The requiems offered for the Cleveland Indians in June, when they trailed the Twins by 11½ games early in the month and remained 11 behind in the American League Central on June 15, were premature.
That might have been the case again over the past two weeks, as the Indians lost the surging Jose Ramirez to a broken hamate bone on Aug. 24, and then drifted back to 6½ games behind the Twins.
The Indians still have a chance as they arrive in Target Field on Friday. Cleveland has rookie revelation Aaron Civale and the outstanding Mike Clevinger lined up to start Saturday and Sunday, and then come the challenges for the Twins next week:
They will be facing the Washington Nationals, with their hot-hitting lineup and excellent starting pitching, for three games, and then the Twins end the season series with three games at Cleveland.
Hold on, folks. It’s not over yet.
It can be confirmed that such doubt did not exist Tuesday in Boston, when noticeable groups of Twins fans were leaving Fenway Park after a dramatic 6-5 victory over the Red Sox — a 6-0 lead almost gone, the tying run at second, and Taylor Rogers striking out Rafael Devers with three unhittable sliders to end it.
I was sitting in the stands with a pair of family members and Twins devotees, and on the walk back to a downtown hotel, we were contemplating what recent comparable among the big four of Minnesota professional sports teams might exist to this improbable powerhouse.
The first suggestion from me was the 1998 Vikings, the 15-1 offensive juggernaut that is remembered for rookie Randy Moss and failing to reach the Super Bowl. My son Christopher dismissed that (properly) and came up with a better one: the 2009 Vikings.
“You can start with the 2009 Vikings bringing in Brett Favre, an old quarterback that a lot of people thought was over the hill after his season with the Jets,” he said. “And these Twins bringing in Nelson Cruz, an old designated hitter who had slipped a bit in all hitting categories in 2018 and could’ve been in decline.”
You want a comparable in recent Minnesota pro sports to the current Twins? Go back a decade to the Vikings.
Favre turned 40 that season and his play was outrageous. To start with, he went from 22 touchdowns and 22 interceptions with the Jets to 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions in Brad Childress’ offense with the Vikings.
He had a nine-game stretch, starting with the first Green Bay game, in which he had 21 touchdown passes, four interceptions and 2,583 yards.
Cruz turned 39 during this season. He was solid from the start, and then after the All-Star Game, he was the hottest power hitter that I’ve witnessed in a Twins uniform — and I’m old enough to have witnessed Harmon Killebrew’s entire career. In 25 games and 90 at-bats, Cruz hit 16 home runs with 30 RBI.
In addition to production, there’s another common trait of the old quarterback and the old designated hitter: They are macho, macho, macho men.
Teams could beat up and cheap-shot Favre, and he would keep fighting. And Cruz endured a ruptured tendon in his wrist, and he came back after 10 days on the injured list ready to crush a baseball.
You can’t get by with one eerie similarity and make it an actual comparison of two successful teams, of course. And you don’t have to with the 2009 Vikings and the 2019 Twins. Consider:
Dynamic rookie with tremendous instincts making a big difference? Vikings: Percy Harvin. Twins: Luis Arraez.
Young veteran emerging as a star? Vikings: Sidney Rice. Twins: Max Kepler.
Extremely productive player who fumbles a bit too much? Vikings: Adrian Peterson. Twins: Jorge Polanco.
A Wall of large humanity? The Vikings had the Williams Wall, in attacking Kevin and hold-the-fort Pat, and Twins have the Dominican Wall, in let-it-fly slugger Miguel Sano and now No. 1 starter Michael Pineda.
A stopper? Vikings: Antoine Winfield. Twins: Taylor Rogers.
A key defensive injury? The Vikings lost leading tackler E.J. Henderson after breaking his leg in Game 12 in Arizona, the start of a streak of three losses in four games, and the Twins have been without exquisite center fielder Byron Buxton constantly since the middle of June.
What we don’t know is the finish. The ’09 Vikings blew out the New York Giants in the regular-season finale to earn a bye, then crushed Dallas in a second-round playoff game at the Metrodome. And they are still remembered as martyrs, victims of “Bountygate” in the NFC Championship Game loss to New Orleans.
The 2019 Twins still have to get to a division series, with a reeling rotation and ongoing injuries. And if they do, it’s unlikely the Twins will get the benefit of martyrdom from fans if eliminated by either the Yankees or Houston, two teams that would be larger favorites in a series than were the 2009 Saints in the Superdome.