Minnesota, fighting to stay alive in the American League West race, held a 10-0 lead over the Indians after 2½ innings in Cleveland last Friday night. A Twin win—seemingly a sure thing—coupled with a Royal loss would leave Minnesota a game out with two to go. But then the young, tense Twins fell apart.
"It was like everyone was afraid to make a mistake," said manager Billy Gardner afterward. "I let up and my mind wandered," said starting pitcher Frank Viola. "I changed my game plan, started throwing fastballs and didn't have my breaking pitches when I needed them." Grooving fastballs, Viola yielded a seemingly harmless two-run homer to Joe Carter in the third and a one-run shot to Andre Thornton with one out in the sixth. But Thornton's homer was anything but harmless; it set off an explosion by the Indians. Three singles, a walk, a strikeout and a double later, the score was 10-6—and Viola was gone. Still, the worst was yet to come.
With two outs, runners on second and third and Rick Lysander now pitching for the Twins, Julio Franco grounded to Gaetti, who fielded the ball cleanly but bounced his throw off first baseman Kent Hrbek's thigh, allowing a run to score. "It's hard to throw with both hands around your neck," said Gaetti. "If I make the play, we win." When Carter walked and Thornton singled to drive in the sixth and seventh runs of the inning, it was 10-9 and, suddenly, anybody's game.
Well, anybody's but Minnesota's. In the eighth the Twins summoned Ron Davis, who had already blown 14 of 43 save opportunities. "He doesn't give his breaking ball enough credit," said Gardner. Shaking off catcher Tim Laudner's curve signal, Davis threw a fastball to Carter. A noted fastball hitter, Carter promptly tied the game with another homer. When Davis walked two of the first three batters he faced in the ninth, Gardner called on Ed Hodge, who is thought to have the stuff but not the stuffing. "I wish he'd say bleep it, instead of dang it," said Gardner. Pinch hitter Mel Hall singled to right, loading the bases for Brett Butler and forcing the Twin fielders to move in for a play at the plate. But Butler hit a medium-deep fly that carried over the center-fielder's head for a game-winning single. Final score: Indians 11, Twins 10. Combined with Kansas City's 6-5 victory over the A's later that night in Oakland, the embarrassing loss mathematically—and memorably—eliminated the Twins.