August 14, 1992, County Stadium, Milwaukee, Brewers vs. Red Sox
This game was the first of two great things the God-forsaken Metrodome had robbed me of: Outdoor major league baseball and doubleheaders.
My parents took me on a two-night trip to Milwaukee and my only request was to see a Brewers game. We could go home after that.
Unfortunately, I was an impatient fourteen-year-old kid with an early bed time, so we didn’t make it through both games.
Fortunately, I got to see what a real ball park looks like. I remember my dad encouraging me to go to the first row behind the Brewers dugout to take a picture. At the nasty Dome, if you do this, you’re still a mile from the action, both horizontally and vertically. Imagine someone at the Roman Coliseum watching lions eat Christians. At County Stadium, you’re on the field level and right next to the action.
At age 14, to be at an arm’s length from Paul Molitor gave me chills.
With the game tied in the bottom of the 13th inning, the Sox put in their closer, Jeff Reardon. My parents and I weren’t fans of his since he left the Twins.
Up stepped Jim Gantner for the Brewers. Gantner was known for not hitting home runs. I believe he’s one of the best players in the modern era at not hitting home runs along with Al Newman of the Twins.
Gantner’s home run off Reardon barely cleared the right-field fence, sending the Milwaukee crowd into a frenzy and Bernie Brewer down the slide into the barrel of beer. It was Gantner’s only home run of the season and the last of his career.
August 12, 2008, Metrodome, Twins vs. Yankees
“Baseball was designed to break your heart.” A. Bartlett Giamatti
Sometimes baseball has a happy ending, but 29/30th of the time, it doesn’t. But there’s a sense of comfort in a sad novel or film. There’s empathy for the characters knowing we’ve experienced similar sorrows. There’s also a shared empathy of 28 other teams when your team is playing the Yankees. Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for the casino in a game of blackjack. Rarely are the Yankees the underdog and this game was no exception. It was the low-budget Minnesota Twins with some guy named Nick Blackburn on the mound against the mighty New York Yankees with a possible future hall of famer named Mike Mussina pitching with names in the lineup like Jeter, Rodriguez, Damon and Giambi. A win against the Yankees is just another win in the standings, but to the fans in the stands it feels like 10 (especially for the Twins, lately).
When the Twins took a 2-1 lead in the second inning off of two sacrifice flies, there was hope we would at least be competitive. I was sitting with Kate and my parents and there were a few nearby New York fans. They seemed legitimate – as in, they were from New York and not some local who picks up the game in high school and to make up for low self esteem and to prove how different he is, chooses the Yankees as his favorite team. Why not? They’re always on television and they always win. It’s like rooting for Michael Bay to make bad movies.
I digress … as I tend to do when discussing my dislike for the people who choose to root for the Yankees.
Minnesota has had a lot of trouble with New York in the last decade. Because of this, every run was important and when the Twins scored any runs, they felt like goals in a soccer game. At the same time, with the Yankees’ lineup it sometimes felt like the Twins weren’t allowed a goalie.
As the bottom of the eighth approached, the Yankees had managed to scratch their way to a 6-3 lead. Knowing they had Mariano Rivera in the bullpen, I knew if the Twins were going to come back, it would have to be now. Rivera to the Yankees is almost an unfair advantage. His cutter has been written about to death by sports writers of the last decade as much as FM radio played the Macarena the summer of 1996. As someone who reads a lot of baseball articles, I’d like to read another column about Rivera’s cutter like I want to hear the Macarena again.
Mike Redmond led off the eighth with a double. Justin Morneau flew out to left field, but Randy Ruiz, pinch hitting for Jason Kubel, doubled putting runners at second and third with Delmon Young at the plate. Joe Torre made the call to the bullpen. As the new pitcher jogged to the mound I remember the narrative between me and my dad.
“Oh, they’re sending someone else in,” I said. “Can you see who it is?”
My dad and I peered from our upper deck seats behind the plate. I quickly made out the number 42 on the pitcher’s back.
“Oh shit, it’s Rivera,” I said. My dad just laughed at the drama the game was providing. Yes, the Twins were going to lose for sure now, but at least we can say we saw yet another hall of famer. I knew Torre liked to bring in his closer in the eighth, but it was usually in more important games in September and the playoffs.
When Mariano Rivera comes to the mound, all thoughts of home runs and big rallies leave my mind. It’s like when storm clouds surround you and it begins to rain; you’re not going to get a tan so you don’t consider it. It’s not a possibility.
Young wasn’t much of a power hitter and with Rivera throwing, he was even less. When the ball jumped off the right hander’s bat to right field, I was hoping for a sacrifice fly. My depth perception was poor from our seats. My dad’s wasn’t. I could hear him wishing the ball over the fence before I even realized it would go to the warning track. When Delmon Young’s hit cleared the right field baggie, it felt like the impossible just happened. Rocky just knocked down Apollo Creed in the first round. It was pure baseball joy. I remember screaming through the chaos of the Metrodome, “Take that, hall of famer!”
The game stretched into extra innings. Alex Rodriguez and Xavier Nady hit home runs in the 12th to help New York eventually win 9-6. But sometimes the sad ending feels better. Sometimes the story needs to be something people can relate to. Even Rocky lost to Apollo.
August 16, 2002, Metrodome, Twins vs. Red Sox
Pedro Martinez. He’s one of the greatest pitchers of his time and I had to see him. There was no one to go with me that day so I went alone.
There is a huge bonus to going to a ball game on your own most people don’t realize because they’ve never tried it: Great tickets! When you only want one seat, there are hundreds of stray seats all over the park that go unused. My seat was 10 rows up behind third base right next to a hard-core Red Sox fan originally from Boston.
Martinez was running up a scoreless innings streak of 33 when he began that night. The Sox fan was telling me with great confidence how the streak would continue and Pedro would strike out between 10 and 12. I was courteous and listened to him as he spoke of he team like they were the second coming.
Before the game was an inning old, LaTroy Hawkins was thrown out of the game while sitting on a folding chair in the Twins’ bullpen. Apparently he sat there all year, and when the third-base ump told him to move, Hawkins told him where he could move and was ejected from a game he never played in.
As for the game, I was impressed with Pedro, but even more with the Twins’ Joe Mays. On a night the attention was on the Red Sox (as it usually is), the Twins stole the spotlight.
Pedro’s scoreless streak ended with a run in the fifth inning. Pedro’s hope for a win ended in the seventh when David Ortiz, playing for the Twins, launched a solo homer into the right field upper deck. Pedro even tipped his cap to the man who would eventually be known as Big Papi. Strangely, the Red Sox fan was nowhere to be seen when the Twins pulled ahead 5-0.
Joe Mays ended up throwing a two-hitter: probably one of his greatest games ever. He ended the night by striking out the great Manny Ramirez. The Twins went on to the American League Championship Series and Boston didn’t even make the playoffs.
Martinez is still my pick for greatest pitcher of his generation. He was better than Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Joe Mays … but not on that day.
May 22, 2005, Metrodome, Twins vs. Brewers
Since I’d become a part-time Brewers fan, my parents decided to get me tickets to see them and the Twins. Of course, I told everyone I root for the Brewers every game of the year except when they’re playing the Twins.
Johan Santana was on the mound for the Twins and he looked like his usual self early on. Some Milwaukee players were taking a full swing before Santana’s changeup crossed the plate.
Eventually the Brewers figured out the Cy Young winner and took a 5-2 lead led by a Brady Clark home run. Down by three runs, my dad and I agreed things didn’t look good for Minnesota going into the bottom of the ninth inning. Things looked a little better when we scored a run to bring the score to within two. I picked up my Twins cup from the ground in anticipation to leave when Shannon Stewart stepped to the plate with two outs and a runner on first. Derrick Turnbow was on the mound for the Brewers. Manager Ned Yost had brought him in with one out in the eighth inning, but he still was throwing gas.
If Stewart’s drive to right field were two feet lower, it would have bounced off the wall. Instead it went over, tying the game and sending myself, my dad and the rest of the fans into a frenzy. It was as if Pearl Jam decided to come back for a third encore and we were happy to enjoy more of a show than we bargained for.
In the 11th, Lew Ford led off the inning with a triple and the Twins eventually loaded the bases with one out. Luis Rodriguez was at the plate and lined a hard grounder to Junior Spivey at second base. Spivey fielded it, dropped it, picked it up and dropped it again. By this time all the force plays were eliminated and the Twins won 6-5.
It was proof that if your team is down, don’t leave. Something like this could happen.
April 19, 2006, Metrodome, Twins vs. Angels
My friend Kurt and I had a two-for-one ticket offer. Why not? Kyle Lohse was on the mound for the Twins while Ervin Santana was pitching for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It was NOT a pitcher’s duel. Lohse was horrible, giving up eight earned runs over three and a third innings.
The Angels kept trying to run away with it, but the Twins wouldn’t let them. Los Angeles led 9-4 at the end of the fifth inning. Time to leave, right? No way. The Twins scored four runs in the sixth and then Torii Hunter hit a solo homer in the seventh.
We were down 10-9 going into the bottom of the ninth facing Angels’ closer Francisco Rodriguez, otherwise known as K-Rod. Pinch hitter Joe Mauer led off with a single. Ruben Sierra walked and then Hunter singled to load the bases with no out. Justin Morneau flew out to third base and Tony Batista struck out. A few moments ago it seemed like the Twins were guaranteed to score and now it looked like the game could end soon.
Lew Ford stepped in. With two strikes, Ford refused to strike out. He seemed to foul off a dozen pitches before finally getting the count full. My hands were clammy and cold. My heart was racing and my stomach would jump to my throat with every Ford swing. He wouldn’t give up! His numbers don’t normally show it, but I think Ford could be a quality hitter. My skin crawled when Ford took yet another pitch.
Finally, Ford took one more pitch and I cringed thinking it would be a called strike to end the game. No such luck for the Angels and Ford walked to bring in the tying run.
The Twins couldn’t get another run across, but it was okay because we had extra innings. Los Angeles couldn’t score in the tenth against Joe Nathan, so it was the Twins’ turn. K-Rod was replaced with former Twin J.C. Romero. Romero was known for his clashes with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and he was not looking upon with favor by Minnesota fans. After a Shannon Stewart strikeout, Luis Castillo walked. Joe Mauer grounded out to the shortstop, but not before Castillo stole second. With Nick Punto due up, I looked to the on-deck circle to see Michael Cuddyer getting ready to pinch hit.
“Oh, shit. It’s Cuddyer,” I said to Kurt. As baseball fans know now, Cuddyer had a spectacular year, but it was his first. In the past, Cuddyer hadn’t lived up to expectations with the glove and bat. All we needed was a base hit with the speedy Castillo on second.
When Cuddyer hit a towering drive to dead center field, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Angels’ centerfielder Darin Erstad raced back, made a leaping jump for the ball at the wall and came back with nothing. Cuddyer won it on a game-ending two-run homer. He was greeted by his cheering teammates at home.
Although you’d never read about it in the papers, I’m sure it meant a little more to the Twins knowing they won so dramatically off their former rebellious teammate. Cuddyer went on to knock in 109 runs and the Twins had one of their most impressive seasons, ending with 96 wins.