On Monday afternoon in Toronto, the Twins found the cure for a variety of ills. Justin Morneau’s hitting drought ended. A two-game losing streak ended. And at least some of the questions about whether the Twins were going to make a race for the pennant were tentatively answered.
As in, it’s still possible.
In the first inning, against Scott Richmond, the Twins made up for Sunday’s anemic 3-hit game against the Indians. They batted around, and knocked in five runs on five hits. Richmond cured them.
The young pitcher struggled against every batter, in every way a pitcher can struggle. Richmond threw nearly 50 pitches to get his three outs, and looked like he might crumple before the third inning. It looked like the Twins might have themselves a little stampede, not unlike that crazy 20-run onslaught against the White Sox in July.
But the cure was brief. The Twins won the game, with a hearty 6-3 score, but they had only one vigorous inning and needed six (six!) pitchers to keep the Blue Jays at bay.
As the Twins exploded in the first inning, the game looked like it would be a rallying point, but each successive inning seemed quieter than the last. A win, yes, but perhaps not a cure.
Now, if you’re following the Twins closely you know that they’ve made something of a science of hovering at the .500 mark. By my count, they’ve perched at equilibrium 31 times this season.
It becomes all too easy to predict what they’ll do after a win: they’ll lose. Which they did Tuesday night.
They built themselves a 3-0 lead, coasting on Brian Duensing’s five sharp, scoreless innings. Unfortunately, he had trouble in the sixth.
Duensing loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. Jon Rauch came in to put out the fire, but Toronto would not be quenched. They tied the game on a sacrifice and a single. When Rauch got the second out, it looked like that might be all the damage they’d do.
But with two men on, John McDonald, the very bottom of the order, hit his second home run of the year, scoring three. The Jays won 6-3, the mirror of Monday’s score.
Don’t get me wrong—the Blue Jays deserve something to cheer about. They’ve been trapped below the AL East’s three free-spending teams for decades. This year, they might have the statistically superior Cy Young candidate in Roy Halladay, even if the team can’t always win behind him. And any player who gets his second homer with only three weeks of the season left deserves the joy of it.
But still. Twins! Is there no way to fire you up? The season is ticking away. There was never a beefy winning streak, never a consistent starting rotation. The Twins have largely cured the bullpen problems that dogged them in the first half. And at this stage, every position is manned by a player who can contribute something offensively.
But checking off problems on the To-Do list has not given the team its real focus. There is talent, but there isn’t a winning way.
This is the time of year that many fans are ready to turn on their teams. You betrayed my devotion, they think, so I’ll betray you for football. I plan to root on, and not with a bitter heart. I’ve gotten many happy baseball moments form the Twins this year, and the pleasure of the game itself can make up for missing the postseason.
In fact, winning it all is only a subcategory of winning. And the Twins have won, specifically, just as many games as they’ve lost.
There are two little races to follow for the rest of September, then. First, will they finish at, above, or under .500? And second, will the hits, the plays, and pitches be gratifying enough in themselves, without a pennant to follow? I think plenty of them will be just that, and I’ll be there to enjoy them.