The 2012 Twins are 0-0 and haven't even suffered their first injury yet, but already they have something working against them: history.
Three teams have reached the postseason after losing 97 games the previous year -- the 1991 Braves, the 1999 Diamondbacks, and the Diamondbacks again this year -- but no team has done it the year after losing 98 or more games.
On Wednesday night, the Twins capped a forgettable 2011 with a memorable finale, defeating the Royals 1-0 to avoid the dreaded 100-loss mark.
Carl Pavano pitched nine masterful innings, Denard Span delivered a pinch-hit double in the ninth, Trevor Plouffe lined a walk-off single, and an announced crowd of 36,488 at Target Field saluted a team that finished 63-99.
"Kind of a storybook way to get out of this season," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Get a couple big hits there at the end and win it like that in front of these fans who have been so good to us. It sure makes you feel a lot better going into the offseason."
The Twins went 94-68 last year to win their sixth division title in nine years. On Wednesday, they narrowly avoided becoming the first team to lose 100 games after winning two consecutive division titles or pennants, according to STATS.
Also, according to Elias, the Twins suffered the biggest one-year decline in win totals since the Diamondbacks went from 84 to 51 wins in 2003-2004.
"We started out with high hopes, and right out of the door we started getting beat up," Gardenhire said. "Too many injuries, and we didn't play very well. It turns into one of those seasons you want to forget."
There were other memorable moments: Francisco Liriano's no-hitter, Jim Thome's 600th home run and Joe Nathan becoming the Twins' all-time saves leader.
But after losing their season opener 13-3 at Toronto on April 1, the Twins suffered their first big injury April 6, when Tsuyoshi Nishioka broke his leg.
They never recovered. By April's end they were 9-17, and on June 1 they fell to 17-37. They renewed hope with a 15-2 run that proved nothing more than a mirage for a team that battled injuries and incompetence.
Gardenhire used his Opening Day lineup only once -- on Opening Day -- as the Twins wound up using the disabled list 27 times.
On July 29, the Twins were 50-56 and six games behind the division-leading Tigers. But after stumbling through the final two months for a 13-43 finish, the Twins ended up 32 games behind Detroit.
"Hopefully this was just a little bump in the road for what this organization has been for the last 10 years," Twins first baseman Justin Morneau said. "We've had a lot of success, and that's what we expect."
If only there had been more nights like Wednesday for the Twins, who went 33-48 at home. But the players, young and old, have known this was going to be a lost year for weeks. They trudged on through loss after loss and disappointment after disappointment.
For one night, it felt good to celebrate again, even if they were celebrating something they weren't all that proud of.
"I don't know how to say this, but at this point right now, how you can feel so glad to just lose 99 games?" Pavano said. "Not that I'm happy to lose 99, but it's a lot better than 100."
Joe Christensen • firstname.lastname@example.org