MLB’s Wild Card game still can’t replicate Twins-Tigers classic
By Chris Schad
The Minnesota Twins battled the Detroit Tigers in a classic game 10 years ago that helped spawn the MLB’s expansion of the postseason.
As Major League Baseball gets ready to kick off their postseason on Tuesday night, the Minnesota Twins can’t help but have a sly grin on their faces. While the MLB Wild Card game has produced some instant classics and some duds that make fans wonder what else is on, it’s always nice to look back and see what the original was.
Ten years ago, the Twins were the team that made the one-game playoff cool. In the 2008 and 2009 seasons, the Twins were involved in a pair of one-game playoffs that were instant classics. In 2008, the Twins had tied the Chicago White Sox for the American League Central title, but fell in the 163rd game when Jim Thome took Nick Blackburn deep in a 1-0 defeat to the South Siders.
While the Twins-White Sox matchup was a great game, it was the following year that would capture the attention of MLB. With the Twins making a late charge during the 2009 season, they would wind up tying the Detroit Tigers on the final week of the regular season to force a one-game playoff at the Metrodome.
The feat just to force the game was incredible as the Twins trailed the Tigers by three games with five left on the schedule. By taking one in the final game of a three-game series in Detroit and taking care of business against the lowly Kansas City Royals that weekend, the Twins were able to play in their element and send the Metrodome era out with a bang.
In a game that would produce a win expectancy chart mimicking the heart rate of Twins fans, the Tigers took a three-run lead off starter Scott Baker on a single by Magglio Ordonez and a two-run homer by future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera in the top of the third inning. Much like the Twins had done throughout the season, however, the comeback was on.
An errant throw by Rick Porcello would score Matt Tolbert in the bottom of that inning and solo home runs by Jason Kubel and a two-run shot by Orlando Cabrera would give the Twins the lead. Ordonez would tie the game in the top of the eighth inning that would send Twins fans on an emotional roller coaster.
From that point on, this game got crazy. There was a go-ahead double by Brandon Inge in the top of the 10th inning and a leadoff triple by Michael Cuddyer that got past a diving Ryan Raburn that would eventually tie the game. There was an attempt to win the game later in the inning on a sac fly off the bat of Nick Punto, but Raburn would even things up by throwing out Alexi Casilla at home plate.
Mixing in a sliding catch from Curtis Granderson, this game grinded into the 12th inning when Carlos Gomez would get on with a leadoff single. After Cuddyer moved him over on a grounder, Casilla would play the hero, hitting a seeing-eye grounder through the right side of the infield that helped the speedy Gomez round third and slide headfirst into home.
That moment of Gomez joyfully getting up and being chased by his teammates is the exact moment MLB has been looking to replicate but hasn’t been able to do it. The second wild card was added in 2012 and although the extra game has had its moments such as the Royals’ walkoff win over the Oakland Athletics in 2015 that helped springboard them to a World Series appearance, some of the moments have had an artificial feel to them.
Of course, there are benefits to the extra game, but when it comes to the gold standard of one-game playoffs, the 2009 Twins-Tigers classic can not be touched.