It’s not over ’til it’s over. It’s not over ’til the fat lady sings. By the transitive property of cliches, it’s not over until the fat lady says it’s over.
In baseball, there is a simpler way to discern when the competitive portion of your team’s season has concluded than consulting ancient aphorisms. It’s not over until math says it is.
Math and only math is the grim reaper. Math and only math can hammer a nail in the proverbial coffin, or wield the oft-referenced dagger.
Today, after a peaceful 8-1 victory over the Angels at Target Field on Sunday, the Twins are mathematically alive in the American League playoff race. Mathematical proof of life is more important than all of the negative circumstances that have conspired against the Twins this week — an ill-timed losing streak, injuries, lack of clutch plays, a burned-out bullpen.
Across town, the Vikings were winning a game that felt urgent, in a stadium filled with fans reflecting that urgency. At Target Field in downtown, the Twins ended a five-game losing streak in front of an announced crowd of 25,302 that was alternately quiet, cheerful and distracted.
The fans did the wave. The Twins ensured that they didn’t yet need to wave goodbye.
In early August, Tyler Duffey, one of the Twins’ less-celebrated prospects, made his major league debut, and the Toronto Blue Jays scored six runs in two innings off him.
In early August, Torii Hunter was in the midst of a midseason slump that hinted the 40-year-old outfielder might be nearing the end of his career, or at least his effectiveness.
Sunday, Duffey dominated a surging Angels team, and Hunter started the scoring with an eight-pitch at-bat in the second inning that ended with him smacking a home run off the second deck facade in left field.
Duffey would pitch seven shutout innings. Hunter would go 2-for-4. The Twins would win easily.
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Twins are tied with the Angels, 2 ½ games behind Houston in the race for the final wild-card playoff spot.
Their position is not ideal. Their history suggests that might not matter.
In 2009 the Twins were three games out with five to play. They forced a Game 163 and won it.
In 2008 the Twins were 2 ½ out with six games remaining. They forced a Game 163 and lost it.
In 2006, the Twins were 1 ½ games out of first with seven games left. They won the division on the final day.
The Twins’ September roster looks like a jigsaw puzzle jammed together by a drunk. Duffey is just beginning, Hunter is trying to delay the end, and on Sunday they postponed any sense of finality.
Winning this time of the year doesn’t have to be pretty or logical. On the morning of Oct. 1, 2009, the Twins had lost two in a row to fall three games off the division lead with five games remaining.
That day, Twins outfielder Delmon Young got hit by a pitch and started screaming into the dugout.
Young tried to charge his own dugout to confront Twins reliever Jose Mijares, whom Young blamed for starting the exchange of purpose pitches that left Young with a bruised leg.
Lack of chemistry? Wrong time for dissension? Hardly. The Twins won that and the final five games of the season to win the division.
This is a flawed team that may be a year away from making the playoffs or scaring anybody in them. But Glen Perkins is pitching again, giving the Twins the making of a power bullpen. Phil Hughes will start on Thursday. Miguel Sano has become one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters. Eddie Rosario is playing like a veteran, and Aaron Hicks is playing like the guy he was supposed to be as a rookie.
The Twins lost five straight at home in what felt like a must-win situation. But the standings don’t care about emotions. Two good weeks and a little luck, and the Twins could be seen as overachievers again.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On