The greatest five weeks on the summer sports calendar came to an end in spectacular fashion Sunday, early on the morning television screen from Portrush in Northern Ireland, and then late on the afternoon in the shadows of Target Field.
Those that appreciate sports with a slow build of drama – an aged group, to be sure – relish this period from the weekend of the U.S. Open through the British Open. It is the one hunk of time in the course of a year when the overhyped nonsense of the NFL is put on hold. It's a blissful period between OTAs and mini-camp, and the start of training camp, when even the non-stories of obscure NFL hopefuls are mostly put on hold.
Of course, with their decline in interest in both golf and baseball, ESPN and other outlets spend endless hours of those five weeks devoted to NBA player movement and free agency, which rarely amounts to anything in these parts.
When it did in 2017, with the acquisition of a star player in Jimmy Butler … well, we’re still mad about that one. Thus, while the uninitiated in these parts join the babble, the astute veterans of Minnesota sports among us – we smile and wait to be told we'll have to get excited about premier additions such as Naz Reid for next season.
Actually, what we do is spend this hunk of summer watching golf and absorbing baseball, and hoping this NFL-free zone will never end, and knowing that it will way too soon.
What a conclusion it was, though, to the Five Weeks of Freedom: Shane Lowry wins in Ireland and the Twins manage a split in improbable circumstances in what was an epic four-game series with the Oakland A’s.
Not too strong of a word: epic. There have been few home series in the Twins’ 59-year history that included as much dramatic counter-punching as seen in these four games.
And, I don’t think I’ve taken in a greater picture in golf – not since Tiger’s famous putt on the 16th green at the 2005 Masters, anyway – than Lowry’s beaming, red beard-adorned, Irish mug as he walked those last 100 yards toward his date with victory.
I’ve only been to one British Open: 2002 at Muirfield. There was a four-player playoff, with Ernie Els as a popular winner, and that couldn’t compare with this six-stroke romp from Lowry.
Portrush is on the sea in Northern Ireland. Lowry is from the Republic of Ireland. There were elements of both that were the most vile of enemies during “the Troubles.’’
And now here was the British Open back in Ireland for the first time in 68 years, and here was Lowry, waving and beaming and strolling to victory, and 10s of thousands were celebrating with him, united by sport and Irish triumph.
On a video I watched a few times later, the audio was from over there and the TV voice said: “And just to set the seal on an unforgettable week, an Irishman has won in Ireland.’’
Next time someone asks me, “What sporting event would you most like to have been in attendance?,’’ I’ll have this answer:
“Shane Lowry walking up the 18th at Portrush.’’
You didn’t think a happening on the last Sunday of NFL freedom could challenge this, and through the long, arduous afternoon, that still was the case at Target Field.
Again, the feisty, resilient A’s had taken advantage of the Twins’ beleaguered bullpen (which doesn’t make it unique among big-league bullpens), and a late 5-3 lead had turned into a 6-5, bottom-of-the-ninth deficit.
Trevor May pitched the seventh, was in immediate trouble, and managed three strikeouts to leave the tying run at third. And then the A’s jumped him again for two runs in the eighth, and now after 3 ½ hours, the ballpark seemed to be half as full as it had been.
Liam Hendriks entered as the A’s bullet-throwing closer, for what would be his third save in three games. One night earlier, the A’s staged a two-out rally in the ninth against the Twins’ tremendous Taylor Rogers, with the two runs scoring when Ehire Adrianza couldn’t corral Khris Davis’ line drive.
Adrianza was playing at first base after entering as a pinch-runner for C.J. Cron. Miguel Sano had tied the game for the Twins with a mammoth home run, and then Adrianza tagged up to score the lead run on Jonathan Schoop’s short sacrifice fly to left.
On Sunday, the Twins were again facing a loss that came late, and then Luis Arraez singled (doesn’t he always?) and Adrianza ripped a breaking ball from Hendriks off the wall in right field.
Arraez tied it, Adrianaza wound up at third and then, mysteriously, manager Rocco Baldelli allowed Jason Castro to hit rather than going to Mitch Garver as a pinch-hitter.
Castro struck out. Extra innings after 4 hours loomed. And then Max Kepler dunked an RBI single into left.
The series opened with Eddie Rosario’s three-run, pinch-hit home run to overcome a 3-1 Oakland lead in the seventh. The Twins ended a three-game losing streak with that 6-3 victory.
On Friday, the A’s rallied for a 5-3 victory, and Hendriks – the Aussie righthander and originally a Twin – showed his amazing transformation into one of baseball’s hardest throwers: Five outs on 20 pitches, three strikeouts, and two registered at 100 miles per hour on the Target Field board.
On Saturday, the A’s rallied to win in 3:30. On Sunday, the Twins rallied to win in 4:02, and endless became unforgettable.
Rosario’s biggest hit of the season lasted only three days, until Adrianza’s biggest hit of the season in Sunday’s shadows topped it.
Brilliant way to end our five weeks of NFL freedom. Admittedly, I don’t know how large the “our’’ is, but it includes me.