Top 11 of ’11, Part I


2011 was a disaster, but it wasn’t a complete disaster. There were actually a few bright spots for the Twins. There were also some moments of the type that make you glad to be a baseball fan. In fact, this year had more than its share of positive memories, considering that it was terrible overall. Some happened on the field, while a few happened off the field. But all are worth recounting.

In case you were too disgusted to watch, or in case you just need a reminder that it is possible for things to go right in the baseball world, here’s a countdown: the top 11 of ’11.

#11: Power Surge in Anaheim

The Twins finished the season with a meager 103 home runs, fewest in the American League. But for one night, the Minnesota lineup became a miniature Murderer’s Row.

At the beginning of August, the Twins were still hanging onto a thread of hope that they might climb back into the division race. After a loss to the Angels on August 2nd, their record stood at 50-59. The next night’s performance made that subpar mark seem like a mirage. Delmon Young got the parade started with a homer off Joel Piniero in the 2nd. He took Piniero deep again in the 4th to tie the score at 4-4. It’s hard to upstage a guy who has a multi-homer game, but Michael Cuddyer did so on one swing when he hit a go ahead grand slam an inning later. Jason Kubel pounded a solo shot in the 7th, and Cuddyer topped it all off with his own second homer in the 9th.

When all was said and done, the Twins had an 11-4 victory. It was their highest power output of the season, and a last hurrah for Young, who was traded to Detroit a few weeks later. With Kubel and Cuddyer likely to depart as well via free agency, it was fitting that they were the ones who collaborated with Young for so many homers.

#10: Bounceback Against the Dodgers

After stunning MLB with an amazing 15-2 run in June, the Twins stumbled again. They dropped five in a row at San Francisco and Milwaukee before suffering the most emmbarassing defeat, a 15-0 smackdown at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Target Field. It was the kind of loss that cuold have demoralized the team for the rest of the season.

Instead, the Twins fought back. The next night they scored three quick runs off Ted Lilly. The Dodgers quickly erased the lead, but Luke Hughes put the Twins ahead for good with a clutch homer in the bottom of the fifth. The beleagured Twins bullpen held the lead for a 6-4 win. In the rubber match, Ben Revere led off with a triple and scored on a groundout. It was the only run the Twins needed, because Scott Baker was at his absolute best. He stifled the Dodger lineup that had put up a 15 spot two days before, going 7.1 innings and whiffing nine. A series that had begun as a momentum stopping downer became a moral victory.

#9: Joe Nathan‘s Record Breaking Save

For most of his eight seasons with the Twins, Joe Nathan has been one of the most dependable closers in the game. Just as Jeff Reardon and Rick Aguilera provided late-innnig reassurance to the Twins 1987 and 1991 chamiponship squads, Nathan has been there for some of the most talented teams in Twins history. So it was fitting that his longevity and talent should earn him a place in the team record book.

He etched his name in that book on August 10th, by recording his team record 255th save. With a 5-2 lead over the Red Sox, Nathan retired Mike Aviles, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Marco Scutaro to close it out. It was a routine save in a year that was anything but. The road back from elbow reconstruction surgery had been long and dangerous for Nathan. It was smooth sailing for much of the rest of the season; though Nathan got very few save opportunities, he was reliable when he stood on the mound.

#8: Harmon Killebrew Tribute

This event may be the most memorable of the 2011 season, but it’s hard to put it any higher on this list because it came from such a sad and solemn occasion. Harmon Killebrew is one of the few Twins who can legitimately be called a baseball legend. In his 22 seasons in the Major Leagues, he accumulated 573 home runs, 1,559 walks, and 1,584 RBI. But, as we heard time and again this spring, he was remembered by even more people for his friendly demeanor and generous spirit.  

By an amazing coincidence, the Twins happened to be in Killebrew’s home state of Arizona on the day of his funeral (since Arizona is an NL team, the Twins only play there about once every six years). The whole team attended, and nearly all of them had stories to tell about how Killebrew mentored and inspired them. When they got back home, the Twins put on a touching memorial service at Target Field so that the fans could join in the remembrance. 

For the rest of the season, Killebrew’s signature adorned the right center field wall at Target Field. The team honored him by adding a #3 patch on their sleeves and wearing 1960s era throwback jerseys at all their remaining home games. They lost a lot of games in those jerseys, but at least they looked good doing it. And when they did win, it was easy to recognize Killebrew’s legacy in the team.

The Killebrew tribute was the saddest highlight of 2011, but there were many more inspirational moments. We’ll look back on #7 through #4 tomorrow. As always, you are highly encouraged to use the comments field below to share your favorite memories of 2011 – or to argue with my choices or ranking order if you think I was wrong!