The Twins were playing the last home game of a losing season on Sept. 30. Derek Falvey, the team's president of baseball operations, had a half-hour pregame session with reporters in attendance.
As the room was emptying, I said: "There's an example that anything is possible next year — the San Francisco Giants. What they have done with that roster is a miracle.''
Falvey stopped, smiled and said: "It is a miracle. They have been incredible all season.''
The reactions sounded the same, but they came from different mind-sets: Sportswriter — visceral; big-league executive — intellectual.
I saw a team with a preseason over-and-under for wins at 74.5 on the way to a franchise-record 107 and said, "How can a team with Darin Ruf and LaMonte Wade Jr., with Brandon Crawford at 34 and Buster Posey after taking off the mini-season of 2020, be doing this?''
Falvey saw all those wins with arrivals and the revivals in San Francisco and said to his crew of researchers, scouts and coaches, "Let's take a good look at how the Giants are doing this.''
The analytical age that has swept baseball in the 21st century has greatly favored pitching. To simplify it (for me, not Parker Hageman), the technical aspects of the most efficient mechanics and well-researched pitch selection were easier to get across to pitchers than what it would take to significantly improve the chances for hitters.
We old-timers might not like the product nearly as well as when Yogi Berra was swinging at 3-1 pitches over his head on the way to the Hall of Fame, but we can't argue this:
These are some big brains that have taken over major league baseball. And when presented with a problem, the Eastern collegians in "research and development'' will find an answer.
And the problem was this: With the unholy advantage we have given to pitchers with improved arsenals, better pitch usage and fielding shifts, what is the best way to score runs?
"The information available on hitting has accelerated more in the last 12 months than in the previous decade,'' Falvey said. "The Giants changed everything after the 2019 season. They hired Donnie Ecker as hitting coach, and added other swing technicians, and the results they were able to achieve this season with numerous hitters were amazing.
"We had LaMonte [Wade Jr.], he was an on-base, line-drive guy and we liked him a lot, but what he and the Giants did this year — he looked like a totally different human at the plate. He was standing upright, swinging harder, hitting for power.
"To me, the most amazing was Brandon Crawford. He completely changed his bat path at 34. He became a power threat in almost every at-bat.''
The Giants finally lost out to the superior talent of the Dodgers in the decisive fifth game of their NLDS — 2-1 losers in game that both teams entered with 109 wins (counting playoffs). At season's start, the Dodgers (102 ½) were projected to win 28 games more than San Francisco.
What Ecker and other hitting technicians accomplished with the Giants' suspect roster is likely having an influence on the Twins' search for a new hitting coach.
Edgar Varela was reassigned to the minors after his second season in the big-league job. His assistant, Rudy Hernandez, will remain, but Varela's replacement could be a younger technician filled with info on changing a hitting approach to do maximum damage.
I saw this quote dating to spring training in an MLB.com story. It came from Mauricio Dubon, a utility player who would spend only half the season with the Giants, but it summarized what Ecker was selling and the hitters were buying.
"Pretty much, if I can't hit it out, I'm not swinging,'' Dubon said.
He hit only five homers in the big leagues, and eight more in Sacramento, but as with the unlikely collection of hitters for the 107-55 Giants, he came to the plate with bad intentions.
The Twins, with a new hitting staff and the accelerated information, will be looking to regain the bad intentions that gave them a record 307 home runs and 101 wins in 2019.
"People complain about the emphasis on home runs, but they win games,'' Falvey said. "Already in this postseason, teams are 13-1 when they outhomer the opponent.''