Gardner on Hot Seat – ’84 Twins Slump Continues

The 1984 Minnesota Twins Master Game Replay trudges on as one of the most memorable Fall Classics ever just wrapped up earlier this month (Congrats to the Cubs!). It’s certainly been slow but sure, but the game is always on my mind when life takes a firm hold of my time.  I started this replay a little over a year ago, and I’m thru 108 games. I’m a little disappointed that I haven’t finished this yet (because like you, I’ve got TONS of projects in mind I want to get to). This is the first non-A’s project I’ve done, and this era is slightly before my first baseball memories, so that could be a reason it’s been a slow process.  Nonetheless, I’m hoping that I can finish this by the new year.  I recently attended the fall Twin Cities APBA Tournament last month – look for a blog post about that soon.

The ’84 Twins have been mired in what you could say is a somewhat discouraging slump at the moment.

Gardner has pulled the right strings most of the season….will he see the fruits of his labor into October?

Minnesota currently has lost six in a row and has gone just 7-15 in their last 22 games.  Nine of those 15 losses were by two runs or less, so at least they have been in most of these games.  Timely hitting has been the big culprit recently as the team has struggled to hit with RISP, a .227 clip over that stretch.  There was one game in particular, however, that the Twins could blame a loss on manager Billy Gardner and his iffy bullpen.

It all happened on the night of Saturday, September 17th (August 2nd, 1984 in my replay).  I had finished my second week of teaching third grade in Hawley, MN where I live and work. With temperatures expected to be in the mid-70’s all weekend, I decided to take my two oldest boys (ages 7 and 4) on a little camping trip. After a fun-filled day of hiking, biking, and roasting marshmallows, my sons Jonny and Carter crashed and went to bed at 9:00 PM. I was at my usual breaking point – either go to bed as my window to get a decent amount of sleep was open OR burn the midnight oil and enjoy this beautiful night.  Well —  with a full moon out, a roaring fire, and a few beverages in the cooler, I took matters into my own hands and decided to live life while being awake!

As always, anywhere I go, I bring along my APBA Baseball game – I’ll throw the master game booklet in my bag/suitcase and my cards/dice fit nicely in a plastic bag tucked into one of the side pockets.  I set the game up on the picnic table with a utility light clamped onto the handle of the cooler which I put on the table as well, and I was ready to go back to 1984.  I have been VERY hit and miss with APBA lately so I was counting on this game being the ticket to getting back into it.  Frank Viola (MG 14, BYZ), my best pitcher according to APBA MG ratings, was set to pitch for my ’84 Twins while he faced Jim Slaton for the California Angels at the Big “A” in Anaheim as he clung onto the hope of remaining in California’s rotation down the stretch run.  Right before I was set to roll, a local Pelican Rapids Police Officer made a quick drive through the campground.  He stopped in his squad car and asked me, “How’s it going?”  I said, “Well, there’s a full moon, a blazing fire, and it’s a Saturday night….I can’t lose!”  Then, the officer asked, “What are you doing?”  Hmmm…how do I explain APBA to this guy?  This could be a 20 minute conversation…..Instead of going into details, my reply simply was, “I just decided to bring my desk work to the campground.”  He gave me a curious look, but then said, “You have a good one!”  I took the path of least resistance so I could get rolling, but I certainly felt at ease knowing the local constable was out and about doing his duty!  God Bless the men and women in blue!

In this particular game, the Twins and their offense gave Viola plenty of run support early.  Tom Brunansky’s two run homer and an RBI double by Tim Teufel in the first put Viola at a nice advantage.  That lead ballooned to 6-1 heading into the bottom of the 8th inning.  With Viola set to face the middle of the Angels’ lineup for the 4th time, allowing four hits and three walks and coming off a complete game on short rest, Manager Billy Gardner decided to hand the reigns over to the bullpen.

Williams, who lost his spot in the rotation, may have sealed even his mop-up duty fate in the loss at the Big A.

Williams, who lost his spot in the rotation, may have sealed even his mop-up duty fate in the loss at the Big A.

Al Williams (DZ, MG1), who was Minnesota’s Opening Day starter, has been relegated to mop-up duty.  Since he hadn’t pitched in almost two weeks, I thought to myself, “This is the PERFECT game for Williams to mop up some innings.”  Well, it was perfect for the Angels.  A leadoff walk, a two-run homer by Doug DeCinces, a single and another walk brought up Bobby Grich, who all of the sudden was the tying run.  Gardner had seen enough as he yanked Williams in favor of Ron Davis (CX, MG 6).  With the count 2-1, Davis piped a fastball right down Broadway and Grich parked it into the left field bleachers for a game-tying three-run blast.  This was just the start of the onslaught of Davis.  A single, a sac bunt, another single, a double, a walk, and another single led to three more runs crossing home plate as California now led 9-6.  Gardner, who was befuddled beyond reason, sheepishly walked out to the mound and brought in Rick Lysander (C, MG 9) to help put this horrific inning to rest as there was still one out.  He managed to get the final two outs, but that was before Brian Downing launched a three-run homer to dead center!  In total, the Angels put up 11 runs in the bottom of that 8th inning en route to a morale-breaking 12-6 loss for the Twins.  Unbelievable!  The loss, however, wasn’t bitter for long.  I enjoyed another hour outside by the warm campfire, and later retired to the tent.  Because of no rain in the forecast, I left the rain tarp off and fell asleep with a full moon and stars ablaze, savoring nature’s largest bedtime reality TV screen Mother Nature can offer!  I still ended up winning in that regard!

Back to the ’84 Twins here, though.  All of the horror stories I’ve heard about Ron Davis growing up as a kid have been coming alive with more frequency!  He’s currently 0-7 with 25 saves and an ERA of 5.77 and a WHIP of 1.786!!  YUCK!!  This loss was a crushing blow, so who knows what would’ve happened had Viola been left in.  The Angels used that momentum of the opening game of the four game set, sweeping the Twins in four games.

So what does that mean for the Twins?  They’re right where they were in 1984 – sitting at 56-52 and a half a game up on the Angels in the AL West.  Kent Hrbek continues to build his case for AL MVP with the numbers he’s been putting up.  Brunansky is right there in terms of power and has been the offensive leader since the All-Star Break.  Mickey Hatcher is still hitting at a ridiculous clip, but rookie Kirby Puckett’s average has taken a plunge.  After those four, the offense is really hit-or-miss, but Tim Teufel, John Castino, and Randy Bush provide some punch at opportune times, while Tim Laudner is enjoying an epically ugly offensive output.  On the pitching side, John Butcher has been the rock of the rotation, and he too, will be in the running for the ’84 Cy Young Award with the stats he’s posted with mostly pedestrian-like numbers by the rest of the league. Viola and Mike Smithson remain huge assets for the team, but after that, the rotation is a crapshoot at best.  In the bullpen, more of the same, but Bobby Castillo (CW, MG 10) was recently called-up and so far has been fairly strong so we’ll see what happens. Davis’ days could be numbered as the August 31st trade deadline nears. I cringe every time his name is called — even a three-run, one-inning save opportunity is hardly a given.  I just hope the Twins are relevant by that time!  We shall see….one game at a time!

And….if that weren’t enough drama for these 1984 Twins, DONALD TRUMP…..yeah…..our newly-elected Commander-In-Chief, might also play a role in the rise and fall of the Twins in this replay.  We shall see if any twists or turns lie ahead, but for now, I had no idea that he ALMOST bought the Twins in ’84…can you IMAGINE what the Twins’ fate may/may have not been?  Unheralded!  Click the link below for more info, and check out the stats and box score from the latest of Ron Davis’ infamous outings!  Thanks for reading!

Since Trump lost out on the Twine BEFORE he won the Presidential Election, maybe he’ll try to buy the Twins AFTER his time in the White House….it would only seem logical, right?


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