When it was over, after Andrew Romine reached for a 1-1 slider and popped it up to first base for the final out, Glen Perkins asked Kennys Vargas for the ball.
“Just in case,” Perkins said afterward. “Better safe than sorry.”
He means, just in case that’s the last baseball he ever throws as a major leaguer. Perkins, the 34-year-old hometown pitcher and three-time All-Star closer for the Twins, might be at the end of his career, and the tears that came after the Twins’ 3-2 loss to Detroit on Saturday night gave that away.
Manager Paul Molitor told Perkins, little used since his August return after 16 months away following shoulder surgery, that he intended to find an appropriate moment to bring him into a game this final weekend of the regular season. “I appreciate what he did,” Perkins said through tears. “It’s a cool moment, and if that’s it, I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”
That moment came with two outs in the ninth inning. “Two outs in the ninth — he’s been there before,” Molitor said of Perkins, who owns 120 career saves, third most in Twins history.
The bullpen door swung open, Perkins’ signature Johnny Cash entrance music played over the public address system, and the lefthander almost couldn’t make it to the mound, he said. “I guess I was able to focus enough on running out there, putting one foot in front of the other. Tried to keep my emotions in check until I got the out,” he said. “I wanted to get that out.”
He did, retiring Romine on three pitches, and then the crowd roared as he walked off. His teammates mobbed him in the dugout, too, congratulating him mostly for traveling the long road back from a detached labrum in his shoulder. Perkins wept in the clubhouse afterward, and again as he talked to reporters, then again when broadcaster Bert Blyleven and teammate Kyle Gibson stopped at his locker to give him hugs.
“I’m sure there’s a lot going through his head — everything he’s been though, everything he’s accomplished,” Molitor said. “Emotion is good. It tells you you’ve experienced a lot. And when it floods out, those are moments that are special. It shows the humanization of the game.
“I’m proud of him. He did a lot of work to get himself back in position to take a major league mound.”
Perkins is not certain it was for the final time, but there’s a lot of uncertainty about his future. He won’t be on the Twins postseason roster, for instance.
The Stillwater High School and Gophers product says even he isn’t sure what his future holds. So he doesn’t plan to get too emotional about the season’s final game.
“There are a lot of variables in play. I’m not too worried about it, because I don’t know. I really don’t,” Perkins said. “I think if I knew for sure, I would feel differently.”
Perkins’ contract, which paid him $6.5 million this season, can be renewed for the same amount for 2018 but almost certainly won’t be. He will receive a $700,000 buyout called for in the four-year deal he agreed to in 2013 — and he believes he might be offered a deal, at a reduced price, by another team. He just doesn’t know if he will accept one.
The fact that he hasn’t looked sharp in his eight appearances since returning from a 16-month stint on the disabled list just adds to the uncertainty. His ERA is 9.53, but he believes a winter to prepare for spring training would add to his effectiveness.
“I feel like I can pitch better than I’ve pitched in this stretch. I feel like I’ve still taken steps in the right direction, more or less every time out. So that leaves me thinking, ‘What would I do with a full offseason?’ ” Perkins said. “I feel like if I want to play next year, I can play next year. It wouldn’t necessarily be here, but I could certainly get a job.”
But he wants to remain with the Twins, and has no idea if the team feels the same way. “Maybe if this is it,” he said. “Maybe I’ll look back and think I missed the moment. But I stay in the moment. If it is, it is. It was a good run … and if it’s not, then great.”