MINNEAPOLIS -- It makes it rather simple to decide on the best single-game pitching performance in club history when one of those efforts literally swung the outcome of a World Series and remains one of the most defining games in the recent history of the sport.
There's no shortage of contenders for the other spots, whether they involve strikeout records, no-hitters or feats of endurance spanning all eras of Twins baseball, from the days of Metropolitan Stadium to recognizable faces of the modern day. Let's step through those five best-pitched games in Twins history.
1) Jack Morris: Oct. 27, 1991 vs. Braves (World Series Game 7)
It’s the situation that many a young baseball player has played out in their head while messing around in the backyard: Game 7 of the World Series, championship on the line, ball in your hand. Add in the fact that Morris, a St. Paul native, was pitching in front of his hometown crowd at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, and, well, it’s quite literally the stuff that dreams are made of. Morris seized the moment and delivered a performance for the history books.
Atlanta baserunners reached second base in the second, third and fourth innings. Mark Lemke got to third base in the fifth. In the dramatic eighth inning, a deke by the Twins’ middle infield held Lonnie Smith at third base, and an improbable 3-2-3 double play eliminated the threat. Morris bent, but he never broke. After pitching nine scoreless frames in a 0-0 tie, Morris stood at 118 pitches, and as the story goes, the veteran delivered one stern line in the dugout to manager Tom Kelly, who wanted to replace him with closer Rick Aguilera. Kelly stood down. Eight pitches and a scoreless top of the 10th later, Morris finally got his one run of support, with Gene Larkin driving in the series-winning run that delivered Morris and the Twins their titanic victory.
2) Johan Santana: Aug. 19, 2007 vs. Rangers
It quickly became clear that Santana had something special brewing when he struck out five consecutive batters in the first two innings, his signature changeup diving away from swing after futile swing. He followed that up with two strikeouts apiece in the third, fourth and fifth frames, giving him 11 to that point -- and it was then clear that something really special was unfolding at the Metrodome.
Nobody reached base until Sammy Sosa singled in the fifth, and Sosa's seventh-inning double accounted for the only other baserunner against Santana. Otherwise, Santana was untouchable in the seventh and eighth innings. Brad Wilkerson, Michael Young and Marlon Byrd all went down swinging in the seventh, and with the Metrodome crowd on its feet in the eighth, the lefty ace mowed through Gerald Laird, Nelson Cruz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in order to finish his 112-pitch outing with no walks and 17 strikeouts -- a club record that still stands.
3) Eric Milton: Sept. 11, 1999 vs. Angels
There have been five no-hitters in Twins history, but not all no-nos are built equal. Three of them involved a good amount of wildness, as Francisco Liriano, Dean Chance and Scott Erickson combined for 15 walks in their feats. With that in mind, Milton's no-hitter stands head and shoulders above the rest on the strength of 13 strikeouts and only two walks. The left-hander walked a batter in the first and another in the third, but the latter was immediately erased on the basepaths. Milton proceeded to retire the final 18 batters he faced, blowing a fastball by Jeff DaVanon on his 122nd pitch to secure his place in history. Six of his strikeouts came from the sixth to ninth innings.
4) Bert Blyleven: Aug. 27, 1975 at Brewers
A relic of a bygone era. There's no official pitch count for this game, but it's safe to assume that Blyleven's workload in this 11-inning complete-game shutout would be a non-starter in the modern game. As a 0-0 tie carried into extras, the future Hall of Fame right-hander stayed in the game, allowing singles in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings but otherwise escaping damage. Blyleven finally got a Tony Oliva RBI single in the top of the 11th to give the Twins a narrow edge, and he worked around the single in the bottom of the frame to finish his complete-game effort with 13 strikeouts, one walk and six hits allowed. His outing would likely have been over if he'd allowed a run in the 11th, as the Twins had sacrificed the designated hitter and the pitcher spot was due up fourth in the next frame.
5) Dave Boswell: July 30, 1966 vs. Orioles
It was one heck of an Orioles side -- the eventual World Series winner -- that came to Metropolitan Stadium to face the Twins, anchored by three future Hall of Famers atop the order in Luis Aparicio, Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson. That day, Boswell was better. The right-hander (and native Baltimorean) walked Aparicio to start the game but didn't allow another baserunner until the seventh, when Russ Snyder singled for Baltimore's only hit of the game. Future manager Davey Johnson was hit by a pitch in the eighth, but the Orioles otherwise fell completely silent as Boswell struck out 11 against the one walk in his complete-game, one-hit effort.