Friday, October 8, 2010

The Impossible



The Twins are now down two games to none in the American League Divisional Series after losing 5-2 last night to the hated Yankees. The Twins have scored first in both games, and been tied going into the 7th inning as well in both games. Put simply, they've played like the Twins of years' past, and the Yankees have been, well, the Yankees. And if starting off the ALDS by losing the first two games to the Yankees wasn't bad enough, both games were at Target Field, which means the only way the Twins are going to advance to the ALCS is if they somehow go into New York and win two straight games; including having Nick Blackburn defeat CC Sabathia in game 4 if they even get to that point. A logical person would conclude that the Twins are probably finished; even if they manage to win game 3, they're going to be heavy underdogs in game 4.

As Twins fans, we're scared of the Yankees. Some will admit it, some won't, but it's the truth. We have every right to be; they've owned our Twins over the last decade, and after winning game 1 against the Yankees in '04, the Twins have now lost eight straight post-season games against them. This year looked to be different, because it could be realistically argued that the Twins did indeed have the better team this year. After these first two games, that seems to be the furthest thing from the truth. The Twins have collapsed in almost every key situation, while the Yankees are riding big hits at opportune times to victories. It's been disheartening to say the least.

However, for the first time in regards to sports, I'm not going to be logical. Things that seem impossible one moment suddenly are proven possible and people are stunned. Fans go crazy, both good and bad. Yes, these 'impossible moments' are absolutely the exception, not the rule. All year, I've harped on Twins fans not expecting to see the exception in situations, but to understand that in most cases there won't be an exception. I've used that explanation to try to temper expectations on Delmon Young, and to try and explain why Danny Valencia really isn't going to hit .330 for his career, or even the .311 he finished at. So yes, a team coming back down 2-0 is always the exception, not the rule, and the Twins, going into New York down 2-0, coming back from that seem like a huge exception. But I'm still predicting it.

There are a few moments that come to mind when I think about situations nobody imagined ever happening. No, I didn't include the Buckner play, because as hard to believe as that was, it was the Red Sox. At the time they hadn't won a World Series in almost 80 years, so there's no doubt in my mind there were several Red Sox fans expecting the worst. The Buckner play was certainly worse than anyone could have even imagined, but when you follow a team that consistently chokes, you learn to expect it. This is how I will feel if the Vikings make a deep post-season run. I will have nothing optimistic about the Vikings if they make it to the Super Bowl, because I got sucked in last year and I won't do it again. (Except right now, with the Twins...)

Let's start by going back to 1988. The Los Angeles Dodgers are opening the World Series at home against the powerful Oakland A's. After carrying the team into the playoffs and then to the World Series, Kirk Gibson hurts his knee sliding into second base in the final game of the NLCS. He's on the Dodgers World Series roster, but he's been ruled out for game 1. Gibson doesn't even bother getting dressed; he simply gets into what he would wear under his jersey, and heads to the trainer's room to get some treatment to try and be ready for game 2. Gibson was forced to watch the game on a TV screen, with Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda checking on Gibson every inning to see how he's feeling. Every inning through the first 8, Gibson gives Lasorda simply a thumbs down, clearly in too much physical pain to play, and in too much mental pain to say anything. When Lasorda walks away, Gibson asks the trainer if he's reading the box score right; the pitcher will hit 4th for the Dodgers in the 9th inning. Before the trainer can even confirm that Gibson's right, he's already out of the trainer's room and putting his pants and jersey on, before limping back into the training room. "Go tell Skip I can pinch-hit in that spot if he needs me to." Gibson tells the trainer. Lasorda is informed Gibson is available.

The Dodgers are down 4-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth. Gibson is now sitting on the bench. A's hall-of-fame closer Dennis Eckersley gets the first two outs with ease, which means the pitcher's spot is now on deck. Lasorda has already told Gibson he will hit if the game doesn't end, so he's got his helmet on and is holding his bat. However, Lasorda told Gibson to stay on the bench rather than go on-deck, he didn't want the A's to know Gibson was even available. After Eckersley walks the batter, the Dodgers announce the move as Gibson stumbles out of the dugout and takes a few big practice swings before limping to home plate. The place erupts. He wasn't even supposed to be playing tonight, and now he's pinch-hitting in the biggest moment of the game. I can't imagine how loud that stadium was at that point. After looking silly by fouling off two good pitches, Gibson eventually works the count full. He calls for time, swears Eckersley is going throw his signature back-door slider and try to freeze Gibson with a pitch on the outer half, and then steps back in. Gibson's right, and the back-door slider gets too much of the plate. On basically one leg, Gibson hits a game-winning, 2-run homer over the right field wall and heroically limps around the bases as Dodger Stadium goes absolutely nuts. It is probably my favorite sports story, because it's even better than a movie-ending. If this had happened in a movie rather than real life, people would leave the movie saying 'There's no way that would ever happen.'

Vin Scully's words as Gibson rounds first? "In a year of the improbable, the impossible has happened!" Go figure. Impossible. It was about as impossible as anything we could imagine; he was literally announced as unavailable before the game by Scully. But it happened.

Now, fast-forward to 2005. March 2, 2005, to be exact. The Minnesota Vikings have officially traded Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders for two draft picks and a linebacker. Fans, for the most part, are outraged. The Vikings have been hovering around mediocrity for the past few years, and Moss was one of the only exciting aspects of Sunday's for most Vikings fans. It was a sad day for the majority of Vikings fans. We can probably all remember for the most part when Moss was traded. Not everyone remembers throwing their cell phone like I did, and some people don't remember exactly when they were told Moss was gone... but we all remember the trade and how we felt about it.

What would someone have said to you if on March 3, 2005, you said "Hey guys, don't worry about it, in October of 2010, Moss will come back, and he'll be catching passes from our quarterback Brett Favre. Oh, and Daunte Culpepper will be starting in the upstart UFL on a team coached by Dennis Green." After they got done laughing at you, they'd probably ask where you got the drugs and where they could find some good stuff like that. Well guess what? It's all true. Favre-to-Moss. Getting Moss back was the single greatest Vikings moment in my lifetime, and it will only be trumped if they ever win a Super Bowl. In 2005, Moss coming back seemed like a pipe-dream, and Brett Favre playing for the Vikings certainly seemed 'impossible.'

In a year in which the Vikings reacquire Randy Moss basically out of the blue, why can't the Twins do what at this point seems absolutely impossible? Why can't the Twins get a great pitching performance from Duensing to win game 3, light up Sabathia on 3 days rest in game 4, and then watch Liriano out-duel Pettite in game 5 at Target Field? As Minnesota fans we are so used to the worst thing happening, because our past would suggest that's exactly what's going to happen. However, there was a certain team in '04 who's fan base was far more tortured than ours that became the first team in baseball history to come back down 3-0 in a playoff series. The players aren't the same, and as Twins fans our anguish is nowhere near what the Red Sox was, but after watching what I considered impossible (reacquiring Randy Moss) happen, I'm expecting the same thing from the Twins. Shock the world.