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Top 10 Minnesota Twins moments of the decade

Posted by Jonathon Zenk , 21 December 2019 · 1,750 views

jim thome brian dozier miguel sano eddie rosario byron buxton
Top 10 Minnesota Twins moments of the decade Honorable Mention:
Twins open Target Field with win over Red Sox (2010)
Kennys Vargas walk-off homer against league-leading Cardinals (2015)
Twins come back from 6-0 deficit to beat Orioles (2017)
Minnesota defeats Boston in 17 innings (2019)
Eddie Rosario hits three homers against Cleveland, including walk-off (2018)

10. Devin’s Day (2019)

When Devin Smeltzer was just 9, he was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors found a grapefruit-sized cancerous tumor against his bladder. He had surgery, and went through chemotherapy, and the cancer went into remission in 2012. Smeltzer was selected in the fifth round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Before the 2018 trade deadline, he was traded to the Minnesota Twins in a deal that sent Brian Dozier to LA. In double-A in 2018, he went 5-5 with a 4.52 ERA. He started at double-A Pensacola in 2019 and was unhittable. He was 3-1 with a 0.60 ERA in five starts. Smeltzer was then promoted to triple-A Rochester, and was flawless again. When Michael Pineda went on to the injured list, Minnesota needed a fill-in pitcher and Smeltzer got the call. It was at home, against the Milwaukee Brewers, led by reigning National League MVP Christian Yelich. The 23-year-old was brilliant, working out of trouble a few times to throw six shutout innings. Minnesota was also held scoreless, so he picked up a no-decision, but he did hold down a high-powered offense until the Twins offense could get going, which it did, and the Twins won 5-3.

Many did not think this day would come for Smeltzer, but after fighting to defeat cancer, making the majors did not seem as tough. The Brewers, with a record of 31-24, were a piece of cake considering what he’s gone through. That was evidenced by his three up, three down first inning, mowing through the Milwaukee hitters, striking two out. The three batters are not too bad either: Lorenzo Cain, Yelich and Ryan Braun. With the score still 0-0, Milwaukee catcher Yasmani Grandal hit a triple off the wall to lead off the second. But Smeltzer was fearless, striking out Mike Moustakas, getting Jesus Aguilar to ground out and Hernan Perez to fly out to work around the triple, keeping it scoreless.

Smeltzer worked around a one-out single in the third, getting Cain and Yelich out to end the inning, and then a leadoff double in the fourth. He was doing this while the Twins offense was doing nothing against Milwaukee’s Zach Davies. Smeltzer finished off a terrific first start with back-to-back 1-2-3 innings, striking out Cain and Yelich to finish his outing. Just an incredible performance.

He would not get a decision, but he put the team in position to win against the ace of the Brewers. Finally, the Twins offense woke up. Two doubles and a two-run homer from Eddie Rosario put Minnesota in front 5-0. The Twins went on to win 5-3, and much of that has to do with the terrific start by Smeltzer. No dream is too big, and he proved it that night.

9. Hader-ade (2019)
After a June 2 victory against Tampa Bay, Minnesota was sitting 11.5 games up on Cleveland for the lead in the AL Central. That lead had evaporated on Aug. 11 after the Indians came into Target Field and took three of four. Cleveland took the lead in the division the following day, defeating Boston on a walk-off homer by Carlos Santana, while the Twins were off. Minnesota went into Miller Park a half game behind the Tribe, the first time out of first place since April 18. With Minnesota trailing in the top of the eighth, it was free agent acquisition Marwin Gonzalez who put the Twins back on top in the division for good. Gonzo swung at a first pitch fastball from one of the fiercest relievers in baseball, Josh Hader, and drilled it over the left-center field wall for a three-run homer to give Minnesota a 7-5 win. Coupled with Cleveland’s loss to Boston, the Twins moved back into first place and would stay there for the remainder of the season.

Milwaukee came in fighting for a playoff spot, while Minnesota needed to win to keep pace with the red-hot Indians. Martin Perez gave the Twins an excellent outing, allowing just an unearned run in six innings and he handed the ball over to the bullpen with his team in front 4-1. A Mitch Garver two-run bomb got things started and the visitors looked like they would win game one in Milwaukee.

Then Ryne Harper happened. Harper had a good spring training, which earned him a spot on the team, but he was scuffling in the second half of the year. Harper allowed a single to Keston Huira and a double to Christian Yelich, and all of a sudden, it was 4-2 with nobody out and the tying runner on base. Then, a catcher’s interference allowed Ryan Braun to reach, and Yasmani Grandal batted with two on and nobody out. Well, Grandal hit a shot over the right field wall and Milwaukee took the lead. Needless to stay, Harper was taken out. One batter too late, though. Tyler Duffey came in and got the team out of the inning without more damage, so the Brewers had the 5-4 lead into the eighth.

Normally, the Brewers have a stout bullpen, especially Hader. He has two-inning saves occasionally, so him coming in in would not be a surprise. However, the Brewers brought in Drew Pomeranz to begin the eighth. He allowed a double to Eddie Rosario and walked Miguel Sano to bring the go-ahead runner to the plate. He induced a fly ball from Luis Arraez before giving way to Matt Albers, who struck out the only man he faced. Then, Hader was brought in to face Marwin. The Brewers reliever is known for his great fastball, so he threw a low one on the first pitch to Gonzalez. The Twins utility man swung and did not miss it, send a laser to left-center over the wall for a three-run homer. It was Marwin’s biggest hit since a double off Corey Kluber on opening day to help the Twins defeat Cleveland.

The two trade deadline acquisitions closed the door on the Brew Crew, as Sam Dyson threw a 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth and Sergio Romo did not allow a hit in the bottom of the ninth and the Twins came away with the 7-5 win. With Minnesota’s win, the Twins moved into first and would remain there for the remainder of the season.

8. Brian’s Song (2017)

Minnesota was closing in on its first playoff appearance in seven years. The magic number was two, as the Twins faced the best team in the American League, the Cleveland Indians. It looked like Los Angeles, which was chasing after Minnesota for the second Wild Card, would gain a game as the Angels clobbered the White Sox 9-3 and the Twins were down late. That was until Brian Dozier got ahold of one. With two on and one out in the eighth with the Indians leading by two, Dozier hit an opposite field homer off Brian Shaw to move the Twins in front. The lead was held onto and Minnesota moved the magic number to just one.

It was a matchup on suspect starters, as Minnesota’s Bartolo Colon battled against Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin. Minnesota got to Tomlin first, as it took a lead on a Jorge Polanco RBI groundout and Eddie Rosario solo shot. But Cleveland answered in the bottom of the inning with two runs of its own on an Edwin Encarnacion two-run single.

It was still 2-2 in the third when Rosario continued his great day at the plate, plating two on a double. But once again, Cleveland answered with two in the bottom of the inning, as back-to-back singles by Encarnacion and Jay Bruce tied it back up. Cleveland scored single runs in the sixth and seventh to put the Tribe in front 6-4, which set the stage for Dozier’s dramatics.

The inning did not start promising, as Buxton struck out swinging. But back-to-back singles by Jason Castro and Robbie Grossman put runners on the corners with one out. Then Brian Dozier came up, and Brian did not want the Twins to lose. Dozier hit a 96 mph fastball to the opposite field and it hit the top of the wall and bounced over for a homer. That three-run tater gave the Twins a 7-6 lead. A Buxton single scored another in the ninth, and Trevor Hildenberger and Matt Belisle went six up, six down to slam the door on the Indians, and the Twins were one win or an Angels loss away from clinching. Minnesota would only have to wait until the following day to make the playoffs, as the Twins lost, but so did the Angels, on a walk-off to Chicago.

7. No. 600 for the man with an ox in the batter’s box (2011)

In 2010, Minnesota won the AL Central and hosted a playoff series. However, in 2011, nothing was going right. The team had one of the worst records in the league. The only thing that kept fans coming to games was slugger Jim Thome’s pursuit of 600 homers. On August 15, that became a reality when Thome hit not one, but two homers in a 9-6 victory at Detroit. Minnesota was 52-67, while Detroit was 64-56 and fighting for a playoff spot. Thome hit No. 599 in the sixth and in an inning later, Thome put the game away with a three-run shot to left field. It was a terrific night in what was a dismal season for the Twins.

Minnesota jumped on Rick Porcello in the third. After former Twin Delmon Young hit a homer in the bottom of the first, the Twins scored three runs on three hits, with the help of two Tigers errors. Victor Martinez tied the game with a homer off Francisco Liriano. In the sixth, Thome hit No. 599 off Porcello to left-center to give the Twins a 5-3 advantage. The Twins scored another on a triple by Ben Revere and it was 6-3. Detroit responded with two in the bottom half of the sixth, and the Minnesota lead was down to one. The Twins put it away with another bomb by Thome.

With runners on the corners after a pair of walks and a stolen base, Thome stepped to the plate with two outs in the seventh facing Daniel Schlereth. Daniel is the son of NFL analyst Mark Schlereth. Thome was thrown an offspeed pitch on 2-1 and Thome hammered it to left over the fence and into the bullpen. All the Twins players exited the dugout to congratulate him after he crossed home plate, as well as his family greeted him. Detroit fans, aware of the big moment and milestone, all applauded him, even though it essentially gave the Twins the victory.

Minnesota won it 9-6 to improve its record to a woeful 14 games below .500, but everyone remembers this night when Thome hit No. 600. Less than two weeks later, he was traded to his first home, the Cleveland Indians, since the Twins were in fire sale mode.

6. Twins turn the tide in the AL Central (2010)

Minnesota came into a mid-July series just after the All-Star break at 3.5 games in back of Chicago for the division lead. It was a four-game series, so a split would not help the Twins, and they absolutely could not lose the series. Chicago came out to Target Field and won the first game 8-7. Minnesota needed to win the next three. The Twins won the next two 7-4 and 3-2 to cut it to a 2.5-game Chicago lead. The next one was huge. It was either a lead of 3.5 or 1.5 for the White Sox. Chicago took a 6-3 lead into the ninth, so it looked like the Twins would not make up any ground in the series. But then, the Twins scored four runs without anybody getting out in a crazy ninth inning, and Minnesota walked away only down 1.5 and had worlds of confidence moving forward. After losing the first one to Chicago in the four-game series, Minnesota won seven of the final nine and ran away with the division.

The Twins started the game well, as Delmon Young hit a homer to left to give them a 2-0 lead. It was 3-1 entering the fifth, but the Sox scored one in the fifth and four more in the sixth to take control of the game, and their hope was the division as well. Chicago began the sixth with three straight hits, with the last being a double by Carlos Quentin, to take their first lead of the game at 4-3. They added two more on back-to-back singles later in the inning by Ramon Castro and Gordon Beckham and it was 6-3. That would remain the score until the bottom of the ninth.

Back-to-back walks opened the ninth, and if you ask any pitcher, they’ll tell you leadoff walks are killers. But then Jason Kubel singled to score Orlando Hudson, and the Twins had it within two, and the tying run was on base. Then, Michael Cuddyer hit a line drive single to right-center to score Joe Mauer, and the lead was cut to a single run. That knocked out Bobby Jenks and he was replaced by Sergio Santos. After another walk loaded the bases with no one out, Young hit a shallow fly ball to right-center, and the Twins were content with a tie game. But Chicago center fielder Alex Rios tried throwing it to.....a cutoff man, I guess? Well, he airmailed everyone and bounded past the third base line and near the dugout, and Cuddyer jogged home and the Twins had the series win with the 7-6 win. After that season-changing series win, the Twins won 21 of their next 27 to move into first place in the AL Central, and they’d never look back, ultimately winning the division by six games.

5. Garv Sauce (2019)

The Twins had regrouped and taken a 6.5-game lead over Cleveland in early September after falling out of place in August, setting up two final series between the two. The Indians took the first game of the critical three-game set to cut it 5.5. The Tribe needed the sweep. Cleveland had a tougher schedule remaining and needed to take at least five of six of the remaining games between the two. With the game tied at two in the seventh, Mitch Garver unloaded on a three-run homer to right field to give the Twins a 5-2 lead. It was his second of the day. They would hold on for a 5-3 victory, keeping distance between them and the Tribe in the division race.

Garver hit his first homer in the opening inning to give the Twins an early 1-0 advantage. It stayed that way until the sixth when Cleveland capitalized on two walks with an extra base hit and a wild pitch to take the lead 2-1. That lead lasted just one inning.

With Adam Cimber pitching, Willians Astudillo singled, and scored on a Jonathan Schoop triple and the game was tied. Schoop wasn’t known for coming through in big spots, but that was one of his biggest hits of the season. Oliver Perez relieved Cimber and promptly walked Max Kepler on five pitches. Terry Francona then called on Nick Goody to get out of the two on, nobody out jam with minimal damage. His first batter was Garver, who belted a 1-1 pitch just over the overhang in right field to put the Twins back on top, this time for good.

Cleveland strung together a couple of hits in the eighth off Sergio Romo to cut it to 5-3, but Romo just allowed the one run and Taylor Rogers slammed the door in the ninth and the Twins had their 6.5 game lead back.

4. In the words of LL Cool J, don’t call it a comeback (2015)

It was a surprising season for the Twins, who had been in the cellar of the league since 2011. The Under new manager Paul Molitor, Minnesota was 46-40 and in the thick of the playoff chase at the All-Star break. The Twins had trouble beating the Tigers, dropping eight of the first 10 against the Motor City Kitties during the 2015 season. And Minnesota was on the verge of falling to 2-9, as it trailed 6-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning before magic happened. Minnesota had seven of eight batters reach to start the inning, and the game was capped off by a Brian Dozier walk-off shot. Dozier wasn’t even elected to the All-Star game, but put the finishing touches on this improbable rally in the bottom of the ninth. It also took the hex off the Twins against the Tigers, and Minnesota won the final two games of the series as well to finish off taking three of four against Detroit and head into the break at 49-40.
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Detroit knocked around Ervin Santana, smacking three homers, including a three-run shot, to get its six runs. Justin Verlander, on the other hand, sailed along through seven, not allowing a run, before a Brian Dozier single broke up the shutout and it was 6-1 after eight innings. That would set the stage for the wildest ninth inning in Target Field history. Detroit hit a double and single and it had runners on second and third with nobody out. Trevor May responded by getting Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Alex Avila to pop up to escape the inning still trailing 6-1.

Then came the bottom of the ninth.

Joe Mauer led off the inning with what seemed like a meaningless single, but it was followed by a Miguel Sano ground-rule double, so runners were on second and third with nobody out. Rondon struck out Trevor Plouffe, and there were two on, one out. Unfortunately for Detroit, that was the only out recorded in the half-inning. An RBI single by Eddie Rosario knocked Rondon out of the game. That would put runners on the corners with the score now at 6-2. A Joakim Soria walk to Aaron Hicks loaded the bases, and that was followed by hitting Kurt Suzuki to force in a run, and the tying run was on base. Danny Santana, of all people, lined a single to center to bring home a pair and cut it to 6-5, to bring up Dozier.

Runners were on first and second with still one out for the Twins second baseman. The tying runner was on second, and winning run on first. Dozier proved he was screwed of an All-Star appearance (he was added later on due to injury) by pouncing on the first pitch from Soria. The Tigers closer threw a hanging breaking ball, which was destroyed by Dozier and deposited into the upper deck and the Twins celebrated the improbable win at home plate after an 8-6 win.

As Twins play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer said, it was “the most electrifying moment at Target Field in years.”

3. Sano-doubter daggers Cleveland (2019)

The Twins entered the last series against the Indians in front by 3.5 games, but Minnesota had the easier schedule the remainder of the season, so Cleveland needed to sweep to keep pace with Minnesota and make it a race to the finish. Jake Odorizzi was scheduled to start the opening game of the series, but after a few innings, the game was called. Because of that, Odorizzi couldn’t start again in the series. Already needing to play nine innings of bullpen on the second game because of a suspension to Michael Pineda, they were forced to play a double header and both games were to be bullpen games for the Twins. They needed to go 18 innings using relievers……in the biggest series of the year. Minnesota not only threw nine innings of bullpen game one of the day, but six pitchers combined to shut out the Tribe.

One win was nice, but the Twins had a chance to really put the Indians in the rearview mirror if it could win one of the next two in Cleveland. In game one, the Twins went all out, pitching most of their shutdown relievers. Lewis Thorpe started against Tyler Clippard and Thorpe allowed five runs in 3.2 innings, digging the team into a 5-2 hole. Nelson Cruz hit a homer in the sixth to cut it to 5-4. While the Twins were crawling back, the pitching staff was putting up zero after zero. Cody Stashak, Brusdar Graterol and Trevor May combined to allow no runs on just one hit in 5.1 innings.

The game remained 5-4 heading to the eighth, but that inning became the biggest inning for the Twins of the season. Not in runs, but in significance. Jonathan Schoop began the inning with a single and Kepler grounded out, but advanced on a throwing error. With a runner on second with one out, Jorge Polanco doubled to left to switch places with Kepler and, more importantly, tie the score. Oliver Perez proceeded to walk Nelson Cruz and Eddie Rosario to load the bases for Sano.

The big man was 0-3 on the night with a pair of strikeouts, but he could light up a scoreboard at any moment, and the Indians found out the hard way. Just like a few weeks prior when Mitch Garver took him deep, Nick Goody was brought in to pitch in a big spot. The power hitter did not waste long to break open the game. Goody’s first pitch was a breaking ball that could not have been thrown in a worse location. The result was predictable, as Miguel destroyed the baseball into the left field bleachers to break the game open 9-5 and end the AL Central race once and for all.

May threw two perfect innings to close the door on a double header sweep. That put Minnesota in front by 5.5 games with 13 games remaining for the Indians. Not only did it damage the division hopes for the Tribe, but also the Wild Card as well. Cleveland actually won seven of eight after the double header sweep, but could only gain 1.5 games on the Twins. The Indians closed out the season by dropping five straight and Minnesota won the division by eight games. Cleveland’s slump at the end of the season knocked them out of the playoffs entirely.

2. Back-to-back walk-off homers (2017)

It was a magical season for the Minnesota Twins. In 2016, the Twins were an awful 59-103, which was the worst record in the majors. That record was nine games behind the second worst team. But Minnesota had a turnaround season for the ages in 2017, going 85-77, and earning a Wild Card berth. With the bounce back season, they become the first team in Major League Baseball history to reach the postseason after losing 100 games the previous season. In mid-September, the Twins were clinging to a two-game lead for the second Wild Card spot and the Twins needed some late game heroics to maintain the lead. That would come on back-to-back nights, when they received walk-off homers from Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton against San Diego and Toronto, respectively.

The games were very similar. On the first night, the Twins played the San Diego Padres. Minnesota took the lead on a wild pitch in the second, but there wouldn’t be another run scored until the eighth. Minnesota starter Ervin Santana was brilliant, throwing six shutout innings, but would not figure in the decision. That would be because Austin Hedges took Trevor Hildenberger deep in the top of the eighth to tie up the game. Alan Busenitz and Matt Belisle escaped jams in both the eighth and the ninth to keep the game even at 1. Brad Hand blew threw the Twins lineup in the eighth and ninth, and they went to the 10th tied. Belisle had a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the 10th, and Rosario made sure there was no 11th. With one on and two out, Rosario worked the count in his favor against Phil Maton. On the 2-0 pitch, Maton tried to go inside with a fastball, but Eddie turned on it and blasted it deep to right. The only question was if it was going to stay fair. It did, and the Twins won 3-1 to keep a bit of distance between themselves and the Angels in the Wild Card race. But Minnesota wasn’t done with the walk-off homers. The next night, it was Buxton’s turn.

Like the previous night, Minnesota had a one-run lead late in the game. After a Toronto run in the top of the fifth, Jorge Polanco hit a two-run single to take give the Twins the advantage. That lead would hold up until the ninth. Belisle got the first two batters, including the dangerous Josh Donaldson, on just seven pitches. But then Justin Smoak, with the Blue Jays down to their final out, hammered a homer to right to even the game. Dillon Gee worked around a one-out double in the 10th, and Minnesota came to the plate in their half of the inning. Luis Santos induced a pop-up from Polanco and he struck out Eduardo Escobar, bringing Buxton to the plate with two outs. A few weeks before, he hit three homers in a game at Toronto. This game, he didn’t to hit three, as one did the trick. Santos’ off speed pitch was a hanger and Buxton did not miss it, and launched a no-doubter into the upper deck to keep their distance with the Angels. It was only the second time in Twins history that they have had walk-off homers on consecutive days, and the first time since August 6-7 of 1970 when George Mitterwald and Jim Holt did it to the Angels and A’s, respectively. The two walk-offs helped keep distance between themselves and Los Angeles, and Minnesota would wind up playing in the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

1. Jim Thome. (2010)

Minnesota was 68-50, and finally had overtaken Chicago, which led the AL Central for much of the year. The Twins were three games up on the White Sox entering a crucial three-game set in Minneapolis. Minnesota would take 2-of-3 from Chicago, and essentially put the Sox away in the division. It all started with a series-opening win courtesy of free agent acquisition Jim Thome, who hit the first walk-off homer in Target Field history with a two-run shot off Matt Thornton.

The Twins started out hot, as the second batter of the game, Orlando Hudson, homered to give Minnesota the early lead. A two-run triple by Jason Kubel and RBI single by Thome pushed the lead to 4-0 after one. But home runs by Mark Kotsay and Twins killer Paul Konerko cut the lead to one. They would later tie up the game on a double by A.J. Pierzynski.

Delmon Young homered in the fifth to put the Twins in front 5-4, and they thought the lead would hold up, as it was still 5-4 heading into the ninth inning. But trade deadline pickup Matt Capps served up a home run to Alexei Ramirez leading off the ninth, and they headed to extra innings knotted up. Capps was able to get Konerko to end the ninth on a bases loaded double play.

It looked like the lead was being cut to two games when Ramirez (again) hits an RBI single to center and the Sox led 6-5 going to the bottom of the 10th. Thornton was on for his second inning of work after just allowing a harmless two-out single in the ninth. Young led off with a single to give him three hits on the night, and Thome came up with a man on first and nobody out. As a Twins fan, my thinking was that it would either end really good (home run) or really bad (strikeout, double play). There would be no in between. This one ended really well for the home team. After a strike by Thornton on the first pitch of the at-bat, Thornton threw a 93 mph fastball down the middle of the plate. As Pepper Brooks said in Dodgeball, “That’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see how it plays out for them.” Yeah, Thome swung hard, and the ball went far, as he deposited it deep near the American flag at Target Field. That hit was a no doubter by Thome. The win was Minnesota’s 26th in its last 33, and it went 23-10 in its next 33 to sew up the division. Chicago lost 18 of its next 32, and the division race was over.




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IndianaTwin
Dec 22 2019 07:52 PM
I’ve told this story before, but the Thome shot is my best Hawk Harrelson moment.

In character, he was babbling about something unrelated when Thome jacked it. In watching the recording, I believe I measured a full 52 seconds of silence from the broadcast booth as the mic only picked up crowd noise. Followed by an obviously deflated Hawk, who cut to commercial by just saying, “And we’ll be back.”

I can only imagine the tight hold he had on his mute button.