WOW!! What a ballgame!
Monday night, the sporting world fixed its eyes squarely on Minneapolis for the Vikings-Packers rivalry game that featured a juicy sub-plot involving an old guy who used to play for the other team. All that hulabaloo over Ryan Longwell seemed a little excessive to me, but the game lived up to the hype and delivered a rousing win for Vikings fans.
As it turns out, MNF was merely an appetizer for the sumptuous spread of sudden death baseball that unfolded Tuesday in front of a record crowd of 54,088 at the Metrodome. The Twins had already extended the baseball life of the Dome one more game thanks to their tortoise and hare agreement with Detroit. Playing inspired baseball down the stretch, the Twins forced a tiebreaker game with the Tigers by winning 16 of their last 20 games and becoming the first team in MLB history to overcome a three game deficit with four games to play.
Destiny was winking at the Minnesota Twins, begging to be taken out for a Tuesday night on the town.
Pandemonium erupted when Carlos "Go-Go" Gomez zoomed across home plate in the bottom of the 12th. Fittingly, Alexi Casilla drove the winning run in after he tried in vain to score it himself two innings earlier, only to be tagged out at home by a fraction of a second, a fraction that could have been avoided had he not strayed too far away from the bag while tagging up. Casilla made up for his base running gaffe and delivered euphoria to Twins Nation that spread like swine flu.
There were no shortage of highlights. Towering home run blasts by Jason Kubel and Miguel Cabrera were upstaged by Orlando Cabrera's surprising 2-run shot that barely cleared the stands, giving the Twins a brief 4-3 lead in the bottom of the 7th. Cabrera's hit was heroic in every sense, entering the realm of Puckett territory in its magnitude. Alas, Magglio Ordonez spoiled things immediately in the 8th with a solo blast. There wasn't a better scoring chance until the top of the 9th when Magglio returned with runners at the corners and one out. Joe Nathan's filthy stuff induced a laser line drive double play, extricating himself from any damage. A rare display of fiery passion spilled out of Nathan as he extolled his teammates with multiple fist pumps.
Watching from the luxury of my couch (to be fair, I paced, jumped, hovered nervously and danced joyously in circles far more than I actually sat), the emotional and mental drain of 4.5 hours of World Series caliber baseball was taxing. I can only imagine what it was like to be among the deafening drone in the Metrodome, let alone be one of the participants in such a riveting contest. I don't think it's hyperbole to assert that this, the final regular season game of the 2009 season, was indeed the finest.
Clutch hitting, slick fielding, smart (and not so smart) base running, extra inning drama and steel-nerved pitching was on display throughout the game. There was even room for a whiff of controversy in the 12th inning with an apparent hit batsmen with the bases loaded (Does grazing the uniform actually qualify as an automatic base? Personally, I don't think it should count, but I'm curious to know the rule). And it all ended with a fitting catharsis for the home team, celebrating their Central Division championship with their loyal fans, victory lapping together to slap as many hands as possible and basking in the moment together.
It was a special moment earned and shared by all in the Dome. Despite the organization's best efforts to say "Good-bye" to the Metrodome, the players and fans have joined in a stubborn symbiotic relationship that simply won't allow the doors to be closed on this place. I've read enough quotes and stories in the past week denouncing the Dome for everything it's not and I'll be the first to readily admit it's not a great place to watch or play in a game. But it's the only stadium a few decades of Twins players have known and called home. There's genuine wistfulness for the Dome magic, and tonight's game only adds to its legend that will be remembered for years to come. Extending play into the postseason is a fitting tribute to the Metrodome and the denizens of Homer Hanky-waving, decibel-splitting Twins fans who wouldn't allow this team to pack it in and quit on the season.
Most people scoff at the notion that the Minnesota Twins are America's team, but it's true. They are the Little Team That Can, winning 5 of the last 8 Central Division titles. Despite losing an MVP player in Justin Morneau at the beginning of September, the Twins responded as only they know how - picking up the slack for their injured comrade. Show me another team with a better collection of baseball players - pure gamers - who truly play for each other and enjoy playing the game the right way. Nick Punto is the Rudy of baseball players, a pipsqueak who doesn't belong on the field or in the batter's box. Yet he's the quintessential piranha who plays smart in the field, rarely makes a mistake, works counts and finds a way to deliver. Punto led off the 7th inning with a single before Cabrera hit the go-ahead home run. Guys like Punto are the essence of this team - a blue collar, hard-working engine that doesn't quit.
The Yankees have every statistic pointing to their supremacy in this first round series. Nobody will give Minnesota a chance in hell of competing. But I wouldn't want to play the Twins right now. Destiny had a great time tonight and wants a second date.
Wave the flag proud and keep the Metrodome Magic alive.