Cinderella, masquerading in the uniform of the Minnesota Twins and unwilling to wait until midnight to make a splash, made an appearance at 10:38 Wednesday night as the Chicago White Sox closed out an 8-3 win over the Cleveland Indians, giving the Twins their first division title in nine years.
The Twins had rallied earlier for a 5-1 win at Detroit, their 98th of a magical season, and then watched television in the visitors clubhouse in the Motor City before unleashing the usual barrage of champagne when the Indians lost.
Proving that it was a Cinderella-like year, two of the major players in the win Wednesday night were rookies that even the most ardent Twins fan knew little or nothing about.
Luis Arraez, he of the .344 average in 300-plus at-bats, hit a two-run homer for a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning. And the win went to Randy Dobnak, who began the season in Class A ball at Fort Myers and who has since left the team to get married on Saturday, an event planned two years ago.
Most Minnesota fans would be telling an untruth if they said they knew of Arraez or Dobnak when this season began. I had never heard of Dobnak when he was called up, and had heard only a passing reference of a promising young infielder named Arraez while in the press box during my last spring training game in March.
Those same fans would be stretching the truth if they said they knew Max Kepler would have 36 home runs by the end of August, and that Mitch Garver (7 homers in 2018) would have 31 in only 308 at-bats this season.
Many in the team's fan base, and some in the media, wanted to dump Miguel Sano who began the season on the injured list and has now hit 33 homers in only 374 at-bats after missing the first month and a half of the season, and then hitting a paltry .190 his first week back, with all kinds of strikeouts.
Think this hasn't been a Cinderella year? Jake Odorizzi, picked up in a February trade last year from Tampa Bay, stumbled around with a 7-10 record, a 4.49 ERA and was a huge disappointment in 2018. Now he's 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA this season.
And who knew the team would have 301 home runs with three games to go, becoming the first team ever in the majors to hit that many? Not a soul.
So Cleveland had some injury problems? So did the Twins. Tom West, a friend who is also a retired newspaper editor, took the time to check out the Twins' injury problems this season. He found that only one player, shortstop Jorge Polanco, will participate in more than 140 of the team's 162 games this year. And yet, Tom wrote in a column this week, every starter except center fielder Byron Buxton (limited to 87 games, some of them only on defense in September), has hit more than 20 home runs. Did you see that coming? I didn't, even in the Year of the Home Run.
The Twins, with a pitching staff that has come in for its share of criticism in a year when home runs have been hit at a record pace, will be underdogs when the playoffs open next week. And, if they're playing in Yankee Stadium, that's a park where homers are a way of life.
It's been a wonderful season, filled with record performances and many, many impressive wins, including the come-from-behind victories that marked the team's play this week as it clinched the division title. The past record of 2-13 in the playoffs against the Yankees is, hopefully, of no consequence.
Let the games begin.
Last weekend at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter at the regional ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association) held there every fall, there were four former PHS players competing. Members of the St. Kate's team from St. Paul were Reilee Schepper and sisters Brianna and Kelsey Dorr, and Aurora Schossow was there from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. All were members of very successful PHS teams. Schepper and the Dorr sisters were individual competitors at the state tournament for a number of years. Brianna Dorr is a senior, Schepper a sophomore, and Kelsey Dorr and Schossow are freshmen . . . Ron Stolski, head football coach at Princeton for six years from 1965-1970, is in his 58th year of coaching and his 45th year at Brainerd. Stolski, who recently turned 80, has nearly 390 victories as a head coach . . . In the crowd watching tennis competition at Gustavus last weekend were former PHS athletes Lydia Arens and Gehrig Scheffel. Arens is on the soccer team at Gustavus and Scheffel is on the rugby team.
Daily diary for the 2019 Twins
Saturday, Sept. 21 — Lead remains at 4 games as the Twins beat Kansas City 4-3 behind rookie Randy Dobnak, with Trevor May striking out three in the ninth as the closer. It was 2-1 in the sixth inning when Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-out, two-run double to make it 4-1. Twins got a win while getting only five hits. Cleveland beat Philadelphia 5-2 to keep pace with Minnesota. Wonder of wonders, Miguel Sano had an RBI triple - he's not a triple guy.
Sunday, Sept. 22 — Lead remains at 4 games as the Phillies beat Cleveland 9-4. That was the good news. The bad news was that in a 12-5 loss, Jose Berrios was handed a 5-2 lead in a four-run fifth and promptly coughed it up. I never like using the closer (Taylor Rogers) in a tie game in the ninth and this time it didn't work Rogers giving up three runs and the Royals scoring seven runs in the ninth. Those who thought Berrios had turned things around may have to think again - it was a bad performance, with five earned runs in six innings. The Twins seem to be limping a bit to the finish but have retained their lead. Still no Max Kepler who, when he hit his 36th homer on Aug. 31, seemed a sure bet for at least 40 homers. He's played only 10 games in September, hit .171 so far this month, and driven in only two runs. The lineup is way different without him there. Manager Baldelli has hinted that he'll be back this week.
Monday, Sept. 23 — Lead remains at 4 games as the Twins edged by Kansas City 12-8 and Cleveland pounded the Phillies, 10-1. Despite some uneven play by the Twins, both teams are 7-3 the last 10 games, with six remaining for each. The magic number fell to three. The biggest news from the game was not the two homers by Miguel Sano, although that was impressive. Nelson Cruz hit his 400th homer (40th of the season), becoming the 57th player to hit 400 or more in the majors. Things got a bit hairy in the ninth as a 12-6 lead dwindled to 12-8 with the bases loaded. But Sergio Romo came in to strike out Alex Gordon, the potential tying run. Martin Perez got hammered as a starter and has a 9.15 ERA in his last five starts, thus endangering his place in an October rotation if the Twins qualify for the playoffs. Tyler Duffey struck out the side in the fifth inning (the fourth time he has done so the last two months) and now has gone 22 2/3 innings in 25 appearances, with an astounding 38 strikeouts, without giving up a run. The last run he gave up came on July 23.
Tuesday, Sept. 24— Lead remained at 4 on Monday as both the Twins and Indians had their last day off. The Twins finish the season with three games in Detroit and three in Kansas City. The Indians have three with the White Sox, with Mike Clevinger (12-3) pitching today and Shane Bieber (15-7) going tomorrow, giving the Indians a very good chance to win those two games, and then three with Washington, still in the hunt for a wild card spot in the playoffs. The three Detroit starters have combined record of 7-40, so the Twins have no excuses. A few interesting starts after 156 games: Cruz has homered every 10.9 at-bats, a very impressive figure; Sano is at 11.1 at-bats, also impressive; but Mitch Garver is at one every 9.8 at-bats. The team average is off the charts at a homer every 18.6 at-bats. And Byron Buxton, without whom the Twins have gone 30-19 (.612) in August and September, had 30 doubles and was averaging one every 9 at-bats. He was on pace for 50 or more doubles and could have broken Justin Morneau's club record. He had 71 hits in a little more than a half season and 44 of them were for extra bases. It was, until he was injured again, his breakout year.
Wednesday, Sept. 25 — Lead stayed at 4 BUT magic number down to 2 (combination of Minnesota wins or Cleveland losses) as Cleveland beat Chicago 11-0 yesterday and the Twins rallied for a 4-2 win at Detroit. But it wasn't a sure thing. The Twins trailed 1-0 after six innings against a pitcher that is now 3-16. But a two-run single by Williams Astuedillo got the lead and then Eddie Rosario (106 RBIs), after Nelson Cruz was walked intentionally, hit a two-run double to make it 4-1. Jake Odorizzi (15-7) came out for the the seventh but left because of a hamstring cramp and former starter Kyle Gibson pitched two innings of relief, giving up a run but striking out four. Gibson's work in the playoffs, if the Twins make it, will likely come as a reliever. Closer Taylor Rogers did the job again with a 1-2-3 ninth. Max Kepler still didn't play and Marwin Gonzalez and Mitch Garver were also held out.
Thursday, Sept. 26— The wait is over — the Twins are division champions and headed for the playoffs! In a game that was a carbon copy of the night before, the Twins won 5-1 at Detroit and the Indians lost 8-3 to the White Sox and are even in danger of not making it as a wild card team. Carbon copy? As happened the night before, the Twins were scoreless after six innings and were seemingly wasting a great performance by Randy Dobnak, a pitcher who began the season on a Class A roster. But an unlikely two-run homer from rookie Luis Arraez in the seventh gave the Twins a 2-1 lead and they tacked on three more runs in the eighth, two on an Eddie Rosario homer (No. 32). Three relievers pitched three scoreless innings and Dobnak, who is leaving the team to get married this weekend, got the win and is 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA, and likely headed for the playoff roster. Minnesota is 98-60 with four games remaining.
Friday, Sept. 27 — A team made up primarily of non-starters upended hapless Detroit (46-112) yesterday,10-4, hitting two home runs along the way to reach 301 for the season and becoming the first MBL team to reach 300 in a season. (On the bench yesterday were 238 of those homers.) The biggest focus now for the Twins is to prepare for the playoffs which will start a week from today, likely in New York. Who will be on the playoff roster? There will be some interesting choices for the Twins' hierarchy to make. Is Max Kepler ready to play? Who will be the odd man out in the utility role? Whose place will Randy Dobnak take as he almost assuredly will be on the roster?
PRINCETON SPORTS MEMORIES
Oct. 1, 1959 - Ted Fett (13 carries, 53 yards) scored in a 13-13 tie with Milaca. The other touchdown came by lineman Bob Nelson who ran 90 yards with a blocked field goal attempt.
Oct. 1, 1964 - Princeton lost 12-7 to Braham, the Tigers scoring on a pass from Myron Angstman to Gordy Meyer.
Oct. 1, 1969 - Mark Blaske ran for 114 yards and Jerry Bergeron for 90 in a 20-14 win at Cambridge over the 17th-ranked Bluejackets.
Oct. 2, 1974 - Dan Teboe of Princeton was the individual winner as Elk River beat Princeton in cross-country, with Cambridge third.
Oct. 4, 1979 - Princeton scored on the first play of its first three possessions in a 34-14 win over Braham. Todd Knutson ran 92 yards for a score and Dave Blaske had 200 yards rushing.
Oct. 4, 1984 - Mary Beth Sauer broke the school record in the 200-yard individual medley by 3.3 seconds.
Oct. 5, 1989 - .DeEtta Blonigen had eight kills as Princeton pulled off a PHS rarity in volleyball, a win over North Branch . . . Missed extra points were costly for the football team in an 18-12 loss in overtime to North Branch.
Oct. 6, 1994 - Sarah Cartwright won the singles title at the Rum River Conference tennis tournament.
Sept. 30, 1999 - In a 29-11 season that saw the Princeton Panthers play four games in the state tournament, many records were set. The team averaged 9.7 runs a game and hit .342, both records, as was the 67 home runs. The on-base percentage of .417 was the best ever, as was the team slugging percentage of .544. Thirteen players hit at least one home run, led by Brian Dorr with 16, the most ever by a Panther, and his 51 RBIs tied a record he set in 1998. Jason Miller (10 homers) homered 22 times the last two years and drove in 79 runs, while Dorr hit .462 the past two seasons and drove in 102 runs in only 251 at-bats. Chad Carling led in runs scored with 50 and in stolen bases with 20.
Sept. 30, 2004 - The PHS football team (4-0) beat Big Lake 40-20, scoring on five of its first six possessions and piling up 516 yards. Alex Geithman scored three times. Princeton had a 146-60 edge in points in the first four games . . . Cassie Tindell had six individual firsts in three swim meets.
Oct. 1, 2009 - Tim Enger had a hole in one at hole No. 10 in Princeton, his second one . . . The PHS girls swim team won two dual meets and was second in the Milaca Invitational. The Tigers beat Becker and Foley.
Oct. 2, 2014 - Closing in on a 20-win season, the PHS girls tennis team (19-1, 8-0 in the M8) got the No. 1 seed for the section tournament . . . A touchdown with 21 seconds left, after Princeton had been stopped on the Buffalo 10, gave Buffalo a 20-13 win over the Tigers. Cody Schuelke led the rushing stats with 98 yards.
Sept. 27, 2018 - The PHS football team lost 36-20 to St.Cloud Apollo, late turnovers helping Apollo. Adam Williams caught 12 passes for 158 yards and James Flicek threw for 242 yards.
Dorr is the former editor of the Princeton Eagle (2 years) and Princeton Union-Eagle (31 years), and has covered sports in the Princeton area for 52 years.