Alexi Casilla gave the last great Metrodome memory to Twins fans.
I miss the Metrodome. I know I am not supposed to say that. I know I am supposed to call the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis an eye sore, a disgrace and poorly conceived ballpark.
I know I am supposed to look at Target Field, the new home of the Twins as a great traditional ballpark and a testament to the survival of Minnesota baseball from contraction or relocation.
But I miss it. I can’t tell the difference between Target Field in Minnesota or the new ballparks in St. Louis, Washington, Atlanta or Philadelphia. They all look the same to me now.
The Metrodome however looked different. There was the Trash Bag right field wall and the jutting dimensions. There was no way to look at the park and say “Wait, which bizarre dome is this?”
More importantly there were great memories from that stadium. The 1987 World Series was a bizarre 7 game series that was the introduction to most to the strange venue.
The 1991 World Series might have been the best series I ever saw. Almost every game was an epic and the final extra inning games, the Puckett catch and homer, the Morris 10 innings, the Larkin hit, all came back as a flood of memories when I saw the Metrodome.
In 2009, the Metrodome was shutting down for baseball. Target Field, the goal of the post contraction threats, was opening the next year.
Now for all the talk of Twins contraction, they were regular participants in post season play in the 2000’s. They won the Central in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006. That last year they were in first place a grand total of one day in the season: the final day.
They lost a 1 game playoff for the Central in 2008 to the White Sox. But nobody thinks of those Twins teams as playoff teams because only once did they make it out of the Division Series. The won a single post season game in 2003 and 2004 and were swept in 2006.
In 2009, the Twins were in first place a handful of games in April and then fell behind the Tigers and White Sox. They were in third place in late August, looking to play out the string.
They slumped in mid September and lost Justin Morneau for the year. On September 12, they were 5 1/2 games behind the Tigers and a sub .500 team, sporting a 70-72 record. They were who they were with 21 games to play.
Then it happened. The Twins won 17 of their last 21 games and forced a one game playoff in the Metrodome with Detroit for the AL Central.
It was October 6, 2009. 24 year old Alexi Casilla woke up that morning not knowing his baseball legacy would be cemented that day.
He wasn’t even in the starting lineup. The promising infielder from the Dominican Republic had received several chances to be the starting second baseman between 2007, 2008 and 2009. But he struggled often and found himself being optioned to Triple A.
Nick Punto got the start in the playoff. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera homered to make it 3-0 Detroit in the third. Home runs by Jason Kubel and Orlando Cabrera gave Minnesota the lead going into the 8th and Magglio Ordonez tied the game with a shot of his own.
Casilla lingered on the bench.
In the 10th, the Tigers took the lead but the Twins countered with a lead off triple by Michael Cuddyer. When Brendan Harris walked and put the winning run on base, Casilla came into the game to pinch run.
Matt Tolbert singled home the tying run and sent Casilla to third representing the AL Central crown. Punto hit a flyball to left. Casilla tagged as the throw was off line… but catcher Gerald Laird threw him out to send the game to the 11th.
Casilla would stay in the lineup in the DH slot and it would come up again. The Twins escaped a bases loaded jam and in the bottom of the 12th, Carlos Gomez singled and made it to second on a ground out. Delmon Young was walked to pitch to Alexi Casilla. With the season on the line, the Twins had the pinch runner turned batter at the plate.
He responded but tapping a hit into right. Gomez scored well ahead of the throw. The Twins were the Division Champs. The Metrodome had another game to wave hankies and go crazy.
One more game was played there, but it was the end of the Yankee sweep in Game 3. So the actual finale was anti climactic. But it would not have seemed right to have the Twins close out the Metrodome with a whimper of a losing season. It made sense that they had a wild loopy game be part of the send off.
Casilla is not a superstar. His injuries and inconsistencies have derailed his career. So in many respects he is the perfect final Metrodome hero: a scrappy hero who wasn’t always pretty but in the end, gave fans in Minnesota something to cheer for.