Best baseball game I’ve ever been to. Ever.
On my way to my end-of-summer trek to Minnesota, I took advantage of the baseball schedule and stopped off in Chicago to visit an old friend from high school and catch the first game of the Twins/White Sox series. To set things up a bit for those who haven’t been paying attention, the Twins entered tonight’s game a half-game back of the White Sox in the wild card race — a win and the lead flips to the Twins, a loss and they’re that much further behind.
After exploring Millennium Park and Michigan Avenue this afternoon, we caught the El to the south side and U.S. Cellular Field. (As an aside, I really miss being able to take public transportation to ballgames.) Our seats were way up on the 500 level behind the left field foul pole — but on the plus side, they were in the front row along the aisle. While I saw a few Twins hats on the way in, there didn’t to seem to be that many until we got to our seats. It was almost as if the online ticketing agent could sense that I was a Twins fan and dumped me in this section, which was about half Minnesotans. We did the obligatory “Hey, nice hat — go Twins!” with a few folks and the game got under way.
It started bleak for the boys from the Land O’ Lakes. Brad Radke gave up four hits and three runs in the first two innings, including a two run blast from Paul Konerko, before Gardenhire sat him down and brought in Matt Guerrier to start the third. In the meantime, the Twins could only manage three hits in the first five innings. There seemed to be a slight ray of hope in the third when Jason “Not Related to a Fictional President” Bartlett got hit by a pitch and stole second. When Luis Castillo singled to center, Bartlett took a wide turn at third and looked ready to score, but third base coach Scott Ullger held him up instead. Nick Punto followed with a inning ending double play and the Twins hopes of a run were dashed.
I think it was in about the fourth inning that my friend turned to me and said, “So the Twins are gonna lose, huh?” I explained to her that you never say such things in baseball, and she responded by saying that she was bored and going to go use the bathroom and get us some hot dogs. While she was gone, I made a new friend — a drunken Twins fan. Impressed that I was both a Twins fan and keeping score he started chatting with me about the game. He mentioned that he had played baseball in high school for Roseville and had played against Joe Mauer. “He was good and all, but I wasn’t that much worse. I could be out there now if I had wanted to.” Um, right, buddy. But shortly before he returned to his seat came the true wisdom of Drunken Twins Fan. “Don’t worry about this game. [Starting White Sox pitcher] Vazquez always gives up runs during his third time through the line-up. This is only the second. Just wait, you’ll see. Twins will win 4-3.” And then as quickly as he had appeared, he vanished leaving me with his prediction.
And he was right — almost.
The third time through the line-up came in the top of the sixth. Nick Punto led off with a solo homer to right and the Twins had their first run. After Mauer lined out to first, Michael Cuddyer singled to left and Ozzie Guillen pulled his starter. Justin “32 homeruns” Morneau followed with another single and the Sox made another pitching change.
“Hey, this is kind of exciting now,” my friend said.
“Yep, the go-ahead run is at the plate.”
“What does that mean?” (Give her break — she’s primarily a football fan.)
“That means that if Torii Hunter hits a homerun right now, the Twins will be ahead.”
I should say things like that more often. Just like that, the Twins went up 4-3 and my section (and pretty much just my section) went nuts. But then, almost as quickly, A.J. Pierzynski, who used to be a Twin, hit a homerun to lead off the bottom of the inning to bring the score to an even 4-4. This is about the moment when I realized I was watching an amazing game.
The 7th and 8th flew by, with Jesse Crain pitching outstanding relief for the Twins and neither team able to come with any more than a harmless single and a stranded runner. The atmosphere in the stadium was tense — every at bat was crucial and every batter had the potential to be a hero.
Then came the ninth. “What happens if the score is still tied after the 9th inning?” my friend asked.
“They play more innings until the score isn’t tied anymore. It’s like overtime in football.”
“Oh. Then the Twins better score here because I don’t want to stay too late.”
Apparently they heard her. Hunter singled, Rondell White beat the double play ball to first and Lew Ford came into run for him. And when Jason Tyner hit a ground ball to the pitcher, Lew ran to second. With two outs in the ninth, up came the number nine hitter, Jason Bartlett — the unlikeliest of heroes. (Okay, that’s not really true. Drunken Twins Fan would probably be the unlikeliest of heroes here, but it’s more dramatic to write that than to mention Bartlett’s .347 batting average.) After a first pitch strike (and much cheering from the Chicago crowd), Bartlett singled to right, Lew ran all the way home, and I jumped up and cheered and screamed.
Joe Nathan, the Twins star closer, came in to finish of the Sox in the 9th. Half of the Twins fans in my section left — “Nathan’s going to finish it. We want to beat the crowd to the subway,” they said as they left. What kind of fans are they? But as it turns out, they were right, though the third and final out bears a special mention. It’s marked in the scorebook as “3-F.I.” because I have no idea how else you score it when the first baseman would have caught the ball, but a fan interfered, and the ump called it an out anyway. I actually couldn’t see the play from our seats (though I just watched the replay on SportsCenter). All I know is, I saw the ump jerk his thumb back and declare the out and let out a squeal of delight — literally a squeal. My throat was too sore from cheering to let out anything gutteral.
And now… the Twins are atop the wild card standings.
See? Best. Game. Ever.
(There will be photos posted eventually… as soon as I find the cord to put them on my laptop.)
Best baseball game I’ve ever been to. Ever.