This article was written by Stew Thornley
For nearly 30 years Minnesota baseball fans had a conflicted relationship with the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. Though the multi-functional stadium had less charm and character than toilet paper, and even though it kept fans indoors when they’d rather watch their baseball while experiencing pleasant summer days and evenings, it produced fond memories for many.
No one in the upper Midwest with any age lines will forget the electricity in the Metrodome as the Twins won the World Series in 1987 and 1991. For many, their early experiences with baseball were in this balllpark. They cherished the memories of their introduction to the game in the Metrodome as much as older fans who grew up with Metropolitan Stadium did.
The final regular-season game for the Metrodome — scheduled for Sunday, October 4, 2009 — was sold out far in advance and a postgame ceremony commemorating the end of the Twins’ 28-year run in the stadium was planned. The Twins seemed assured that this would be the final game, their postseason hopes all but extinguished. On September 6, with four weeks left in the season, Minnesota had trailed first-place Detroit by seven games; the Twins closed the gap to three games but with only four days left in the season.
However, they pulled even and needed a win on October 4 to force a tiebreaker game with the Tigers, giving the maligned Metrodome at least one more game. Win they did, and two nights later Minnesota hosted the additional game to determine the division champion. Game 163, as it became known in Twins’ lore, was one of the most exciting ever in the stadium, with the Twins winning 6-5 in 12 innings.
The title earned the Twins a first-round playoff berth against New York. Playing at home, the Yankees won the first two games of the best-of-five series. The series shifted to Minnesota and on Sunday, October 11, the Metrodome hosted its third straight elimination game — the Twins would either win or be done forever with the Metrodome.
Many of the fans may have been pessimistic with the team down two games against a team it had struggled against, during the regular season and in the playoffs, over the past seven years; however, the crowd was as enthusiastic as ever.
Andy Pettitte of the Yankees and Carl Pavano of the Twins were impressive through the opening innings. The Twins had a chance against Pettitte in the fifth. Michael Cuddyer led off the inning with a single, the first baserunner for Minnesota. Jason Kubel then hit a sinking liner to the right side. Second baseman Robinson Cano bent and reached to his left, but the ball went under his glove into right field. Cuddyer had to hold before taking off. Nick Swisher raced in, fielded the ball and made a quick heave to second. Shortstop Derek Jeter stretched and scooped the one-hop throw to force Cuddyer, to the relief of the Yankees (not to mention the official scorer, who was taken off the hook and didn’t have to make a difficult hit-or-error decision on Cano).1
In the sixth the Twins tried again and this time they broke through. With two outs Denard Span singled and stole second. Orlando Cabrera walked, bringing up Joe Mauer, who was dealing with a bothersome hip muscle. Mauer had missed the first month of the season after offseason back surgery, yet produced a great enough year that he’d be voted the league’s Most Valuable Player. Even through his physical ailments, Mauer was the man the Twins counted on, and he grounded a single to left that scored Span and gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead.
The crowd erupted, and after the game the veteran Pettitte said, “That was the loudest I ever heard a ballpark.”2 The Metrodome was noted for the decibels its fans could produce, and the Twins often responded and felt a lift from that noise. This time, though, they could do no more damage off Pettitte, and two innings later that noise would work against them.
By then the Yankees had taken the lead. Pavano retired the first batter in the top of the seventh and got ahead of Alex Rodriguez with two strikes. Rodriguez laid off three pitches to work the count full and then fouled off a pitch. Staying alive, he finally got a pitch he could handle and drove it over the right-field fence to tie the game.
Two batters later Jorge Posada, a switch-hitter batting left-handed, also went the opposite way with a home run to left.
The Yankees clung to their lead and brought in Phil Hughes for the eighth. Nick Punto greeted him with a double and the fans came alive. Span sent a grounder up the middle. Jeter went to his left and gloved it but didn’t have a chance to get Span at first. The crowd roared, causing Punto to think that the ball had made it through to the outfield. Responding to the cheers rather than the stop sign put up by third-base coach Scott Ullger, Punto headed for home before realizing his mistake. He slid on the turf to brake and scrambled back toward third. By this time, Jeter had thrown home to Posada; he snapped a throw to Rodriguez, who put the tag on Punto before he could get back.
Instead of runners at first and third with no out, the Twins were left with the tying run at first with one out. “I picked (Ullger) up late. I had my head down,” said Punto.” It was on me. … That’s my play. I heard 50,000 people screaming, and I thought the ball had gone through. That’s what a roar like that usually means. But they were just happy that Denard was going to be on first. It’s an awful feeling. You want to crawl in a hole.”3
Hughes next got Cabrera to fly out, and manager Joe Girardi, taking no chances, called on bullpen ace Mariano Rivera to face Mauer. It took Rivera two pitches to finish the inning; he got Mauer on a broken-bat grounder to first.
New York combined walks and singles off four different pitchers to pad their margin, scoring two more in the ninth, and Rivera went back to the mound with a 4-1 lead. He gave up a leadoff single to Cuddyer but struck out Kubel and Delmon Young. Brendan Harris took a couple of balls, with Cuddyer advancing to second on defensive indifference on the second one.
At 9:35 P.M. the end came. Harris chopped a grounder past the mound. Jeter moved in, fielded it, shuffled his feet, and threw to Mark Teixeira at first to end the game, the series, and major-league baseball in the Metrodome.
The Yankees celebrated in subdued fashion as disappointed fans filed out, some crying just as others had when New York twice before (in 2003 and 2004) ended the Minnesota’s season with playoff victories in the Metrodome.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press had a photo of one of the tearful fans, Tracie Eckstrom of Minneapolis, who said, “My dad used to bring me here when I was little, and it’s over now.”4
Some Twins employees ventured to the field soon after the game to fill paper cups with dirt from around home plate. Twins relief pitcher Joe Nathan went a little further and scooped dirt from the mound with the intention of sprinkling it on the mound at Target Field, where the Twins would play the next year. The dirt may have made it to the new mound, although Nathan didn’t in 2010, missing the entire season after having Tommy John surgery shortly before the new ballpark opened.
The Metrodome remained in service for a few more years, mainly forMinnesota Vikings’ football seasons. Through 2013 the stadium hosted many amateur baseball games, including high school and college ball.
But the Twins were done, emerging from climate-controlled surroundings to sun, snow, rain, and hail—all to the delight of fans who flocked to Target Field.
The Metrodome still evoked fond feelings from many, including the players. “It was a great run this place had,” said Michael Cuddyer. “It went away kicking and screaming.”5
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also used his scoresheet from the game, Baseball Reference.com, and Retrosheet.org.
1 The author was the official scorer for this game. He still thanks Swisher and Jeter for making this play.
2 Jim Souhan, “Lights Out,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 12, 2009: A1.
3 Patrick Reusse, “Who Would Have Thought It Would Be Punto This Time?” Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 12, 2009: A1.
4 St. Paul Pioneer Press, October 12, 2009: 8A.
5 Souhan, “Lights Out.”