For those searching for evidence of bad blood between the Twins and Tigers, nothing can surpass the infamous brawl of May 14, 1982, at Tiger Stadium. Twins pitcher Pete Redfern started it when he hit Chet Lemon on the wrist in the fourth inning, prompting a bench-emptying melee that held up the game for 20 minutes.
Redfern was spiked in the foot and left the game, but he wasn't the grandest casualty. In the 11th, Ron Davis brushed back Detroit's Enos Cabell, igniting an even wilder fight. As the hockey-style mayhem raged -- including blindside tackles, wrestling matches on the infield and fists flailing everywhere -- Tigers pitcher Dave Rozema dashed onto the field and targeted the Twins' John Castino with a flying kung-fu kick.
The Crouching Tiger soon became the Limping Dragon. Rozema was taken from the field on a stretcher, with a knee injury that ended his season. But the animosity of that night dissipated into history, and the Twins and Tigers have managed to keep their sparring atop the Central Division relatively free of bitterness and bile.
The series that opened Monday at Target Field carried more weight than usual for a late June affair, with the Twins trying to forget their interleague misadventures and regain some ground on a team that had crept within a half-game of them for the division lead. Still, it wasn't saddled with the animus that accompanies even the most inconsequential game against the White Sox. This has become a rivalry that generates more light than heat, with the melodrama shelved for real drama: the hot pursuit of division titles.
"I don't think anybody dislikes Detroit,'' Twins center fielder Denard Span said. "We don't have any hatred for those guys, but we love playing in our division. It's always competitive.
"They play the game the right way. They respect the game. Even last year, when they hit Delmon [Young], nobody was upset with them. It was just baseball.''
Young was drilled in the knee by Tigers pitcher Jeremy Bonderman in that October game, in retaliation for the Twins' Jose Mijares throwing behind Adam Everett. The stakes were high, with the Twins in the midst of a late-season rally that would culminate in a 163rd game to break the tie for the division title.
But both teams held their tempers in check. They did the same Monday when they exchanged beanballs in the first inning of an action-packed game, as Francisco Liriano hit Austin Jackson and Bonderman countered by plunking Span. That's usually been the case with these teams, even though the Twins have broken Detroit's hearts twice in the past four years by overtaking them for the division title in the final game of the regular season.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he doesn't believe emotional rivalries really figure into major league baseball. In his estimation, the grind of a 162-game season and the bevy of strong opponents don't afford the luxury of doting on one nemesis. But there's no denying the deep-rooted acrimony between the Yankees and Red Sox, or the undeniable charge that sizzles through every Twins-White Sox series.
While the White Sox feel like the neighbors with the loud music and late parties, the Tigers are the block captain with the immaculate yard. Even nonviolent Twins fans got a vicarious thrill when the Cubs' Michael Barrett punched the Sox's main antagonist, catcher A.J. Pierzynski, a couple of years ago. Monday, Leyland praised the Target Field crowd for the ovation it gave injured pitcher Joel Zumaya, saying "we're all teammates'' in such grim situations.
Though Chicago has muscled its way into the picture, there's still a good chance that the Twins and Tigers will be duking it out -- figuratively, of course -- in the final weeks of the season. Span said he thinks the rivalry could become more intense if the teams stick around the top of the AL Central for another few years.
That long-ago karate kick could have planted a seed of ill will. Rozema certainly had a penchant for creating messes; he once required 11 stitches to close a hip wound when he fell on a flask, and he infamously used Brillo pads to wash his car. But while the Twins and Tigers played without incident Monday, the only evidence of his kung-fu leg was on YouTube. If the civility between the Twins and Tigers could survive that, it's probably safe for another 30 years.
Rachel Blount • firstname.lastname@example.org