Brian Dozier arrived at Target Field later than usual Thursday. He was obeying orders.
Wednesday night, the Twins lost in 12 innings, in a game that ended at 12:22 a.m. Manager Paul Molitor told his players to get their rest, that there wouldn’t be batting practice Thursday.
The clubhouse was quiet until Dozier walked in and attached his phone to the sound system. A snippet of Bruce Springsteen’s “Spirit in the Night” played, then the Eagles’ “Take It Easy.”
Dozier said neither song was chosen for symbolism. “I had it on the Bruce Springsteen channel on Pandora,” the second baseman said. “But we lost last night. So I had to change it.”
The Twins clubhouse remains a loose place these days, even as they reintroduce Minnesotans to the excruciating joyfulness of pressurized baseball.
The common line is that the Twins haven’t played meaningful games in September since 2010, but they were in command of the division, so those late-season games meant little.
This month has provided the first pivotal September games in Target Field history, which means that for the first time at Target Field, losses feel like jolts from a Taser.
“It’s a really bad thing when they don’t hurt this time of the year, when you can just go out and play and be somewhat indifferent to the outcome of the game,” Molitor said. “I think these losses do hurt these guys. I felt that coming through [Wednesday] night …
“This is what you want them to feel. Hopefully they win more than they lose going forward, but I think the feeling of loss in games of significance is how you grow. It’s a bad taste.”
Wednesday night’s loss was the worst kind. The Twins blew a ninth-inning lead, blew a chance to gain ground in the wild-card race and blew out their bullpen in a loss.
“What’s harder is not playing for anything,” Dozier said. “You tend to try to go through the motions and that’s when you get in trouble from a personal standpoint and a team standpoint. It can get embarrassing.
“I’m all beat up right now, but when you play these games, your competitive mentality takes over.”
“I absolutely prefer it this way,” third baseman Trevor Plouffe said. “Coming to the yard knowing what’s at stake, that’s pretty much why we’re here. There’s no other reason to be in pro ball other than to win.”
This is the first year Molitor has been in uniform during a pennant race since 2001, when the baby Twins led the division through Aug. 11 before fading. Molitor was Tom Kelly’s bench coach. When the Twins lost a key game at Cleveland late in the year, Molitor took exception to the umpiring and fired a batting tee onto the field.
“My recollection is we were a potential contraction team, and there was some speculation on our part that it wouldn’t be good for baseball that the Twins, as a potential team that was going to be eliminated, made it to the postseason. Somehow I felt like that was affecting how things were going on the field. I kind of reached my point. I threw that tee a long ways. I couldn’t get it to stand up from that distance. That would have been impressive.”
Torii Hunter might be enjoying his last meaningful September games. Thursday afternoon, he took to the soggy field to run his daily sprints. In the first inning, he came up with two on and two out and launched a home run into the second deck in left.
“What I would like to see, the next four or five games, is us getting over that hump of always being behind in the wild-card race,” Dozier said. “I want us to get that feeling, going into the last 10 or 12 games, of having a lead. I feel like once we get a half-game up, you’ll see things start to take off.”
Dozier said that before the Twins lost their third consecutive game, blowing a 5-0 lead to fall 11-8 to the Angels. Hopes and bad tastes linger.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On