Top 11 of ’11, Part II


Let’s continue our look at the Top 11 moments of the 2011 season. In case you missed #11 through #8 yesterday, you can find it here.

#7: Michael Cuddyer‘s Trip to the All Star Game

Usually, when a team only sends one player to the All Star Game, it isn’t a good thing. Oftentimes, this means that the team is terrible, and the All Star manager has to scrape the bottom of the barrel to fulfill the requirement of selecting one All Star from every team in the league. The Twins certainly were terrible in 2011. But while Michael Cuddyer did not have the impressive numbers of some of the other AL All Stars, he was definitely not a bottom of the barrel pick.

Cuddyer’s selection to the All Star team can be seen as a sort of Lifetime Achievement award. True, he put up a solid .298/.369/.474 line in the first half, with a team leading 13 homers. But the honor of being chosen had as much to do with Cuddyer’s years of dedication and dependability as it did with his 2011 stat line. It was all the more poignant that the recognition came in what might well have been Cuddyer’s last year with the team.

As is usually the case with the All Star Game, the game itself (a 5-1 loss for the AL) was far less exciting than the hype surrounding it. This was true for Cuddyer as well. He entered the game in the seventh as a defensive replacement at first base. In the ninth inning, he had his only at bat, which resulted in a flyout to right field.

#6: 20th Anniversary of the Greatest. Baseball. Team. Ever!

20 years ago, the Twins fielded one of the most exciting teams ever. They took us on a wild ride from last place to first place, stopping along the way for dozens of moments of heart-stopping tension. The incredibly talented and highly motivated 1991 team was a perfect contrast to the lackluster Twins of today, so it was fitting that the Twins held their 1991 Reunion Weekend at Target Field in early August. Most of the players were able to attend the ceremonies, aside from the late Kirby Puckett, and Chuck Knoblauch, who apparently wants to forget his baseball career.

The 20th Anniversary was not just a weekend of celebration, though. It was a yearlong event. We’ve been passing milestones all year long, such as the 20th anniversary of the 15 game winning streak in June, which the 2011 Twins celebrated by racking up their own long winning streak (see below). Today happens to be the 20th anniversary of a meaningless late season game that the Twins lost 13-12 in extra innings (okay, not all of the anniversaries are exciting).

 It wasn’t just the Twins getting in on the 20th anniversary action. MLB Network did a series on the 20 greatest games of the television era earlier this year, and viewers selected Game 7 of the ’91 series as #2. If you missed that broadcast, no problem. The entire 1991 World Series finally came out on DVD this year, an event I had been waiting for my entire adult life. If you are anything like me, you purchased this the day it came out and have already re-watched Puckett’s Game 6 homer 827 times.

#5: Season Ending Walk-off Victory

A lot of people missed this one. Some people, long disillusioned by the Twins’ terrible pitching and nonexistent hitting, stopped watching baseball in late August or early September. Others tuned in to see the thrilling conclusion to the Wild Card battles, in which the Rays stormed back to win in extra innings while the Braves saw their season slip away. But if you were watching the Twins and Royals in Game 162, you saw an exciting 1-0 contest. No, the playoffs were not on the line. But the Twins at least prevented the ignominy of a 100 loss season.

Carl Pavano, the most reliable starter all season long, added another feather to his cap with a complete game shutout.  He held Kansas City’s lineup to just five hits and set the stage for the walk-off win. In the bottom of the 9th, Denard Span hit a pinch double, moved to third on a groundout, and scored on a Trevor Plouffe line drive single.

Whenever the Twins have a 1-0 walk-off victory like that, especially when it’s one that occurs at the very end of the season, it’s hard to resist the temptation to compare it to the aforementioned Game 7 from 1991. This one came up short for a couple of reasons. First, the stakes were obviously much lower. Second, Pavano is no Jack Morris (and Plouffe is probably no Gene Larkin either). But it was still an inspired performance that prevented the team from ending the season in complete dismay. And it was definitely fun to watch.

#4: June Winning Streak

Between June 1st and June 16th, 1991, the Twins played 15 games. They won every single one. The Twins longest ever winning streak thrust them from also-ran status to first place in their division, and it became a defining moment in their World Championship season.

20 years later, the Twins waited until June 2nd to get started, but they embarked on a run of games that was almost as impressive – perhaps even more impressive, considering the personnel they had on field. From June 2 through June 21, the Twins won 15 of 17 games. They swept the Royals in four games at Kauffman Stadium, took two of three in Cleveland, won three of four at home against the heavy-hitting Rangers, swept two against the White Sox and three against the Padres, and then put up 8 runs in the first inning in a 9-2 win against the defending champion Giants. The Twins started the streak a dismal 17-37, but they pulled themselves up to a respectable 32-39, a mark that legitimately caused specualtion that the Twins would get back into the division race.

Most impressively, the Twins won all these games despite the absence of most of their star players. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel, and Denard Span were all on the Disabled List for most of June. In their place, Ben Revere, Luke Hughes, Jason Repko, and Drew Butera somehow managed not only to hold down the fort, but to keep the season from becoming a complete waste.