The Twins had been behind the eight-ball since April 3, when the announcement was made that pitcher Ervin Santana had tested positive for steroid use and would be suspended for the first 80 games of the season.
This was 24 hours before the Twins would play a final exhibition game in Florida and then head to Detroit to open the schedule.
They were swept in three games by the Tigers, once again a potent-looking bunch, and then lost two of three in Chicago to a White Sox team that had been aggressive in bringing in reinforcements over the winter.
The Twins came home on April 10 and were embarrassed 10-3 by the Kansas City Royals, the defending American League champions.
There was a day off for the Twins and their already-depressed followers to contemplate the predicament faced by Paul Molitor, a managerial rookie at age 58.
The Tigers had Miguel Cabrera to lead the hitting, and Dave Price to lead the pitching, and there seemed no chance they were going away as an AL Central heavyweight. The White Sox had put together a potent lineup and added Jeff Samardzija to join Chris Sale in leading the rotation.
The Royals had spent years landing prime talent high in the draft and now those players were in their prime. And the Cleveland Indians had found themselves on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Baseball Preview as the team to watch in 2015.
The Twins were 1-6, and facing 69 more games against an AL Central that seemed to be more potent than it ever had appeared in the two decades since baseball went to three divisions per league.
One week in, that eight ball facing the Twins seemed roughly the size of Minnesota Fats' head. And you could hear the rest of the Central saying:
“Fast Paulie … let’s play some pool.’’
On that day off, April 11, newcomers to the roster found apartments, while Molitor studied such decisions as to whether play Jordan Schafer or Shane Robinson in center field, and where to put designated hitter Kennys Vargas and left fielder Oswaldo Arcia in the batting order.
The sporting public didn’t much care. The Wild was two days from the start of the playoffs against St. Louis. The heroic lads from St. Paul had played so well once goalie Devan Dubnyk showed up there were visions of a long playoff run.
The Twins? The official attendance went from the traditional Opening Day sellout (40,123) to 21,362 for the second home game.
It was April 11, there were 155 games remaining and Minnesota’s disillusioned baseball fans were already looking at a fifth straight long summer.
One hundred and 73 days later, the Twins were in Cleveland for the final road game of the season on Thursday night. There was the usual late-season smattering of customers in Cleveland, which has become home to the lousiest fan base in America.
On this cool night, the Twins – Molitor’s astounding, pitching-short collection of survivors – were down to their final chance to escape from behind that eight ball.
Tyler Duffey, the out-of-nowhere, rookie savior of the rotation, had again dealt wonderfully for six shutout innings. And then in the seventh, he grooved a fastball to Roberto Perez, Cleveland’s hard-swinging catcher, and the result was a two-run home run to center field.
So, the Twins trailed 2-1 into the eighth, and a loss would put them two games out of the second wild-card position with three to play, and realistically put an end to the improbable postseason push.
And then Molitor made a move, sending up Danny Santana to pinch-hit for Kurt Suzuki. Santana walked, something he had done five times in 271 previous plate appearances in the big leagues this season.
So, there was Santana at first with all that speed, and there was Eduardo Escobar – Danny’s mid-season replacement at shortstop – slapping a double that bounced to the left-field corner to score him.
Slump-ridden Brian Dozier followed with an infield single. Tie game, first-and-third, one out, and here was Joe Mauer.
All Twins’ followers had the same thought – 4-6-3 – but Joe couldn’t do that again, not here, not with the run needed to keep the Twins breathing into the final weekend in Target Field standing at third.
Oh, yeah. Hard bouncer to second, 4-6-3, and it stays 2-2.
Depression isn’t often visible on Mauer when he fails, but it was here. This was a low moment for everyone with a stake in the Twins.
For 173 days, they had been rallying from low moments.
Could they do it again?
Oh, yeah. They scored twice in the ninth, on Cleveland mistakes and the dash of the excellent extra player, Eduardo Nunez, and then they got another save from Kevin Jepsen.
They headed back home for three with Kansas City -- with Santana on the mound for the series opener and managerial dart-throwing for starters for the rest of the weekend.
The Royals are the runaway champs of the Central and still playing for the home-field edge in the playoffs.
It was never going to be easy for the Twins, not after six months behind the eight ball, but there’s still a chance, so what do you say:
“Fast Paulie … let’s play some pool.’’