unanswered questions:
- Was the fate of the Twins sealed by a simple coin-flip in mid-September in which Mark Fein on TBS revealed was chosen by Chicago's Assistant General Manager's 5-year-old son? Had MLB decided to use the head-to-head records in which the Twins were 10-8 against the White Sox for home field advantage, would we be discussing the Twins chances in St Petersburg?
- How didn't the Twins steal on victory away from a Royal team in the final weekend of the season - a team that was 11-4 against the Twins and finished with a .463 winning percentage?
- Were the Twins finished when both trade deadlines produced only Eddie Guardado as fruit? Would the addition of Chad Bradford or Latroy Hawkins been the difference make in milking an extra win or two to ensure Tuesday night's game would never happen?
- If the Republicans had chosen a different venue for their convention and not sent the Twins on a daunting 14-game road trip from Aug 21 to Sept 4th in which the Twins went 5-9 would the results be any different?
- Did Ron Gardenhire use Matt Guerrier as a set-up man and Carlos Gomez as a leadoff man one too many times?
All these are good questions that deserve educated answers but for me I am not able to digest all this at the moment -- the answers will come soon enough, just not tonight.