There was a time when no one would ever have called Minneapolis, or St. Paul, an outer borough of baseball, even though it has often seemed that way over the past several seasons. This was once the baseball place of Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett and Bert Blyleven, Tony Oliva and Rod Carew and a local hero named Kent Hrbek, and a left-handed star pitcher named Jim Kaat, who once started three games against Sandy Koufax in the World Series.
It was the baseball place where Tom Kelly's Twins twice won the Series, in 1987 and '91, without losing a single home game in the old Metrodome. It was the baseball place, in 1991, that produced one of the great games in the history of the Series, Game 7 between the Twins and the Braves, 1-0 in 10 innings, the night when baseball was as loud as I have ever heard it anywhere.
There was a point between innings in Game 7 that night when the late Jerome Holtzman, a legendary old baseball writer from Chicago, came walking up to me behind the plate, where a lot of us were seated that night, and yelled over the music blaring from the Metrodome's sound system, "They've turned the World Series into a rock concert!" And for one loud, amazing, unforgettable World Series night, they had.
There have been other postseason appearances for the Twins in the years since that Fall Classic for them. But mostly those appearances have come against the Yankees, whom they might have to face next Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium in the American League Wild Card Game, and that is never good news, in either of the Twin Cities, because in four division series against the Yanks over the past 14 years -- the last in 2010 -- New York's record against Minnesota is 12-2. The Twins have been swept twice, beaten in four games twice. Even last week, before the Twins locked down the second AL Wild Card spot, they went into Yankee Stadium and got themselves good and swept.
But whatever happens next week, attention must be paid to what the Twins have done this week, which means grinding their way back into the postseason, even if that postseason only lasts one night, a year after losing 103 games. For now, and going into Thursday's games, they have won 24 more games -- and counting -- than they did in 2016. It is the kind of turnaround they once had when they were going from worst to first with the 1991 Twins. Of course that team won it all. This one probably won't.
Still: There is one Hall of Fame player currently managing a big league team. It is Paul Molitor. What has happened this season with the Twins has happened on his watch. And been something to see. This feels like a Hall of Fame thing from him, managing the Twin Cities back into postseason baseball, even if it really does only last a few hours, either against the Yankees or the Red Sox at Fenway Park next Tuesday night. Even the city where Molitor played his very best ball, Milwaukee, is still in play for a Wild Card in the National League.
Somehow, though, Molitor's future with the Twins seems to be very much in question, his contract scheduled to run out at the end of this season. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, who did not hire Molitor, are now in charge of baseball ops with the Twins. The public stance of the organization is that Molitor's future with the team will be addressed when the season is over. As always, in a sport where the front-office men act more and more like the pianos that wrote the concerto, you wonder -- if there are still doubts about bringing Molitor back -- what season the new men in charge have been watching, along with owner Jim Pohlad.
"We tried to put last year behind us as best we could," Molitor said the other day. "I think guys tried to learn from it. I think some guys might have used that as a motivation. But more than anything, it was tremendous learning experience, even though it was tough to endure at the time."
Molitor's team stumbled near the Trade Deadline. Stumbled enough that his bosses traded Jaime Garcia, a pitcher they had just acquired from the Braves, to the Yankees and, oh by the way, traded their closer Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals. And it looked to all the baseball world as if the people in charge weren't sold on the team's chances, at least not this year. But before long, the Twins were winning six in a row. Now they are where they are. Now that they have clinched an appearance in the Wild Card Game, it will probably occur to the people in charge that no 100-loss team has ever come back the next season and made it to the playoffs until now.
Maybe they will also figure out at Target Field that this team hasn't managed itself since the first of August. Since that time, the Twins have hit 90 home runs, the most in the sport. Brian Dozier, who hit 17 homers in his first 96 games, has hit 16 in his past 54. It happens to be a lot like what Dozier did last season, hitting 23 homers in 56 games after Aug. 1, but nobody outside the Twin Cities was paying much attention, because the Twins were on their way to those 103 losses.
Eddie Rosario is now at .290, with 27 home runs and 78 RBIs, and is another reason why the Twins have been able to overcome the loss of their All-Star, Miguel Sano. And able to overcome what is still a sketchy pitching staff and an emergency closer in Matt Belisle. It hasn't hurt that Joe Mauer is hitting like a star again. The Twins weren't supposed to be here after last season. They weren't supposed to be there after being the only playoff-contending team to trade a starter and a closer at the end of July. Again, here they are. It isn't exactly a rock concert out of the past, but it turns out that the manager likes rock music himself, which is probably why we learned after the Twins had traded Kintzler, their All-Star closer, the manager wrote this Springsteen line in his clubhouse for his players to see:
"No retreat, no surrender."
The Twins have not done either. They are now officially in the playoffs. Molitor, from his time in Milwaukee, knows that bad things can happen in the last week of the regular season, because the Brewers, when they were still in the AL, once nearly blew a four-game lead on the Orioles with five games left, back in 1982, before righting themselves and making it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. But he and Minnesota avoided such a collapse.
Molitor likely won't make it to the World Series this time. But he's going to make it back to October. After 59-103, this might not look like a Hall of Fame managing job to his bosses. Just to the rest of us.