Here’s a quick intro to the series:
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.
Everyone remembers those last two weeks or so of the regular season. That underground feeling of excitement that no one really wanted to give voice to. The stat-based bloggers reminding us that there was about a 2.5% chance of making the playoffs. Looking at the scoreboard and trying to calculate how many games out of the next x many games we’d have to win and the Tigers would have to lose for the Twins to even have a chance to play a Game 163. That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach every time an opponent scored a run. That fleeting optimism at every moment that the Twins were scoring or leading or PLAYING GOOD BASEBALL.
This was the game that made me, personally, give up on the season.
Pavano came into the game pitching very well. He hadn’t lost in four starts, and he hadn’t gone fewer than six innings a month and a half (almost). And that doesn’t even include the time when he beat both Detroit for both the Indians and the Twins by almost the same score with nearly the same line. That’s twilight zone quality. Quite simply, Pavano was looking like the savior we all had hoped he would be when he came over from the Indians in a trade. And not just a savior, a Tiger-tamer (anyone know of a better metaphor for someone who destroys tigers? me neither).
The thing about this game was that it was a game that, on paper, the Twins should have run away with. The Tigers were pitching a guy who had a sum total of 6 major league starts and hadn’t really shown any stuff to back up his name (Eddie Bonine). It was the day after a double-header, and the Tigers had an OLD team. I’m talking walkers-and-Ensure old here.
Then the game started off exactly like we thought it would. Joe Mauer and O-Cabs were driven in by Kubel and Delmon Young. Then… things went downhill. Pavano allowed four runs on four hits and a walk, thereby digging an early hole that the Twins would be unable to climb out of. After giving up another three runs in the fifth inning, Pavano was pulled with only two outs. Possibly the most painful thing was that Pavano’s complete and utter ownership of the tigers, a source of strength and backbone for the Twins in their long slog to the finish, was proven to be not nearly as complete as appearances had indicated.
And the worst thing is, Bonine wasn’t on that night. The guy only went 5 innings (unfortunately, 1/3 inn. longer than Pavano) and only struck out 3, walking 2. He also was hit by a line drive in the top of the second and never really seemed to shake it off. The Tigers didn’t magically get younger or hit the ball better. The biggest problem was this: the Twins were hacking at everything even somewhat near the strike zone, and were the masters of the weak ground-out and the weak fly ball. After the first inning, the Twins had four hits, and only 2 after Bonine left the game. It was a truly pathetic offensive display.
One of the most-read Twins bloggers (can’t remember which, sorry!) wrote after this game that the Twins had about a 3% chance of making the playoffs. Truth was, the odds felt a lot longer than that. After the game, the Twins had to win three more games that the Tigers JUST TO EARN THE RIGHT to play another game. In reality, they had to win every game and pray that Detroit’s meltdown would continue. Luckily for the Twins, it did.