Twins Bid Farewell to the Metrodome

Putting together a miraculous 17-4 won-loss record at the end of the 2009 season coupled with a choke job by the Detroit Tigers earned the Minnesota Twins their fifth Central Division Championship in the 21st century.

Looking back at the years since 2000 gives some indication as to why the team has built such a strong fan base after enduring losing seasons under manager Tom Kelly from 1993 through 1999. Kelly’s team wasn’t so hot in 2000, either, finishing in the basement of the Central Division with 69 wins and 83 losses. However, his 2001 Minnesota club won 14 of their first 17 games and led the division at the All-Star break. But the Twins couldn’t sustain the momentum and finished in second place. That season also finished Kelly who yielded to his third base coach Ron Gardenhire.

Under Gardenhire, the Twins have achieved a remarkable run of success interrupted only by a single hiccup, a 79-83 season in 2007. Gardenhire’s teams won their division in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2009.

Minnesota reached the World Series in 1965 (under Sam Mele) and 1987 and 1991 (under Kelly). Under Gardenhire, the Twins have never made it past the American League Championship Series (ALCS). That was in 2002 when the lost to eventual World Series champion Anaheim. In fact, Gardy’s teams won only one game in the 2003 and 2004 playoffs and were swept in 2006 and 2009.

Since Gardenhire took over, the Twins have played patsy to the New York Yankees. In playoff action, Minnesota was defeated by the Yankees in four games in 2003, four games again in 2004, and, of course, this year when the Bombers swept the Twins. The sad fact emerges that, since 2002, Minnesota has won only three games at Yankee Stadium (both old and new) while losing 25. “I don’t pay a lot of attention to it,” Gardenhire said. Perhaps he should.

Minnesota baseball fans have grown accustomed to the reality that they have to settle for division championships. A World Series here seems far out of reach due to the shameful status of the Central Division, currently the weakest in major league ball.

This is in no way meant to diminish the Twins fantastic finish in 2009 that saw the team tie the Tigers on the last day of the season by sweeping Kansas City while Detroit was losing two out of three to Chicago. The tie-breaker between the Tigers and the Twins was one of the closest games ever contested in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Ironically, it was the second to last game ever played in the dome by the Minnesota Twins, who move to Target Field in 2010.

Gardenhire was able to cobble together a lineup for the stretch run that did not include All-Star first baseman Justin Morneau, third baseman Joe Crede, and starting pitchers Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins, all out due to injuries. The Twins went into the final weeks of the season without a respectable designated hitter while using a patchwork infield that included a converted outfielder at first base and weak hitters at second and third. Yet, the lineup that included too many holes held together for the championship run despite the fact that the teams two other All-Stars (Joe Mauer and Joe Nathan) were fading at the end.

For the 2010 debut at Target Field, Gardy’s team is still in need of at least one more reliable starter, new faces at second and third, a strengthened bullpen, and a shortstop who is not a butcher in the field.

Finally, a word about the Metrodome. I always liked the place. It was fine for me. The drawbacks of the crowded corridors, lousy food, poor sightlines (especially for those seated on the third base side), and the dirty roof did not bother me. It was Major League Baseball (MLB) that grew sick of the place and compared it (unfavorably) to other “state-of-the-art” parks in Denver, San Diego, San Francisco, Detroit, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., etc. Today the Metrodome looks like a relic of the past, similar to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. But some of us enjoyed going to a game knowing that, rain or shine, it would be played. The Metrodome was fine for me.

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