The 10 greatest games in Metrodome historyby Chris Jaffe
September 21, 2009
They say all good things must come to an end. That also holds true for the Metrodome. The "Mistake by the 10,000 Lakes"—a building that has all the charm and aesthetic appeal of Eastern European architecture circa the Cold War—will host its final baseball games next month.
Over the years I've done several "10 best games" columns, and the Metrodome's impending demise inspires me to write a piece on its greatest games . I realize I'm jumping the gun on this column, writing it not only prior to the season's finale, but despite the fact the Twins have stumbled into a tight pennant race. It's possible this column will be immediately out-of-date.
Worst comes to worst, this list gives you all an idea of how good the final games will have to be in order to crack the list. This can serve as a point of comparison, should the pennant race go down to the wire.
As for my list, the criteria is fairly simple: look for games that were exciting and exceptional. Obviously, it helps if the games have special meaning and importance.
I have one final random comment before the list. I originally planned to even it out with about as many Twins losses as wins. (This ain't a Twins blog. I don't have a rooting interest). However, in general most great baseball games involve the home team winning. Name your 10 best games of all-time and most will have ended on a walk-off play, which means the home squad won. Thus even though I don't care who won, Minnesota triumphalism litters the list.
1. Well, duh
Oct. 27, 1991: Twins 1, Braves 0 (10). Normally, you start with number 10 and work your way to the top, in order to build suspense. But what suspense? Nothing will top this one.
So much has already been written about this game, I don't know what else to say. Tom Kelly famously let Jack Morris pitch for all 10 innings, giving him the longest start by any pitcher in the World Series since 1969, when Tom Seaver defeated the Orioles 2-1 in 10 innings.
This was one of only three Fall Classic contests to enter extra innings without either team scoring. As the only Game Seven of that trio, it is easily the coolest of the bunch.
2. The other "duh"
Oct. 26, 1991: Twins 4, Braves 3 (11). Games ending on a walk-off hit, including this one, are typically memorable. It's all the better if the blast was a homer, like the one that ended this game. A walk-off in extra innings heightens the drama still further. The coup de grace: the Twins would have lost the World Series if they lost this game, as they entered the night trailing three games to two. It certainly doesn't hurt that the night's hero was Kirby Puckett, arguably the most popular player in team history and a Hall of Famer
I should note that this the last entry from the 1991 World Series on my list. Games One and Two were both fine, but not enough to make this list. Game One was actually a fairly routine victory for Minnesota, and Game Two was more exciting, but not quite enough to be considered one of the 10 best out of more than 2,200 games.
3. Triumph of Sisyphus
Sep. 28, 2006: Twins 2, Royals 1 (10).
Throughout the Twins' amazing run I've served the role as punchbowl turd by curbing enthusiasm a bit, and this is why. Winning 21 of 23 is fantastic and has without question restored my obsession with the Twins' season. However, the problem is that because of how strong the division is and how big of a hole the Twins dug for themselves early, they basically had to keep winning for the rest of the year.
In normal circumstances it's certainly not the end of the world when a team that has been playing extremely well loses a series to the Royals, but in the Twins' case they simply don't have the margin for error to live with many setbacks. The All-Star break arrives after the next series, and even with all the progress they've made over the past month the Twins are still 8.5 games out of a playoff spot.
Aaron Gleeman, 7/6/06.
Ever heard the Greek myth of Sisyphus? He was sentenced to a lifetime of toil, forever rolling a boulder up a hill. Each time he nearly got to the top, the boulder would roll back down the hill.
The 2006 Twins appeared to be Sisyphus's kind of team. They began at the bottom of the hill, 11.5 behind the Tigers on June 7. Then they caught fire, but, as the Gleeman quote above indicates, it was futile, as the Tigers were even hotter. Despite winning 24 of 31, the Twins found themselves 12 games back on July 15. Somehow, despite their torrid pace, they were further from the hilltop than ever.
Like Sisyphus, the Twins kept toiling, winning series after series. Though the task appeared hopeless—they were still 10.5 games back on Aug. 7—they rolled closer to the apex of first place. They began Sep. 28 just one game behind the Tigers and on the verge of rising to the top of the mountain. In the myth, this is when the boulder rolls backwards.
It looked like that was going to be the case. In that day's game, the visiting Royals took an early 1-0 lead, which Minnesota's hitters seemed helpless the overcome. Through eight innings, only one Twins batter had made it past first base. However, in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, Joe Mauer connected on a game-tying home run. Minnesota's first rally of the game won it in the 10th. Combined with a Tigers loss, the Twins stood atop the mountain, tied for first.
The game encapsulated Minnesota's entire 2006 season. They fell behind early and seemed unable to come back until the last possible moment. And just as the game ended with a dramatic, walk-off victory, the Twins' finally took sole possession of the division lead on the last day of the season.
4. At the time, it looked like a great moment in franchise history
Sep. 25, 2008: Twins 7, White Sox 6 (10). For all the national media's talk about the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, it's worth noting that the Twins and White Sox have enjoyed a nice little back-and-forth in the new millennium. Both teams frequently find themselves in the thick of the pennant race while far exceeding expectations. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen famously referred to the Twins as "piranhas" for their relentlessness.
2008 was one of the years that both teams surprised the game's punditry by battling for first place late into the season. With six games left to play, the Sox came to town for a three-game series. Minnesota seemingly needed a sweep, as the Sox led them by 2.5 games. Though Minnesota's odds seemed long, the piranhas lived up to their nickname, winning the first two games, and devouring most of Chicago's once comfortable lead in the process. Whoever won this game would enter the final series of the year in first place.
At first, it looked like an easy Chicago win, as they jumped out to a 6-1 lead. Ah, but one should place a lead so meaty before a school of piranhas. They won't consume it in one swallow, but they'll devour it bite by bite until nothing remains. That's exactly what happened here.
Minnesota scored twice in the fourth, once in the sixth, and twice in the eighth, and the game headed into overtime tied at 6-6. After the piranhas ate away the Sox's lead, they proceeded to finish off the visitors, scoring the winning run in the 10th and securing first place.
The division was Minnesota's to lose—which is precisely what they did. Sure, the Twins may be piranhas, but the South Siders weren't a bunch of guppies.
5. Damn Yankees
Oct. 9, 2004: Yankees 6, Twins 5 (11). I suppose it's appropriate that the highest ranking loss by the Twins comes from the ALDS. In franchise history, the Twins are 5-11 in this postseason round. This loss stung the most.
Heading into the eighth inning, Minnesota possessed a formidable 5-1 lead. Not only did that seemingly ensure victory, but it put them in great position to take the series. Though the next game would be in New York, a fully rested Johan Santana would start for the Twins. All they had to do was record six outs before allowing four runs.
Instead, the Yanks engineered a big eighth inning rally to tie it. In the 11th, the winning run scored in a most ignominious manner for Minnesota. After Alex Rodriguez blasted a one-out double, he stole third and scored on a wild pitch. That ended Minnesota's 2004 season.
6. (TIE). No-nos that weren't
May 5, 1987: Orioles 5, Twins 4. August 23, 2005: Twins 1, White Sox 0. There are two main ways a game can live in people's memory. It can either be a fantastically exciting contest or feature an especially great performance. These games combined both elements.
On May 5, 1987, Eric Bell, in only his ninth career start, was pitching the game of his life for the Orioles. Through eighth inning, he held the Twins hitless as his offense staked him to a 4-0 lead. Had it not been for one walk, he would be three outs from perfection. The Minnesota faithful on hand can be forgiven for switching allegiances during the game and rooting for the kid. After all, attending a no-hitter is something you can talk about for years afterwards.
The bottom of the ninth began with the normally sure-handed Cal Ripken Jr. muffing a grounder, putting a man on first. That was okay—there was no perfect game on the line anyway. However, the second batter ended everyone's fun by getting a single. Deflated fans across the stadium began heading for the exits. I'm sure there was some polite applause for Bell's near-accomplishment, but the drama must be over now. There was no way Minnesota's lifeless bats could do anything.
Could Bell get the shutout at least? Perhaps, as he then got a groundout, putting him two outs away from a complete game victory. However, a single then scored Minnesota's first run and manager Cal Ripken Sr. lifted Bell. He'd lost his stuff, and Baltimore's bullpen should be able to hold such a sizable lead, right?
Well, Minnesota star Kirby Puckett greeted the new Orioles pitcher most rudely by slamming a three-run homer to put Minnesota within one run, 5-4. Stunned fans now had to suddenly re-accustom themselves to rooting for the home team again. The odds were against them, but a rally had broken out when rooters least expected it.
Up next, Gary Gaetti singled and Kent Hrbek followed it up by singling him into scoring position. It was the most bizarre bottom of the ninth in memory: after 24 of the first 25 batters made outs, six out of seven Twins had reached base.
The fans cheered as fearsome slugger Tom Brunansky stepped to the plate. He could easily give Minnesota the win with one swing. Alas, he could only bounce one back to the mound, but at least advanced the runners. Now a base hit could win it.
The Orioles manager, recognizing both the need for a force and that any runner on first was now meaningless, issued an intentional walk to allow the seventh Twin of the inning to reach base. Twins fans were standing on their feet as their boys were on the verge of the unthinkable as pinch hitter Roy Smalley took his practice swings at the plate.
If this was a Hollywood script, he'd have belted home the winning run, but instead he just made the final out. Neither a great performance nor an awe-inspiring rally had occurred, but in some ways this game was more special than most of those contests. Once in a rare while, a game will have an eight-inning no-hitter. Once in a rarer while a team will nearly blow a five-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. But how often do both happen in the same contest?
In the 2005 game, an exciting game occurred simultaneous to a great performance, rather than immediately after one. In fact, this was arguably the greatest pitchers duel of all-time, as the two teams combined for only four hits all game long, the fewest in Metrodome history.
Though Johan Santana provided one of his typical great performances, the night appeared to belong to Sox starter Freddy Garcia. Though seven innings, not a single Twin had gotten a hit against him. Heading into the bottom of the eighth, only one player on either team had even made it to third, and that was only because of a defensive error.
Jacque Jones ended Garcia's no-hitter, shutout, and victory bid with one swing of the bat. Jones's homer was not only the game's only run, it was Minnesota's only hit that day.
7. (TIE). A seven-run lead ain't what it used to be
May 16, 1983: A's 7, Twins 6. May 10, 2000: Twins 10, Indians 9. Oakland appeared to have the contest well in hand. In the top of the ninth inning, they added a seemingly needless insurance run to their already impressive lead, to go up 7-0. Minnesota, down to their last three outs, appeared doomed.
Instead, Minnesota's batters went bonkers. Back-to-back homers led off the inning, and a few minutes later, two more balls had left the field. That seemingly insurmountable Oakland lead now stood on the edge of being surmounted, as Minnesota trailed only 7-6. Though a single put the tying run on base, he died at first as Oakland recorded the last out to end the game.
Seventeen years later, the Twins appeared to have learned their lesson: if you want to overcome a seven-run lead, start as early as you can. At the seventh inning stretch in the 2000 contest, the Indians led 8-1. Six hits, two walks, and 11 batters later, the inning ended with the Tribe clinging to an 8-7 lead. They put one more run on the board in the top of the ninth, but that merely added to the drama as the Twins piled on three more late runs for an unlikely 10-9 victory.
While I may have missed something, this is the largest comeback in Metrodome history that I found. I discovered seven different games in the Metrodome where a team overcame a six-run deficit, and a pair of games in which a team blew a six-run lead but managed to rally for the win anyway. This tops them all (as far as I know).
8. (TIE). No-nos that were
April 27, 1994: Twins 6, Brewers 0. Sep. 11, 1999: Twins 7, Angels 0. Wait, why are the actual no-hitters ranked below the non-no-hitters? Simple, those were not only memorable performance but also great games. While the performances here were greater (they were, after all, actual no-hitters), the games were pretty boring.
Actually, I feel like I should apologize to Scott Erickson for including his 1994 gem alongside Eric Milton's big day in 1999. Milton had the advantage of facing one of the most pathetic lineups ever no-hit, while Erickson had to do it the hard way, facing real batters.
9. The Minnesota Marathon
Aug. 31, 1993: Twins 5, Indians 4 (22). This is the longest game in Metrodome history in terms of both innings and time, 6 hours, 17 minutes. (If you're curious, at 113 minutes this was the shortest game in Metrodome history).
The Indians vaulted to a 4-1 lead entering the bottom of the eighth, but couldn't put the game away. The Twins scored two that inning and the game-tying run in the ninth to send the game into a seemingly endless overtime.
Neither team could score. The Indians had plenty of opportunities, as they put runners on in five of the first six extra frames, but they couldn't get the last hit to bring any of those runner home. Meanwhile, the Minnesota offense was totally incapacitated, getting a runner past first in only one of the first nine overtime innings.
However, Minnesota made a big swing first, as a homer to lead off the bottom of the 22nd ended the game, allowing the handful of diehards who remained to go home happily.
10. (TIE). The Jack Morris Seal of Approval
Sep. 19, 1990: Twins 1, Royals 0 (11). Aug. 13, 2003: Indians 5, Twins 0 (14). April 26, 2007: Twins 1, Royals 0 (11). I have to admit, I think there is something very cool about a game that features no scoring after nine innings. Of all games in Metrodome history, this trio of contests went the longest before the first run was scored. The only other extra-inning 0-0 game was the Jack Morris Game.
In the 1990 contest, both starting pitchers achieved Game Scores of 80 or higher. Unless I missed something, that is the only time in Metrodome history that happened.
The 2003 game has the distinction of being the longest game without runs in the Stadium That Aesthetic Taste Forgot, but the avalanche of runs in the 14th inning by the Indians causes it to lose a few points.
The 2007 affair featured an appalling lack of clutch hitting. Prior to the bottom of the 11th, a runner made it to third base seven times, but no one could figure out how to make them move those last 90 feet. The Royals had six at-bats in four separate frames with a runner on third, but never did get one home.
There are many others worthy of contention, but that's part of the great things about these lists. They make a nice way to start a conversation on the subject, rather than end one. While this weekend's Detroit series didn't provide a new inclusion, it's possible the season's finale might do so, especially if the division race remains tight. As this list shows, though, any future aspirant will have to earn it
References and Resources
I spent waaaaaay too much time at Retrosheet figuring out this one. On a mercenary note, I spent a lot of time researching this going through the Retrosheet gamelogs, and I don't want anyone to think I'm just leeching off any similar columns that come out when it closes (in fact, this is inspired by an old ESPN piece on the Kingdome's greatest moments).
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.
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