The usual Target Field pregame rituals, the anthem and the first pitches and the flag-raising, were interrupted Sunday by a ballplayer. Glen Perkins had something to say.
Standing between home plate and the mound where he usually works, slowly reading from an eight-sentence script he wrote himself, the native Minnesotan tried to politely express his agreement with what he’s heard Twins ticket holders say for the past few years: Losing stinks. And so, by extension, do the Twins.
“Nobody is happy with the results of this club,” Perkins assured the half-full stadium, “and along with the people in our front office, we are committed to doing everything we can to improve this team.”
Did anyone feel better after hearing his pledge?
Yes. Perkins did.
“It was emotional to give, because I’ve been in their shoes, and I know how hard it is to be a fan of this team right now,” said the Lakeland native, who grew up watching the late-1990s Twins, the last group to lose as frequently as this team. “It definitely came from the heart. I know it’s difficult rooting for this team, but I wanted to convey that we’re not just here collecting paychecks, that we’re not just going through the motions.”
It’s difficult to imagine, though, how things would be much worse if they were. The Twins finished the 2013 season with a 66-96 record, identical to last year and the third consecutive year with such a staggering pile of losses. They scored just 614 runs, the fewest in a 162-game season since 1968, and they allowed 788, more than every team but Houston. They piled up 300 more strikeouts than any Twins team ever had, eclipsed 10 in 66 games, or 40 more than their old record, yet they are they only major league team whose pitchers didn’t strike out 1,000 batters.
No wonder Perkins felt the need to buck up the paying customers.
“We as players felt it was important to thank you directly for your support this year,” he said over the stadium P.A. “You have been there to support us through the good — and the bad.”
And the … what’s worse than bad? This was a team, after all, designed with a mid-lineup trio of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham as its engine. Once stripped of one cornerstone by concussion, another by trade and the third by hobbled-knee depreciation, the Twins collapsed into a barely competitive heap in September, losing 20 of their last 25 and the final six in a row.
“People saw how valuable those guys are, to our lineup as well as their presence in the locker room,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “That’s a huge loss.”
And Sunday’s finale was a tediously typical one. The only thing unusual about Cleveland’s 10th consecutive victory, a 5-1 yawner, was the celebratory scrum near second base once the Indians clinched their postseason berth. Minnesota got a messy outing from its starting pitcher, fell behind in the first inning, committed three errors, failed to capitalize on its infrequent scoring chances, and struck out 15 times. Yeah, that’s about as boilerplate as a game gets.
There were bright spots, right? The Twins will select fifth in next year’s draft, behind the Astros, Marlins, White Sox and Cubs, a merit badge for ineptitude. And Dozier must have been satisfied with his season, having established himself as an everyday big-leaguer, correct?
“No. It’s not about individual things,” said the Twins’ unlikely home run leader. “We’re not in the playoffs. You want to have a good season, but if you’re not winning games, that just overshadows everything.”
So it was Sunday, in a Twins clubhouse in which few players lingered for long. As many as two-thirds of the current roster has reason to wonder if they will be back, and even the manager isn’t certain of his standing.
“This is an emotional day out in the clubhouse,” said Ron Gardenhire, who expects to learn Monday whether he will return for a 13th season in 2014. “We have to live with the things we did this summer and try to figure out a way to make them better.”