Paul Molitor led his players to home plate shortly before Sunday’s game and addressed the Target Field crowd that had gathered to watch the final regular-season game of the year. He thanked the fans for their support, and applauded their loyalty through the long playoff drought. “I would not trade Twins fans for any fans in the world,” he told them. And then, with a final flourish, he seemed to make a prediction:
“Let’s have a great day today,” the Twins manager exhorted, “and we’ll see you next Sunday!”
That’s when Game 3 of the AL Division Series is scheduled, a game that indeed could be at Target Field — but only if the Twins defeat the Yankees on Tuesday in the wild-card game.
“You have to expect to win,” Molitor said of the declaration following a 5-1 victory over Detroit. “It’s not a forecast or prediction; it’s just having confidence in the people in that clubhouse.”
Molitor has it, and his players say they have it in him, too. “He is extremely baseball-smart. He’s not in the Hall of Fame for [no] reason,” said Chris Gimenez, who has played for Joe Maddon, Ron Washington and Terry Francona, all managers who have taken teams to the World Series more than once. “You have to be able to think the game, too, to do what he did. He is very much ahead of the game in regards to [making] chess moves.”
Yet Molitor, 61, enters the postseason with zero games of postseason managing experience, while on Tuesday, the opposing manager, Joe Girardi, will lead his team in a postseason game for the 40th time in six different seasons. He managed the 2009 Yankees to a world championship.
Like Girardi, however, he’s missing something else, too: a contract for next season. It’s an odd position for a manager guiding a team through a postseason run, however long it lasts, but Girardi’s four-year contract has not been renewed in New York, and in Minneapolis, the Twins’ front office — Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine — have said they won’t address next season’s staff until this season is complete.
Which is OK with the manager; the playoffs are on his mind, he said, not his contract. “If circumstances were different and we weren’t playing Tuesday, I might have spent more time thinking about it, to be honest,” he said. “Whenever we’re done, and hopefully it’s not for a while, I’m sure that will be pushed to the forefront.”
He’s got the support of his players on that issue, as well. “There’s a time and place for [negotiating new contracts], and maybe this [playoff push] is why it hasn’t happened. I don’t know how they make their decisions and all that goes into it,” Brian Dozier said. “But as a player, I would say I want to see him back. I think that’s the consensus in here.”
While that decision is put off, Molitor is being more proactive about addressing his inexperience, combating it the way he does everything else: with intense preparation.
“I haven’t gotten through all the paperwork, but I’ve gotten through a lot of it,” said the third-year manager. “I don’t know if stressful is the right word. It’s consuming.”
He means that in a good way. This is an opportunity he’s desired and sought for a long time, since well before he was appointed to his job three years ago.
“This is something I want to experience in this role. Now I have the opportunity, so I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can,” Molitor said. “There are a lot of things to work through, including game scenarios. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the right people [to put] on the rosters, all those things. It’s going to come down to guys going out there playing well and pitching well, but I like that I’m in the position to have to make these decisions. I think that’s fun.”
He’s tried to think through all the situations that might come up, and how he’ll respond, and how win-or-you’re-done games will require some different moves than a midsummer game. He’s got help, too. Coach Jeff Pickler and advance scout Jeremy Hefner have been compiling plenty of scouting reports and statistical summaries.
“A lot of it comes down to game preparation. The decisions you make in-game are hopefully ones you‘ve mapped out pregame,” Levine said. “I feel very confident in our prep team.”
And Molitor got a little advice from another source, too. He had a long conversation with longtime Twins manager Tom Kelly last week, he said, and “asked him a few questions. He provided what he thought was appropriate, and like I always do, I filed it into my TK file,” Molitor said. “Hopefully it resurfaces when it’s needed.”