Twins rebound from blowouts, Huskies don’t

John Gilbert

Duluth Huskies starter Gaylon Viney gave up only one earned runw as his teammates built a 4-0 lead in their home finale, but it took a later rally to beat the Rochester Honkers 7-3. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Duluth Huskies starter Gaylon Viney gave up only one earned runw as his teammates built a 4-0 lead in their home finale, but it took a later rally to beat the Rochester Honkers 7-3. Photo credit: John Gilbert

There is one place where the Minnesota Twins and the Duluth Huskies share a similarity. It is in giving up enormous quantities of runs in a single game.

Of course, their leagues are worlds apart. The Twins have been bombarded a few times, blowing 5-0 leads and giving up big innings and bigger margins. For example, they faced the Cleveland Indians at Target Field in a three-game series Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week, and it was almost a last-chance series for the Twins, who had a decent 5-1 record in Cleveland, but a dismal 0-7 record against the Indians at Target Field.

 Not only 0-7, but the Twins had been outscored 48-15 in those seven games. That’s a lot of runs, and it’s reason enough to appreciate how the Indians could fly past the Twins and claim first place in the Central Division. The Twins, however, are a plucky lot, and right about the time their fans, their media, and even their management had surrendered, the Twins went on a season’s-best 6-game winning streak, and made it seven out of eight before coming home.

Meanwhile, at Wade Stadium, the Duluth Huskies of the Northwoods League, where college players with remaining eligibility are divided up among the teams and play for nothing, except experience. The Huskies were OK this season, but they caved in at the finish. No comeback, no closing rush.

The Huskies lost eight of their last 10 games, a 2-8 stretch that also might have set records for quantities of runs given up. When it got down to the last two home games of the season, and then the final two road games of the season, the Huskies lost 12-2 before claiming a 7-3 victory to close out their home schedule. Then they went to Waterloo, and met their final...uh...Waterloo, losing 17-2 and 8-4.

One day later, the Huskies management announced that manager Daniel Hersey would be relieved of his command. Hersey managed the team for eight years, going 31-41 this season, and 278-283 for the eight years.

But when it came to giving up runs, the Huskies were in uncharted territory. In their next-to-last game at home, the Mankato Moondogs scored five runs in the top of the first inning -- before the Huskies managed to get a single out. That ended 12-2.

Luke Roskam was forced at second as Rochester shortstop Michael Michalak got rid of a relay throw to complete a double play. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Luke Roskam was forced at second as Rochester shortstop Michael Michalak got rid of a relay throw to complete a double play. Photo credit: John Gilbert

When the Huskies put together a stirring season home finale, getting ahead 3-0, blowing the lead, but then rallying to break the 3-3 tie and win 7-3, it was a breath of fresh air, and one that was not blowing in off Lake Superior.

But hitting the road meant Waterloo, and in the next-to-last game of the entire season, Waterloo scored six runs in the bottom of the first inning -- before the Huskies recorded a single out. That one ended 17-3. They gave up 37 runs in those three losses among their final four games.

Nevertheless, the Northwoods League has some specific and odd rules, where colleges relegate their players to your team for the summer, but with strict rules on how many innings pitchers can pitch, and so forth. I can’t say if those rules entered into the horrendous pair of top-of-the-first blowouts by the opposition, but it doesn’t seem viable that a manager would willingly let his team fall hopelessly behind in the first inning.

The bright spots at the end are that second baseman Chase Strumpf, from UCLA, and pitcher Ryan Tapani, from Creighton, were named to the 33-man Northwoods All-Star team.

The Twins version of giving up far too many runs in far too short a time came at the strangest possible time. They swept a four-game series from Milwaukee, and extended the run with two victories at Detroit, making it a 6-game winning streak. In the final game of that series, the Twins gave up five runs in the bottom of the first inning, but rallied for a 5-run third inning themselves. The Twins went up 7-5 and 8-6, then seemed to put the game away with a 3-run sixth, for an 11-6 cushion.

However, the Tigers got a run in the seventh, and three in the eighth, two of them when shortstop Jose Iglesias, hitting ninth, smacked a home run to close the gap to 11-10. That brought us to the last of the ninth, and Justin Upton ripped a Matt Belisle pitch into the upper deck in left, a 2-run home run that provided the Tigers with the cliched walk-off victory, 12-11.

Quite remarkably, the Twins didn’t fold up and start planning for vacation. They bounced right back and jumped ahead 2-0 on a Brian Dozier leadoff home run -- his sixth first-up homer of the year -- and a squeeze bunt by Byronn Buxton in the second. Miguel Sano homered to make it 4-0 in the third, and then the Twins blew the lead.

It was 4-4 in the eighth inning when Buxton delivered a run-=scoring single to break the tie, and No. 9 hitter Ehire Adrianza brought in the clincher with a sacrifice fly, and the Twins held on for a 6-4 victory.

In the last of the eighth, it almost seemed as though we could channel manager Paul Molitor and whether he was throwing darts at a board to pick a final reliever. With Upton striding to the plate and the game on the line, he brought in sidearming rookie Trevor Hildenberger. With all the poise imaginable, Hildenberger had the audacity to duel Upton to the end, then struck him out with an amazing change-up that left Upton down on one knee, wondering where the ball went.

Hildenberger gave up a hit in the last of the ninth, but came back with two more strikeouts, the last of which fooled James McCann and ended the game.

It would be nice to beat the Indians and set up a great final month, but regardless, the Twins are hitting at a pennant-winning rate right now. In this stretch, including winning seven out of eight, consider the following: Brian Dozier is 13-29; Eddie Rosario is 11-23; Jorge Polanco, the previously light-hitting shortstop, went 16-33; Byron Buxton went 11-30; and Joe Mauer, watching for walks and taking a couple days off, went 8-15.  That’s 59-for-130, a cumulative .454 batting average.

   Without question, this Twins team may or may not contend to the finish, but they are the most entertaining Twins team in a decade or two.