By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
If Teflon could talk, the Twins' roof would narrate one of the most twisted yarns in the 28 seasons the Metrodome has housed the team. After five oft-confounding months, '09 concluded with an autumnal flourish so torrid and inspired it seemed that the Dome itself didn't want to relinquish its grip on its favorite sons.
Since the club moved inside in 1982, the Minnesota mantra of "Dome-field" advantage has proven as apt as it is sonorous. The Twins played 2,242 regular season games at the Metrodome, and won at an impressive .541 clip. Postseason success at the Dome was equally lopsided, as evidenced by the club's 13-9 playoff home record. Since Ron Gardenhire took over in 2002, the Twins have rolled off a winning home record in every season and made the playoffs in four of his first seven years.
This year didn't look like a success from the outset. For the first time since 1990, the Twins inaugurated the season with a starting pitching staff that offered no 20-game winners, no Cy Young recipients, and no World Series champions or Series MVPs. Equally concerning, Joe Mauer's back injury forced him to miss the first month. The Twins posted just an 11-11 mark in April, followed by a 14-16 record in May.
Thankfully, Mauer returned with force and began a march toward batting history, reaching base with Wilt Chamberlain-like frequency, hitting .414 in May and .353 for June.
The Twins finally notched a winning month in June (15-12), but still found themselves just a game over .500 and four games out of first. The All-Star break did little to replenish their spirits, as the Twins meandered onward, offering just a 12-12 July and a measured third-place standing in the Central, with two games separating them from the Detroit Tigers.
As the dog days of summer dragged on, the Twins continued to struggle. By September 6, the club trailed the Tigers by seven games in the Central. Injury struck again when 2006 MVP Justin Morneau (hitting just .201 since the break) was shut down with a stress fracture in his back, and attendance numbers sagged below 20,000. Aside from Mauer's run at a third batting title and Jason Kubel's sterling season, it seemed baseball at the Dome would go out with a whimper.
But then, seemingly against all odds, the team caught fire. Morneau's departure moved Michael Cuddyer from right field to first base, where he played without error and hit .325 with 24 RBI in 21 games; Cuddy's move opened up more playing time for Delmon Young, who rapped 17 RBI of his own with a .353 average in that same time span. On the hill, rookie left-hander Brian Duensing made several snappy starts, and Joe Nathan began throwing his way to a team single-season save record.
The season's final weekend found the Twins playing at a torrid clip, having won 13 of 17 and picked up 3.5 games on Detroit in the process. While the Twins welcomed the Royals, the Tigers—still clinging to a two-game edge in the division—hosted three games with Ozzie Guillen's Chi Sox. The Twins sweep of K.C., combined with the Tigers' two losses to Chicago, set up a tiebreaker game #163 for the second consecutive season. In just the eighth one-game tiebreaker in MLB history, the Twins won a classic, outdueling Detroit 6-5 in 12 innings to ascend to the postseason and a date with the AL East champion New York Yankees.
In so doing, the Twins became the first team in history to make up a three-win deficit in the last four games. With the win included in the year's final statistical tally, Mauer notched what some observers are calling the finest offensive season ever for a catcher. Along with owning the AL's highest slugging (.587) and on-base percentage (.444), the St. Paul native won his third batting title in four years, becoming the first catcher in history to score the hat trick. Adding to the accolades, Mauer's .365 batting average ousted Mike Piazza's .362 mark of 1997 to stand as the highest batting average ever attainted by a player at his position.
Next year, let's do it again...but this time outside.