It is 12:47 pm on Sunday, Sept. 30, the day of the Minnesota Twins final home game.
A mass of fans gather near the entrance gate by Target Plaza. They either take the stairs up to Section 240 or find a spot in the bleachers in right field or grab a quick Leinenkugel beer and a hot dog before settling down at their designated seating area.
Two lucky fans—an older, plump white man and another African American man with dreads that sort of resembles Ronny Turiaf—throw out a first pitch before Scott Larson, a longtime employee that is leaving the organization next year, tosses the third first pitch of the night to manager Ron Gardenhire.
A video montage of highlights from the season plays to Shinedown’s Unity. Included are the Trevor Plouffe bombs, the games Glen Perkins saved and the balls Brian Dozier snagged.
It ends with one of Josh Willingham’s 35 home runs.
When the video ends at 12:58 pm, many of the seats in Target Field remain unoccupied. A few people in the club section place food orders with an attractive blonde attendant, others line up in the Captain Morgan section in left field to watch TC Bear, the team mascot, toss a ball back and forth with Jamey Carroll and still others float around the concourses.
Like every other game, the lineups are announced, starting with that night’s opponent. That afternoon it was the Detroit Tigers.
Like every other game, a veteran raises the American flag before the Star Spangled Banner is sung. That afternoon it was Specialist Ron Christenson, a medic in the Vietnam war.
And, like every other game, a Twins pitcher throws out the first pitch. That afternoon it was Liam Hendriks.
It was 70 degrees outside—a beautiful afternoon in downtown Minneapolis.
By the time Hendriks’ first pitch leaves his hand, at 1:11 pm, the stadium has filled out a little more. The lower bowl looks pretty occupied, with the exception of some empty sections in left field.
The club section was rather packed and even some of the sections of cheap seats were well occupied.
The game was a little overshadowed by the Minnesota Vikings contest against the Detroit Lions in Motown. At the time of the first pitch, the Vikings were leading the Lions 13-6 with only a couple minutes left to go in the second quarter.
It was only a couple of years ago that the final home game would be packed. There would be anticipation that there would be more baseball in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, even if it took 163 games to decide a division champion.
“They support us no matter what,” said manager Ron Gardenhire of his fans, “but they deserve a team out on the field that wins baseball games and gets back into these races legitimately—not having to play somebody that’s in it.”
On Sunday, the only influence the Twins would have over the playoff picture would be doing their part in eliminating Detroit, who sat two-and-a-half games behind the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central.
Only one team was going to the postseason.
Fittingly Joe Mauer, the hometown hero, got the first hit of the game. It was a single off of Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez.
Then something wacky happened: Justin Morneau’s bat snapped on a pop out and nearly nailed Prince Fielder—Fielder, of course, being the Tigers’ big pickup in the offseason.
He too looks like Ronny Turiaf. Or maybe Ronny Turiaf looks like Prince Fielder.
Delmon Young got the first hit for the Tigers, a double to right-center.
This was fitting in it’s own way too, perhaps.
There are multiple ex-Twins floating around the AL Central: Francisco Liriano, Jesse Crain and AJ Pierzynski, most notably, are playing for the South Siders.
There probably aren’t too many regrets in Twins Territory, however, about letting Mr. Young go. Although he was the first overall pick in 2003, he has yet to flourish on the diamond and recently had a hate crime incident in New York off of it.
The double came with one out and presented no threat. Hendriks got Andy Dirks and Jhonny Peralta to line out and ground out, respectively, with relative ease.
During the top of the third, the Vikings have taken a 20-6 lead over the Lions on local boy Marcus Sherels’ punt return. Percy Harvin had also scored on special teams, taking the opening kickoff 105 yards to the house to put Minnesota ahead early.
With a scoreless game at Target Field, there was a noticeable focus on the game being playing in Ford Field in Detroit.
Mauer hit his second single in the bottom of the fourth, making him 2-for-2 on the night.
Before the game he said his emphasis had been staying on the field, something he’s done this season. Projected to play in 147 games, he could set a career high for himself as well as earn a fourth batting title.
At that point in the game, Cabrera was 0-for-2 with a .326 average. Mauer stood at .323.
Morneau advanced Mauer to second, but Doumit and Chris Parmelee couldn’t get him home.
“Almost every team in baseball can say the same thing,” said Gardenhire before the game, “they left too many men on.
“When you’re losing like we have, it’s more glaring. You think of the one-run games we’ve lost [where] we had opportunities.”
In the bottom of the fifth, Alexi Casilla reached third on a bunt-single with one out, but again was stranded on the bases.
Cabrera was intentionally walked in the top of the sixth to set up a double play for Hendriks. The next batter, Fielder grounded into a double play to end the inning.
In the bottom half of the inning, Mauer singled to right with Revere on. That put Mauer at .324, two points behind Cabrera and, more pertinently, men on the corners for Morneau with no outs.
From third base, Cabrera had something to say for Mauer after being intentionally walked during a batting race.
The designated hitter flew out to Cabrera, ironically, on the first pitch.
Doumit grounded out to the pitcher, advancing both runners, and again it would be Cabrera that snagged a hard-hit liner from Parmelee to get the third out of the inning.
And, once again, runners were stranded in scoring position.
The Vikings officially beat the Lions, 20-13, as the Twins entered the seventh-inning stretch. One Minnesota team would be leading their division at the end of the night.
The last God Bless America was sung by Taylor Peterson and that Ronny Turiaf-looking guy led the Minnesota crowd in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame".
Hendriks went seven innings and left the game in a 0-0 tie, a solid way to end the season.
Plouffe led the bottom of the seventh off with a single, was replaced by Carroll at first and it would be Carroll that would score the first run for the Twins in their last home game off a Florimon single.
That would end Sanchez’s day.
Mauer came to the plate later that inning and faced reliever Phil Coke with men on second and third.
In dramatic irony, he too was intentionally walked.
And with the bases loaded, Morneau grounded to second.
Again, runners were stranded.
The last Sing Along with TC Bear was played before the eighth inning. Three Dog Night’s Joy to the World was the song of choice.
Florimon made a snag off of Cabrera in the eighth to drop him to .325, but Fielder hit his 30th home run off of reliever Jared Burton to put the Tigers up 2-1.
“Burton’s been so good for us,” said Gardenhire, “[Fielder] just got a pitch down the middle and he was trying to go four-spot with the fastball, which is outside, and actually yanked it to the middle and the guy did what he does.”
The small guys—Carroll and Casilla—mounted an attack with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, but Florimon lined out to left with men on the corners.
Again, runners were stranded.
The projected closer next season, Glen Perkins, shut down the Tigers in the ninth, setting up a dramatic bottom of the ninth.
The video from the beginning of the game played again in the middle of the ninth while Detroit closer Jose Valverde warmed up for what could be the final inning at Target Field this season.
Span led off with a bomb that may have been a home run in many other parks. It died at the warning track near the scoreboard, however, leaving the Twins two outs to work with.
Revere lined out to…you guessed it:
With an opportunity to pass Cabrera in the batting race and most of Target Field standing, he grounded out to first.
The Tigers players lined up and slapped hands, fans headed to the parking lot (or the bar) and the Twins bullpen headed toward the dugout.
“An exciting game for our fans,” concluded the manager.
“It’s just unfortunate that we end up with a loss there because it was a heck of a ballgame.”
The next home game in Minneapolis will be against Detroit.
There’s a lot of time between now and then.
All quotes were obtained first-hand.
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