The Twins were 23-12 and leading the American League Central by 3½ games when they returned to Target Field to open a weeklong homestand May 10.
The early winning had done nothing to bring people to the ballpark. The crowds already were trailing by a substantial margin through 17 home dates the poor attendance of 2018.
Lousy weather was a reason, but the weather also fit that description a year earlier.
The sporting public didn’t seem to believe the power display it was seeing through the first six weeks of the season from the Twins. And, there was the popular opinion that baseball already lost the competition to get the spenders in the 40-and-under crowd to show up.
Baseball lacked action. Too long; too boring.
As the Twins were completing a three-game sweep in Toronto when they outscored the Blue Jays 20-1, the business department offered what appeared to be a panic move:
They put 20,000 tickets on sale for $5. When those sold, they put another batch on sale for $5.
Dave St. Peter, the Twins president, was asked for an explanation for selling a ticket to a big-league game for such a paltry figure and said:
“A big incentive was to get some people in the ballpark for this weekend. … Our TV ratings are up 30 percent. We know that baseball fans are still out there.”
I’m not sure I believed him. I was buying the notion that baseball was in crisis, here and in much of the country.
Turns out, St. Peter was right. The baseball fans were still out there.
There were a couple of sellouts on the end-of-May homestand, that included hunks of those $5 tickets.
Yet, it took until Friday night to make it seem as if the Twins were back on a front-burner with Minnesotans, and as if the belief in what the standings have been telling us since April 27 — solo first for 48 days — was complete.
Kansas City was in town for the first of three trips, and there were 10,000 Prince jerseys being given away, it was the start of Joe Mauer weekend, and there were postgame fireworks, but it was the baseball that had the announced crowd of 38,898 jumping.
Jim Thome was among the players that had made the trip back to Target Field. The opinion here is that Thome’s blastoff home run to beat the White Sox on Aug. 17, 2010 — the first, festive summer — remains the No. 1 moment in this ballpark’s history.
I was able to extract a mighty handshake from him, and when I looked at some still photos of the reaction to that home run, there was Mauer with the widest and most emotional smile of all, greeting Thome as he reached the plate.
What happened Friday night can’t be compared to that moment. But what it was might be the best climax in front of a full house that we’ve seen since the losing started for the Twins in 2011.
Twins cynics still will take shots at Kyle Gibson, but he has become a better pitcher than he’s ever been in these past two seasons, and he was terrific against a K.C. club that isn’t all that feeble with the bats.
Gibson allowed two hits through eight scoreless innings and still had thrown only 88 pitches. Taylor Rogers had started easy throwing in the bottom of the eighth, although if the Royals bullpen had stifled the Twins’ attack as had starter Brad Keller, Gibson was going back out for the ninth.
Mitch Garver, the most amazing revelation as a slugger among all these power-hitting Twins, has become a new-age observer. He said that one reason Keller was tough was “different shapes on his breaking ball.”
Lefthander Jake Diekman had replaced Keller for the Twins’ eighth. Max Kepler was on with a walk and two outs. Garver was the hitter and four teammates were offering predictions in the dugout that a home run was coming.
“I had the thought, ‘I have to hit a home run; I have to pull the ball to left,’ ” Garver said. “And then I had to get that thought out of my head … go to center or right-center.’ ”
Garver’s swing on a 2-1 pitch was quick and mighty, the baseball was airborne to center, riding on the full-throated roars of nearly 40,000 Minnesotans that were in love with baseball again.
It landed on the mound in center. The Twins led 2-0, and Rogers wrapped it up in the ninth, and the home team was now 46-22, and the final roar was saying, “Yes, we believe.”