July 5, 1996, Metrodome, Twins vs. Royals
I was 18 and I’d been dumped by my girlfriend two days earlier. Only the Twins could pull me out of my funk … with a little help from my neighbor and friend, Brian.
When the Twins fell behind 5-0 after the second inning, we were more than happy to take the seats of some fair-weather fans who left their front row spots in left field.
The Twins battled back, but so did the Royals. 1996 was one of my favorite years to watch the Twins. We had two .341 hitters at the top of the lineup: Chuck Knoblauch and Paul Molitor. It was Marty Cordova’s sophomore year and he could still hit. We couldn’t pitch, but I still believe if the newly departed Kirby Puckett were in that dangerous lineup, we could have made the playoffs.
The last of the ninth came up and the Twins were down 8-4. THIS is another reason why fans shouldn’t leave early. There’s something about the excitement fueled by desperation that’s special. The feeling of knowing the next strike or flyball could end the game is something experienced only a few times in a baseball fan’s lifetime.
Rich Becker started the five-run rally with a single to score Knoblauch. Molitor doubled, putting Knoblauch at third with one out. Scott Stahoviak doubled scoring both runners. The inning began with the look like Brian and I would watch the last three outs and head home. With three runs in and one out, our outlook brightened. After a Dave Hollins strikeout, Greg Meyers walked (with Denny Hocking pinch running) to put runners at first and second with Chip Hale at bat.
Chip Hale. Remember him, Twins fans? Some may not, but I’ll never forget him. He’s the man who wouldn’t let me frown days after being dumped.
Hale’s double went in between the right and center fielders. Brian and I screamed in hope as we watched the ball roll to the wall, the runners furiously running for home and the Twins’ third-base coach waving his arm as if he didn’t do it fast enough, the runners wouldn’t obey him. There was a throw home, but the play wasn’t close. The Twins won with five runs in the bottom of the ninth and for nine innings, I forgot about that damned girl.
October 7, 1987, Metrodome, Twins vs. Tigers, Game 1 ALCS
It was my first playoff game and the Twins’ first postseason game since 1965. Minnesota had won a measly 85 games that season while the heavily favored Tigers won 98.
It was Detroit’s Doyle Alexander against Frank Viola in Game One of the American League Championship Series (ALCS). Alexander had been traded from Atlanta that year for a pitcher named John Smoltz who will be mentioned later in my top games of all time.
As for this one, my first playoff game at the age of nine was riveting. In the playoffs, the excitement is raised another ten times along with the ticket prices.
When a first-inning single in a regular game will generate a simple applause, it will be a standing ovation in the playoffs. Eyes are on the field much more often in the playoffs since every pitch can mean the game.
What do I remember from this game? Only that we won and Gary Gaetti hit two home runs.
Thanks for baseball-reference.com, my mind has been refreshed. The Tigers took a 5-4 lead entering the bottom of the eighth inning. Kirby Puckett tied the game with a double scoring Dan Gladden with one out and driving Alexander out of the game. Gaetti walked after an intentional walk to Kent Hrbek loading the bases for the Twins’ late-season acquisition, Don Baylor. Baylor singled, scoring Puckett and Tom Brunansky followed that with a double scoring two.
The Metrodome roof nearly popped off and Minnesota officially had pennant fever. The Twins would win Game 2, lose the third and then win two straight in Tiger Stadium to win the American League pennant and go on to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games in the World Series. Gaetti would also be named the ALCS MVP.
My sister went to Game 2 of the ALCS while my parents didn’t buy World Series tickets thinking the Twins would never make it. Luckily they didn’t make the same mistake four years later.
October 8, 1991, Metrodome, Twins vs. Blue Jays, Game 1 ALCS
The biggest memory that sticks out from this game was Jack Morris walking from the dugout to the bullpen about an hour before the game began. In a regular season game, a few fans in the first row might shout some encouragement to the starting pitcher, but this was the playoffs. The dome was probably half filled at the time, but everyone seemed to on their feet cheering on Morris. That’s something special that only comes in the postseason.
The St. Paul native was appreciated and would be even more in the weeks to come. The Twins grabbed a 5-0 lead after the third inning. The Blue Jays scored one in the fourth and three in the sixth. Twins’ closer Rick Aguilera pitched two scoreless innings for the save and the Twins had a 1-0 lead in the ALCS.
Toronto always seemed to give the Twins trouble, which was the reason why I was worried when we had to face them to get to the World Series. After we lost Game 2 the next day, it was a little scary knowing we had to play three straight in Toronto.
During the second game when I had to go to school while my sister got to cheer the Twins in person, I remember riding the bus from Central Junior High to the high school listening to the game on the bus’ radio when some girl I didn’t know asked the bus driver to turn the station to KDWB, the local pop station. Being a mostly quiet 13-year old kid who kept to myself, I surprised myself when I yelled, “Are you crazy! This is the playoffs!” I could taste blood.
October 19, 1991, Metrodome, Twins vs. Braves, Game 1 World Series
All the things I said earlier about the excitement of postseason play are in place except they’re further multiplied in the World Series. The Twins had defeated the Blue Jays in five game and the Braves had won the NLCS in seven games against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
I was hoping to play the Pirates in the Series even though they had won more games than the Braves. It was the team chemistry and spirited fans that scared me about Atlanta. They, like the Twins, had finished in last place the year before. The Tomahawk Chop looked dangerous (and offensive).
Luckily, the Twins still had the best home-field advantage in baseball and it was called the Metrodome. It was filled with Homer Hanky-waving-screaming fans and topped with a baseball colored roof.
One thing I will miss about the dome will be how immense the volume of the crowed can be. No other park can compare to the volume the Twins and their fans can create.
Jack Morris was on the hill for the Twins while veteran Charlie Leibrandt pitched for the Braves. Minnesota got on the board in the third with some small ball. With two outs, Dan Gladden singled and stole second base. Chuck Knoblauch then sent a single to right field. It looked like David Justice was going to have a play on Gladden at the plate, but Knoblauch did exactly what manager Tom Kelly wanted him to do. Knoblauch kept plowing for second base. If Gladden manages to score, he’s on second base with Kirby Puckett up.
Instead, the Braves cut the throw to the plate off, guaranteeing Gladden to score while Knoblauch got in a run down. He was called out, but more importantly the Twins scored and led 1-0.
With two runners on in the fifth, the Twins’ shortstop Greg Gagne stepped up. Gagne is a man known for his glove, not his bat. But this time Gagne connected for a three-run homer. He had only eight during the regular season.
Leading 5-2, Aguilera came in to close the game in the eighth. The last out was a flyout to Gladden in deep left field. When the ball came off the bat I thought it was going to be a home run. It scared me. But relief came when Gladden squeezed it in his mitt, giving the Twins a 1-0 lead in the World Series.
A 5-2 win in that World Series was exciting at the time, but it would soon pale in comparison to the rest of it.
October 5 2002, Metrodome, Twins vs. Athletics, Game 4 ALDS
Having lost Game 3 the day before, the Twins were down two games to one in the best of five division series.
The A’s were stacked that year with Miguel Tejada leading the team to 103 wins. Oakland even managed to pull off a 20-game winning streak late in the season. If we lost this game, the season was over. Tim Hudson was on the mound for Oakland, which didn’t help matters.
I took a free shuttle from Northtown Mall to the dome and the spirits weren’t as high as the previous day when the A’s came to town after the Twins took Game 1 in Oakland even though we committed, what seemed like, 12 errors in the first inning. After trailing 5-1, the Twins came back to win 7-5.
I took my seat alone in the second row of the left-field stands. Once again, this was proof the best seats go to those brave enough to go alone.
I remember the feeling of desperation; knowing if we lost it was all over. It made every strike against the A’s one step closer to victory and every ball called on us another chance to get a man on and score.
Down 2-0 entering the bottom of the fourth inning, the Twins started a seven-run rally. After a single followed by a walk by A.J. Pierzynski, Doug Mientkiewicz stood on second base. A slow grounder off the bat of Luis Rivas gave shortstop Cabrera hope of nailing Mientkiewicz at third. The throw sailed over third baseman Eric Chavez’s head, sending Mientkiewicz home.
Plays like that send happy shockwaves through me for various reasons: we just scored, we just scored in the ALDS, we just scored in a series we’re down 2-1, crazy Mientkiewicz scored and the mighty Oakland A’s just messed up an easy play.
In every playoff series the Twins have been in, I have grown a hatred for the opposing team. Sometimes it ends with the series like with the A’s and sometimes it lasts over a decade like with the Atlanta Braves. I want the Twins to excel so bad that I get angry when the opposing team dares to score a run on us.
I respected the A’s enough to konw the odds were against the Twins. When they biffed the play at third, I not only cheered, I screamed and laughed at their misfortune.
Minnesota went on to an 11-2 win. Pierzynski all but assured the Twins of a series win two days later in Oakland with a cocky home run in the ninth inning. Eddie Guardado took the mound with a three-run lead in the ninth and almost handed the series to the A’s, but the Twins held on.