MINNEAPOLIS — The passion for the Twins does not fluctuate as wildly in the baseball strongholds of outstate Minnesota as it does in the metropolitan area. That said, it is easier even for those loyalists when the ballclub is playing much better than anticipated.
Thus, Don Betzen of Granite Falls hung in there for 17 innings to watch the Twins defeat Boston 4-3 on the night of June 18 that turned to early morning at Target Field. And he was watching again on June 27, when a 57-minute rain delay preceded 18 innings and a 5-2 victory for Tampa Bay, also at Target Field.
The Twins-Red Sox game lasted 5 hours, 45 minutes, and the Twins and Rays went 5:42. Numbers of pitchers: Red Sox 9, Rays 9, Twins 9 and 10, for a total of 37 in two games.
This sent Betzen scurrying to a scrapbook kept at home to refresh himself on the 17-inning game that Granite Falls played against Norwood in the 1963 state Class B tournament.
There were two pitchers in that game — Betzen for Granite Falls and Bert McCarthy for Norwood. Granite scored in the eighth, Norwood tied it in the top of the ninth, and then Mike Halvorson singled home the doubling Merland Buchholz in the bottom of the 17th.
Betzen sent along a clipping of Granite Falls’ 2-1 victory and also made note of the time of the game: 3 hours, 30 minutes for 17 innings.
I’m guessing there weren’t a lot of TV-ordered breaks after half-innings that stretched to three minutes that night in St. Cloud. And there might not have been concern that the major league futures of Betzen and McCarthy could be in jeopardy.
That doesn’t change the opinion that 3?½ hours for nine innings now being the routine and the incessant march of relievers have added significant damage to baseball’s standing in the entertainment market.
I’m not whining about complete games being more endangered than sea turtles. Johan Santana cured me of that with his seven- or eight-inning efforts of magnificence for the Twins from 2004 to 2006. The march of relievers, though — that gives me acid reflex.
There are things that I miss more than a complete game:
The hard bouncer up the middle for a hit rather than an out. (Note: I don’t miss that one as much as Joe Mauer did over his last half-dozen seasons.)
Home runs that mean something (rather than everything). The base stealer (Rickey, you were the greatest). The lefthanded threat lurking in the dugout (Minch in a Pinch — Don Mincher).
And here’s what is missed the most: The Pennant Race.
This was a thing of purity in the first eight seasons of the Twins’ existence. Ten teams, finish first, go to the World Series. Finish second or third, anywhere close, and a player telling a story from the seasons of 1961 through 1968, would still today precede it with:
“We were in the Race that year.”
The Race. Cap R.
In 1969, a second round of expansion arrived, and the American and National leagues were divided into six-team divisions, and you could still call it a division race, although with a small r.
The Twins won the AL West in 1969 and 1970 — nine in front both times. Not much of a race, or a payoff, as they were swept 3-0 by Baltimore in the first two ALCS.
It all changed in 1995. It was supposed to be 1994, but the strike that started Aug. 12 ruined the rest of that season — not to mention the future of baseball in Montreal.
The playoff field was now doubled: three division champs and a wild card in each league. It’s now five per league, with the addition of the second wild card in 2012.
I get it. You need more postseason chances to keep ticket buyers and TV viewers engaged. Look at the current National League mess for the second wild card and there’s the case of it.
I’m not whining. I’m just telling you that the Twins starting a three-game series in Cleveland on Friday night with a narrowing lead would have had the heart pumpin’ and corpuscles jumpin’ if it were another time, against another team, and not with the fallback position, “Well, there’s still the wild card.”
The All-Star Game is passed, the heat of summer is here, and we’ve traded Pennant Race for wild-card race in baseball lexicon. It’s a trade that had to be made to serve the modern sports consumer, and it’s also a bad one for those of us lucky enough to have twisted our way through 1967.
The Great Race. You can look it up.