Last week, Twins Geek wrote about one of the most memorable regular-season home runs in Twins history, a blast by Harmon Killebrew in 1965 that salvaged a series for the Twins and proved that their talented team could indeed hang with dynastic Yankees, who'd owned the American League over the prior two decades or so.
The Twins entered the eighth inning yesterday seemingly headed for a 13th straight loss against the Yankees. They'd come to New York looking to prove their legitimacy in the American League, but over the first two games of the series the Twins had seen their offense fail time and time again to come up with a big hit while the pitchers had folded in the face of a powerful Yankee offense.
So when Mariano Rivera, who hadn't allowed a run all season, stepped in to protect a two-run lead with the bases loaded in the top of the eighth, one hardly could believe good results were in store for the Twins. Their ineptitude with the bases loaded this season had been a trend nearly as frustrating as their longtime problems with the Yankees. They'd amassed a .157 average, with five double plays and only one extra-base hit (a double), in 61 plate appearances with the bases full. The offense had generally been chugging along nicely, but the hitters had continually failed to come up with the big hit in the big situation. Alas, it was difficult to envision that it was going to come against perhaps the game's greatest closer of all time, who'd been invulnerable all year.
Jim Thome pushed a run across for the Twins with a walk, narrowing the lead to one. Fans yawned. Sure, the Twins had scratched out an important run, but they still had not found that elusive game-changing knock. In stepped Jason Kubel, riding a terrible early-season slump -- evidenced by a .224 average with just two home runs -- and 0-for-3 with two strikeouts on the day.
When Kubel drove that Rivera pitch over the wall, it turned a depressing series sweep into a potential momentum builder. Rauch came out to pitch the ninth and let two runners get on base, but rather than folding he stepped up to strike out the top three hitters in the Yankee lineup consecutively, slamming the door shut on a lengthy losing streak in the Bronx.
Now that the Twins have remembered how to get a big hit with the bases juiced and remembered what it feels like to notch a big victory in an East Coast town, we'll see how their demeanor is in Toronto and Boston this week. It'd be no surprise if they walk into Rogers Centre tonight with a bit more swagger, having freshly removed a pair of big monkeys from their backs.
Maybe the Twins keep struggling on the second and third legs of this road trip. Maybe they prove just as snake bit against the Yankees when they face them later this month at Target Field as they have over the majority of the past two years. And maybe the 2010 club's Kubel, Morneau, Mauer, Thome and Cuddyer don't follow the same path as the 1965 club's Killebrew, Mincher, Versailles, Allison and Oliva in leading the Twins to an AL pennant.
But just maybe Kubel's incredible grand slam today will be commemorated in a blog post 45 years from now as the blast that enabled a championship team to turn a crucial corner.