You had two choices to explain the 2006 Twins' comeback from oblivion to the American League Central title: One, wonderful things can happen when you have baseball's deepest, most talented bullpen; or two, it was a miracle.
There are no such options with the 2007 Twins. The bullpen is thin, nothing miraculous is going on with the rest of the roster, and somehow there was manager Ron Gardenhire's team arriving in Cleveland on Sunday night with a pulse.
The first-place Indians' comeback victory in Kansas City kept the margin over the Twins at a substantial 5½ games. And yet was there anyone who felt at the start of August that the Twins could get this far into the month without being left for dead?
Certainly, it wasn't your Old Ball Sage here at the Star Tribune, who encouraged General Manager Terry Ryan to forget this season and trade for players who might assist in 2008.
Certainly, it wasn't Ryan, or he wouldn't have traded Luis Castillo, his valuable leadoff hitter and second baseman, to the Mets for a pair of long-range suspects.
Certainly, it wasn't Johan Santana, or he wouldn't have ripped Ryan for the Castillo trade and suggested he didn't see a future for himself with a front office not committed to winning.
The trade of Castillo left the Twins with rookie Alexi Casilla at second base. This kid is so overamped that one of these days he's going to hit a ground ball and head for third base instead of first.
Getting worse at the trading deadline is not supposed to improve a team's chances. Watching Pat Neshek, the eighth-inning reliever, start to lose his dominance is not supposed to improve a team's chances. Waiting 24 days for Justin Morneau to hit his first August home run is not supposed to improve a team's chances.
You can also throw in Boof Bonser going 12 starts without a victory, Nick Punto spending a day with his average under .200, Rondell White praying that he might see .200, and a roster that can't go more than a few days without a new injury, as other happenings that are not supposed to improve a team's chances.
And yet, the Twins again have closed ground on Cleveland and Detroit by winning four games in Baltimore.
This was the 24th time in the Twins' 47-year history that they have played a series of four (or five) games with the Orioles and the first time they have won them all.
It started Thursday, with the Twins flailing through seven innings and putting themselves on the brink of much ridicule.
One day earlier, the Orioles had given up a major league-record 30 runs to Texas (followed by nine in the second game). Now, our feeble Twins were being shut out by the wretched Steve Trachsel.
Punto's bunt single, three walks and two errors triggered a four-run rally in the eighth. This caused the Old Ball Sage to call baseball scribe La Velle E. Neal III in the Camden Yards press box to make this announcement:
"That is the worst four-run rally in the modern era of major league baseball."
Neal responded that he was busily rewriting the top of his game story. "I'm dropping the suggestion that if Daniel Cabrera, the starter in the 30-3 loss, had only been pitching against the Twins and not Texas, he might have won with a 3-0 shutout," Neal said.
It took until the seventh and Morneau's first home run in 110 at-bats to start the comeback from a 4-0 deficit on Friday. On Saturday, it only took until the third to get a couple of runs.
And Sunday, the Twins scored a major upset with two runs in the first against Erik Bedard, a lefthander with a record of 7-0 and a 1.71 ERA in his previous nine starts.
The Twins finished him in six innings, and they finished the sweep with 11 runs and 14 hits. The last two runs came on a mammoth home run by the long-missing Rondell.
And now they are in Cleveland, with 32 games to go and still breathing. For the Central front-runners, this could be a tale too ugly to comprehend.
Call it The Return of the Gardenhire Monster.
Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. firstname.lastname@example.org