Tyler Duffey, meet Paul Thormodsgard.
There’s a chance that I was only one in Minnesota that thought of Thormodsgard, a rookie starter for the Twins in 1977, during Duffey’s improbable domince of the Yankees on Sunday in the Bronx.
The Twins were hanging onto first place in the American League West with a 33-22 record when they went to New York for a weekend series on June 10-12, 1977.
I was the Twins’ beat writer for the St. Paul newspapers and I’m guessing it was an advance piece for the afternoon Dispatch when the troubles that rest ahead were outlined.
The Twins would be facing Ron Guidry, the Yankees’ great lefthander on Friday. They would be facing Jim (Catfish) Hunter, late in his career but still a tough task, on Saturday. And on Sunday, they would be sending the right-handed Thormodsgard into Yankee Stadium to face a lineup that included left-handed hitters Mickey Rivers, Reggie Jackson, Chris Chambliss, Graig Nettles and Carlos May.
I didn’t see much chance for the 23-year-old. In fact, as I recall, there was a paragraph in the advance story suggesting the ACLU should file for an injunction to prevent “Thor’’ from facing this cruel and unusual punishment.
As mentioned in previous blogs here, a young, smart-alecky baseball writer could let it fly for the afternoon Dispatch for a couple of reasons:
One, the folks on the Dispatch sports desk were a veteran group and concerned more with a story fitting the “hole’’ on the page than what it said; and two, all the players lived on the Minneapolis side of the river and there was close to zero chance they were going to see a mildly slanderous paragraph appearing in the Dispatch.
Maybe in the morning Pioneer Press … almost never from the Dispatch.
The Twins lost to Guidry 4-1 on Friday. The Twins lost 6-5 on Saturday, with Hunter getting the win over Dave Goltz (a 20-game winner with 303 innings that season). Sparky Lyle had saves in both games.
On Sunday, Thormodsgard was facing Ed Figueroa, a righthander in the midst of a good stretch for the Yankees.
The Twins had been desperate for starters that spring and Thormodsgard made the rotation out of Class A. He had been OK for the first several weeks of the season, but his three starts prior to pitching in New York had been abysmal: 12 1/3 innings, 21 hits and 11 earned runs.
Thus, the suggestion of an ACLU intervention, which did not take place.
The game went on. And Thor pitched a five-hit complete game for a 6-1 victory. Rod Carew hit a two-run home run in the first, Larry Hisle hit another two-run home run off Figueroa and the victory was wrapped up in 2 hours, 18 minutes.
Thormodsgard had flipped up this masterpiece in front of a crowd of 52,821 in Yankee Stadium.
Thor would finish that season at 11-15 with a 4.56 ERA and 218 innings pitched. He had 37 starts, second only to Goltz’s 39 in the Twins’ four-man rotation.
He made 12 starts for the Twins in 1978 with a 1-6 record and a 5.05 ERA. He spent much of that season at Class AAA Toledo. He was a starter in Toledo in 1979, had a good year there and was traded to Philadelphia for infielder Pete Mackanin at the 1979 winter meetings.
Mackanin spent two seasons as a platoon second baseman for the Twins. He’s now the Phillies’ manager.
The Yankees’ lineup that Duffey was facing on Sunday was not nearly as potent as the 1977 version of the Bronx Bombers. That team would win the World Series, and repeat in 1978.
On the other hand, Duffey was being backed by a much more feeble collection of Twins than manager Gene Mauch was fielding in 1977.
Duffey debuted for the Twins over the last two months of the 2015 season. He was the team’s best starter down the stretch.
He didn’t make the team out of spring training for 2016. When he came back to Minnesota, he was good for a handful of starts, but the last seven were brutal: fewer than 5 innings per start on average and a 9.35 ERA.
Paul Molitor put Duffey on notice after his previous start – a three-inning abomination. The manager hesitated after that game to say Duffey would make his next start, before deciding he had no option.
Jose Berrios had an excellent outing for Class AAA Rochester on Friday. On Saturday, I said to radio partner Judd Zulgad: “After Duffey gets pounded by the Yankees on Sunday, they are going to send him down and bring back Berrios, aren’t they?’’
Judd’s response: “They have to.’’
The Twins hit six home runs on Sunday, including three in a row from Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe and Max (“I Really Like That Kid’’) Kepler. Duffey retired the first 17 Yankees, allowed two hits, and cruised through eight innings.
Thor. Duff. Proof 39 years apart that you never know.