On Sept. 7, 1984, Calvin Griffith turned over to banker Carl Pohlad a Twins team that led the American League West by half a game and had some of the best young players in the division. The Twins promptly collapsed to a .500 finish that season, then sank to 77-85 last year. Now, after thoroughly overhauling the organization, Minnesota is trying to get back to where it was.
"What went wrong was simple," says outfielder Mickey Hatcher. "The pitching went bad, and, when you have to score 10 runs a game to win, you fall apart after a while." That's precisely what happened on May 13, when the Twins blew an 8-0 lead in Yankee Stadium, and lost. That began a 12-22 streak that got Billy Gardner tired and Ray Miller hired as manager.
"The depth of our pitching and our middle defense will determine how far we go," says Miller. "As for our frontline pitching and our power, we can play with anyone in our division. Our four starters won more games than any foursome. We didn't have Bert Blyleven until August 1 and the other three didn't pitch as well as they can." Indeed, last year's big three of Frank Viola, Mike Smithson and John Butcher saw its collective earned run average balloon from 3.44 to 4.44. "We stunk for a stretch there, and we know it," says Smithson. "It won't happen again. And having Blyleven from the start of the season will be a big factor." It wasn't a fluke that the previously erratic Ron Davis had 18 saves in 19 save opportunities under Miller. Davis finally stopped trying to throw fastballs past hitters, and the new manager used him the way Dick Howser uses Dan Quisenberry—to start innings.
The Twins expect to score runs, with Tom Brunansky, Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti in the middle of the lineup. Kirby Puckett reported at 216 pounds and looks more like an emerging Gates Brown every day, but he and Brunansky give Minnesota two of the league's best defensive outfielders. Having replaced Roy Smalley and the traded Tim Teufel at short and second with Greg Gagne and Steve Lombardozzi, Miller says, "We've made such a dramatic improvement that we can seriously contend."
As long as no one in the division wins more than 90 games, he may be right.
THE ELIAS ANALYST:
First Twins catcher to hit .300 and catch half their games since Earl Battey in 1961.
Mild-mannered on road (.263 BA, for career). Superman at dome (.324 BA, .520 SA).
Yankees drafted him in 5th round in 1979; 14 rounds later, they got around to Don Mattingly.
Had 115 doubles in four seasons; long career could put him in alltime top 30 with around 500.
His next walk will be No. 100; it has taken him 647games to get to 99.
Career batting averages: .323 with runners on base, .275 with the bases empty.
Was leading AL in batting on May 25 (.362); from then on, his .206 was lowest in majors.
Drove in only two runners with 12 homers, tied for 2nd lowest rate in AL.
Completed 65% of his starts, compared with overall AL rate of 16%.
Hit 15 batters with pitches, highest total in majors since 1975, when Pete Broberg hit 16.
Winning pitcher in 23.4% (18 of 77) of team's victories, highest average percentage in AL.
Only one of 28 homers he has allowed in his career has come with more than one man on.
His average of 10.02 strikeouts per nine innings was highest among AL relievers.