This is part three in a series examining every Twins team that has made the playoffs. Whether the current version of the Twins is 20 games over .500 or stuck in last place, fans can always hold onto memories of successful teams past.
Three might be the most significant number in baseball. Three strikes makes an out. Three outs ends an inning. Great hitters strive for the Triple Crown. Hitting over .300 marks a talented batter, as an ERA under 3.00 stands shows a great pitcher. And we will always remember the game’s great trios: Tinker to Evers, to Chance, Willie, Mickey and the Duke, and Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz.
Add three more names to that list: Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, and Bert Blyleven. These three men have all been elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame, and they all played together for the first time in 1970. Killebrew, coming off a legendary 1969 season, was still among the game’s best sluggers at age 34. Carew saw limited playing time due to injury, but managed to hit an astounding .366. And Blyleven made his MLB debut, won 10 games, and posted a 3.18 ERA in a stellar rookie year.
The 1960s had been a golden age for the Twins, as they found a new home and established themselves as a force in the American League. Now, with these three superstars, it looked like the Twins would continue to prosper well into the 70s.
Outside the baseball world, any doubts that the 60s were over soon died when Paul McCartney announced the breakup of The Beatles. One iconic British band was then replaced by another as Ozzie Osbourne and Black Sabbath released their first album. The triumph of the moon landing gave way to panic, as the Apollo XIII mission nearly ended in tragedy. The war in Vietnam continued, and back in America the anti-war movement escalated, epitomized by a notorious clash at Kent State University that left four people dead. Monday Night Football went on the air for the first time, but some of 1970’s other innovations would be less appreciated by posterity. The Ford Pinto and the AMC Gremlin helped usher in a disastrous era for American auto-making. And in January, the Kansas City Chiefs won a stunning 23-7 victory in Super Bowl IV over Joe Kapp and the Minnesota Vikings.
|1970 Twins at a Glance|
|Record||98-64, first in American League West|
|Heavy Hitter||Harmon Killebrew, .271/.411/.546, 41HR, 113 RBI|
|Ace Pitcher||Jim Perry, 24-12, 3.04 ERA, 278.2 IP|
|All Stars||2B Rod Carew, 3B Killebrew, OF Tony Oliva, P Perry|
|Clinched Pennant||September 22, with 5-3 win over Oakland|
|Postseason Results||Swept in ALCS by Orioles, 3-0|
Much like the 1969 Twins, the 1970 version featured stars both at the plate and on the mound. Tony Oliva continued a brilliant hitting career with a .325 average and 23 homers. Cesar Tovar racked up a .300/.356/.442 line and stole 30 bases. Even little-known Brant Alyea contributed in a big way. The 29 year old journeyman showed impressive power with 16 homers in only 258 at-bats (it was the only time in his career he saw so much playing time). Jim Perry captured the American League Cy Young Award with a 24 win season. Blyleven and the perennially consistent Jim Kaat gave the Twins three formidable arms at the top of the rotation.
But the Twins were undone by another of baseball’s memorable threes: a three game playoff sweep. The Twins faced the Baltimore Orioles, who had defeated them in the 1969 ALCS. The Orioles featured three future HOFers of their own: Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, and Frank Robinson. And they were ready to atone for their surprising loss to New York in the 1969 World Series. They had little trouble doing so. Unlike the 1969 contest, there were no close games in this series. The Orioles established their supremacy with a seven run fourth inning in Game 1, and went on to win by scores of 10-6, 11-3, and 6-1.
Nobody knew it at the time, but the 1970 ALCS would be the Twins’ Waterloo. Carew and Blyleven continued to thrive, but Killebrew soon showed signs of age. The slugger dropped from 41 homers in 1970 to 28 in 1971. That year, the Twins dropped to sixth place in the standings. The team posted records in the .500 range for the rest of the 70s before becoming a laughingstock in the early 80s. They would not glimpse the postseason for another 17 years.
That drought, of course, has long since ended. But another streak started in 1970 still plagues the Twins. Killebrew’s power output marked the last time any player in a Twins uniform hit more than 40 home runs in a season. In fact, no Twin has hit even 35 in a year since then.