CLEVELAND -- It took a loss from the Angels to make it official, but the Twins made history on Wednesday night, becoming the first team in Major League history to make the postseason one season after losing 100 or more games.• Dress for October: Shop for official Twins postseason gearThe
CLEVELAND -- It took a loss from the Angels to make it official, but the Twins made history on Wednesday night, becoming the first team in Major League history to make the postseason one season after losing 100 or more games.
• Dress for October: Shop for official Twins postseason gear
The Twins, who lost a Major League-high 103 games in 2016, are baseball's Cinderella story in '17, having clinched a spot as the second American League Wild Card team hours after their 4-2 loss to the Indians at Progressive Field on Wednesday night. The clinch came when White Sox first baseman/outfielder Nicky Delmonico crushed a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning to give Chicago a 6-4 win over the Angels. Twins players, who had hung around the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field after their game ended, watched with excitement as the ball cleared the fence and the celebration was on.
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"I've never been so proud of a group of guys in my entire life," said Twins second baseman James Dozier. "The way we battled, the fun we have every day, that's what it's all about. We set a goal to prove everybody wrong and we did that today, but we still have work to do."
This marks Minnesota's first foray into the postseason since 2010, and it's likely that the Twins will play the same team that eliminated them that season --the Yankees -- in Tuesday's AL Wild Card Game on ESPN.
"We had some young guys on the rise and we added some veterans with character to our clubhouse," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "Everybody stepped up. Whatever it took to get it done, I'm very excited it's happening. We're headed to October, and who knows what can happen from here?"
The Twins were sellers at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, dealing All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler and veteran starter Jaime Garcia after a rough West Coast road trip. But the Twins bounced back after a pivotal team meeting at Petco Park in San Diego in early August after Molitor posted a message that read "No retreat, No surrender," on the clubhouse white board after hearing one of his favorite Bruce Springsteen songs while on a walk near San Diego's harbor.
The players took that to heart and went 20-10 in August to surge past the Angels, Orioles, Mariners, Rays and Royals. And they kept it going in September despite losing slugger Miguel Sano to a left shin stress reaction in August, rolling right along as Eduardo Escobar stepped up in Sano's absence.
"It's special for these players," said chief baseball officer Derek Falvey, who's in his first season with the Twins. "This is what it's all about. I couldn't be prouder. We talked about never putting limits on a team, and these guys never put limits on themselves."
The Twins wouldn't be in this position if it weren't for the emergence of their young core of center fielder Byron Buxton, left fielder Eddie Rosario, shortstop Jorge Polanco and right fielder Max Kepler. Buxton overcame a slow start to become the club's best all-around player. He's the game's fastest player, according to Statcast™, and is arguably the best defender in the Majors, helping a pitching staff that still relies more on contact than strikeouts.
"It's a moment I've been trying to get to my whole life," Buxton said. "Just to be able to come out here with these guys every day is incredible. So this moment is very special."
The Twins also relied on their veterans, with first baseman Joe Mauer, second-half closer Matt Belisle, Dozier and catcher Chris Gimenez all helping create a better clubhouse culture after last year's disappointing season. Mauer is also enjoying his best season since 2013, while Dozier provides power and speed atop the lineup and Belisle has locked down the closer position in Kintzler's absence.
"It's a special group," Mauer said. "We realized that early on, even in Spring Training. We brought in some really high-quality people. We had a good feeling in the clubhouse from the get-go."
The quartet of leaders also created a new tradition after each win, with Mauer awarding the game ball to the player of the game, taking the reins as the club's elder statesman. It was reminiscent of the dance parties created by Torii Hunter in 2015, when the Twins nearly made the postseason but were eliminated on the penultimate day of the season.
The pitching was also much improved from last season, with veteran Ervin Santana anchoring the staff and Jose Berrios displaying electric stuff in his second big league season. Kyle Gibson had a breakout second half, and the bullpen held its own, with the emergence of rookie relievers such as Trevor Hildenberger and Alan Busenitz setting up Belisle, the leader of the bullpen.
"We believe we're a special club," Belisle said. "We've had fun, and we've expected good things. We had this mindset a long time ago. It's just such a good group. The energy was always there, and the fight was there since Day 1."
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter **@RhettBollinger** and **Facebook**.