Last year I started and then aborted a feature called “Important Games.” What basically happened was that I didn’t put much effort into planning the series out ahead of time, which resulted in me using the most important games in the 6-10 spots (minus the 2008 Game 163, of course, which was the obvious #1) and then there was really no point in continuing. Therefore, this year I spent the last week or so re-watching what I view as being the most important 15 or so games, which I was then able to narrow down to the top 10.
Basically, the premise of the series is that certain games have an effect that is far greater than their mere impact on the win-loss column. These games are mentally and physically definitive of a season, and before the new season begins, by looking back and remembering and feeling the emotions of last season one more time, we can understand what happened, what went wrong, and most importantly, what went right. So, climb aboard the side-burn express, and keep your hands, arms, feet, heads, and all other extremities inside the vehicles at all times as we embark on one final excursion through the highs and lows of last season.
As if to prove the truth of the saying that “all good things must come to an end,” the Twins’ incredible 2009 run from 7 games back on September 6 ended 36 days later in front of a home crowd. Though the game itself was not too bad, re-watching this game really brought back the highs and the lows of the 2009 season.
It also highlighted the problems that plagued the 2009 Twins: they just didn’t do the small stuff, even though their reputation for doing the same continued unabated. The failure to do the thing the Twins might have done best all season, limiting walks, killed them. In the Ninth inning, Ron Mahay, Jon Rauch, and Jose Mijares each walked the batter they were brought in to face, and then Joe Nathan gave up two hits, which scored two runs. Unfortunately, the Twins couldn’t overcome the walks and yet another implosion by the best closer in baseball, and the season was over.
Unfortunately, that was not the only failure. It was just a badly played baseball game in several ways. The Twins were overeager with their plate approach, and several baserunning mistakes cost a run, most notably Nick Punto incomprehensibly thinking he could score from second on an infield single. I’m sure he didn’t mean to, but that is possibly the most indelible Punto moment in Twins history. Much more so than all the slides into first base and great plays in the infield, Punto’s decision to run through a stop sign then inexplicably stop and retreat to third base defines his career: unapologetically overenthusiastic.
There is really no reason to include this game in the countdown over the other games in the ALDS, other than that it was the last. The other two do not appear in the countdown, because I don’t feel like beating a dead horse. However, it is important to note that much of the reason the Twins lost the series was due to a failure to do the small stuff, as well as facing a team that was clearly superior in just about every way (including the way it got calls from the umpiring staff). Carlos Gomez got tagged out in the second game at second base before Delmon Young could amble to home plate, negating his potentially game-winning run. In the first game, Ron Gardenhire made the mistake of pulling Brian Duensing in the middle of a good outing in favor of an exhausted relief corps, which promptly coughed up the win.
Still, this game was a celebration, in a way. It marked the end of an era and the end of one incredible journey, even if it didn’t end in the way we all would have liked. Sure, the Tigers collapsed (if you can call going 10-12 over the last 22 games a collapse), but that would not have mattered without one hell of an incredible run. This game was a gift, and even now, the bittersweet ending it represents does not change that simple fact.