162 games wasn't enough to contain this season. The Twins were picked to finish anywhere from 3rd place (optimistic) to last (pessimistic). Even devoted Twins fans were figuring on somewhere in the range of 75 wins and a 4th place finish. The Tigers were too good, the Twins were too young. After all, we'd finished poorly last year, and that was before we got rid of Torii and Johan. There was just no way we were going to be playing meaningful September baseball.
Seemingly out of nowhere, we took interleague by storm, and suddenly we had hope. Maybe we'd pull down 3rd, maybe even keep pace long enough to take 2nd. Soon the Indians and Tigers were well in our rearview, and we were facing something we hadn't envisioned in anything but our most unrealistic dreams - a bona-fide to-the-wire pennant race.
After completing the sweep of the Sox and taking first place his past Thursday (which was one of the most exciting games I've seen in any setting, '91 world series included), we were in the driver's seat. If we did our business against the Royals, the future looked bright. Unfortunately, the Royals have gotten good at playing the spoiler. In 2006, they swept the Tigers and let the Twins grab first on the last day of the season. This year, they opened the door for what was sure to be an exciting game number 163. Of course, there was the makeup game on Sunday, but that was a mere formality. This was going to come down to a winner-takes-all playoff. Everyone knew it.
After a great game (and it was a great game), I sat on the couch speechless, feeling absolutely gutted. Blackburn came up big in the biggest game he's ever pitched, but Danks was looking possesed on the mound. My stomach twisted a little tighter with every pitch either of them threw (especially on the Thome blast - I somehow knew that was going to be the only run of the game). I've not watched a game that gave me this kind of feeling (not even in the playoffs in 02-04, and in 06). Having been able to watch a vast majority of the games this year for the first time (thank you FoxSports!), the guys on the Twins roster have become family. I've watched Gomez strike out on that same blasted low and away pitch 900 times now, to the point where I cringe every time he gets a 2-strike count. I've watched Scott Baker turn from the goofy looking kid who couldn't get anyone out into... a fairly goofy looking kid who could just turn out to be one of the best pitchers in the AL. These guys are the most enjoyable team to watch, and I've greatly enjoyed living and dying on their every move. I'm sure in a couple of weeks I'll look back on this season and be satisfied with the amazing run they had, but for now, I've still got that sunk feeling in the pit of my stomach. It's been a lot of fun, and I knew in the back of my mind that this day was coming, but that doesn't ease my mind too much right now. These guys have been a pure pleasure to watch day in and day out, and I look forward to next year, when others will think twice before underestimating us.
What a season by a great team. I love this baseball for exactly this feeling, even if it's a little hard to stomach at the moment.
Here's looking forward to April.