Twins fans receive unexpected gift of a postseason
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Twins fans have found the proverbial wad of cash in the street. As recently as mid-July, it seemed their scrappy team was bankrupt -- 12 games out in the American League Central. But a splendid summer run is sending them ...
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Twins fans have found the proverbial wad of cash in the street.
As recently as mid-July, it seemed their scrappy team was bankrupt -- 12 games out in the American League Central. But a splendid summer run is sending them into the playoffs as division champions and giving fans a slew of down-to-earth stars to root for.
"We began with nobodies and now we've got a lot of somebodies," said longtime fan Darrell Scheele, a 49-year-old who's been going to Twins games since he was 7.
He says it's the players who have grabbed people's attention this season.
"I think our players have really brought the public into the game," said Scheele, who works security at Gophers and Vikings games. "The Twins are the heart of Minneapolis."
But the comeback buzz spreads well beyond the Twin Cities.
Kelly, Molly and Clarissa O'Beirne, three sisters from the northern Minnesota town of Shevlin, drove nearly 500 miles roundtrip to watch the Twins play last week.
"I just think they play the game the right way," Molly said. "They all support each other. When one guy is down, they bring that guy up."
Twins fans have enjoyed their share of winners in recent years. After all, Minnesota won its division in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
But this year is different.
Sitting at 25-33 on June 8, the Twins began winning, and they haven't stopped. With Sunday's victory, the Twins went 71-33 since that low-water mark, by far the best record in the majors over that stretch.
What's as remarkable as the Twins' surge is how they have done it.
They had every reason to expect good seasons from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, and they've gotten them. But the Twins didn't take off until they jettisoned a number of veterans -- shortstop Juan Castro, third baseman Tony Batista and designated hitter Ruben Sierra.
Nick Punto, a career utility player with a history of injuries, brought range and hands to third base and has flirted with .300. Jason Bartlett, farmed out earlier in the year, came back and turned out to be the answer at shortstop.
Jason Tyner, a journeyman outfielder, was called up when Lew Ford was hurt and has been hitting ever since. Michael Cuddyer, so long just a player with potential, has driven in more than 100 runs.
The Twins have also overcome injuries to two top starters, Brad Radke and Francisco Liriano. They've done it with a bullpen that has the best earned run average, 2.94, in baseball.
"I can't remember a time I've enjoyed watching them more," said Pam Levesseur, as she stood along the first-base line last week rocking her baby daughter. She says the team's youthful, fun-loving, authentic attitude has drawn her in. "It's our team," she said.
Reliever Pat Neshek, who grew up watching the Twins in the suburb of Brooklyn Park, was called up from the minors in July and has since become part of the team's fresh-faced movement. With his quirky, sidearm delivery and an equally quirky blog ( www.patneshek.com ), he has his own following.
"It's Minnesota you know, living here, they really appreciate their athletes," Neshek said. "It's nice to give that back."
Closer Joe Nathan said he's happy that so many fans are jazzed about the unexpected gift this season has become.
"(The fans) probably thought our season was over after the first month and a half," he said. "People are excited to have something to watch in October."
-- AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this report.