The holidays have put me in a reflective mood, and now that the Twins have signed closer Fernando Rodney, I can’t help but think of his days in the American League, including his seven seasons with the Detroit Tigers and one fateful afternoon in October 2009.
That’s when the Twins and Tigers met at the Metrodome — and it would be the final regular-season game at the homer dome — to play Game 163 of the 2009 season. The two teams finished tied atop the American League Central after Game 162, which meant they needed to play one more to decide which team would advance to the postseason. Did any current Twins play in that game? Only one: Joe Mauer.
The Tigers spent 142 games in first that season, but baseball isn’t won in April, May, June, July or August. Baseball seasons are decided in September and October. Both teams played well down the stretch. The Tigers were 16-12 in September, while the Twins were 16-11, but come October and everything changed.
The Tigers coughed up the AL Central lead in historic fashion. Despite having a three-game lead over the Twins, the Tigers stumbled at the finish line to set the stage for Game 163, which Sports Illustrated voted the best regular-season game of the decade. Played before 54,000 at the dome, the game took four-and-a-half hours and was decided in the 12th inning.
Here’s how USA Today described it:
The Twins, who overcame a three-game deficit with four left to force the tiebreaker, won for the 17th time in 21 games. They overcame one-run deficits in the seventh and 10th innings. They staved off a first-and-third, none-out jam in the ninth and a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the 12th. And they scored the game-winner on Alexi Casilla’s one-out single to right field, with Carlos Gomez sliding across the plate on his belly, sending the record crowd of 54,055 into pandemonium.
The Twins and Tigers used 13 pitchers, including Rodney, who was asked to pitch the final three innings of the game. Rodney recorded 37 saves that season, but he also had a 4.40 ERA and struggled with his command, issuing 41 walks in 75-plus innings.
Rodney’s line: Three innings, four hits, two runs (both earned) and three walks, two of which were intentional passes to Joe Mauer and Delmon Young. And that was the game. Rodney, who took the loss, fell to 2-5 in 2009. Who picked up the win for the Twins? Bobby Keppel, who pitched an inning and a third, and gave up one hit, with two walks and one strikeout. Keppel, interestingly enough, never pitched in the majors again.
As I was saying, baseball seasons are settled in the fall. The Tigers went 1-4 down the stretch, while the Twins were 5-0. After the Game 163 loss, the Tigers became the first team in major league history to lose a three-game division lead with four games left in the season.
-What did the Twins do after they beat the Tigers? Absolutely nothing. They met those damn Yankees in the postseason and were swept in three games.
-Joe Mauer hit .365 that year and was named the AL MVP.