In the history of Major League Baseball, there have been exactly 23 perfect games. Last Saturday night, the 25,814 fans that stumbled into Target Field were treated to 24 batters of perfection.
But the part of conflict of the Twins fans holding onto a slim hope of a playoff berth, it was the Kansas City Royals’ pitcher who was dealing.
Now, it has been a number of years since I have made it to a Twins game. My plans for the weekend meant my baseball fanatic roommate and I had an open Saturday night in Minneapolis while the rest of my family was at the Gophers football game.
Thankfully, he had found some cheap tickets to the Twins game. Upon getting to the game, my expectation was not terribly high. Historically, I have been unfortunate when attending baseball games.
Often, they are drab 4-1 affairs where the away team gets a chunk of runs in a single inning, and the two teams combine for maybe eight hits.
To be fair, the pitching of Twins starter Jose Berrios kept me interested with a trio of strikeouts in the first two innings despite allowing the Royals to load the bases in the second.
Berrios got out of the inning unscathed, and the game set into a rhythm that would best be described as boring. The Twins would get up to hit only to sit right down again. Kansas City would occasionally get a baserunner, but it would come to nothing.
The highlight of the first five innings came when the fish in the mascot race hit the dirt when rounding the corner, allowing Bullseye the Target dog the win, despite his obvious jump start.
But the feeling of the game slowly began to change come the end of the fifth inning. It was a single observation from my roommate: “The Twins haven’t had a baserunner all night. I just want them to get one.”
At that point, a perfect game didn’t feel possible. The Royals’ pitcher Jorge Lopez was in his seventh big league start and had only a pair of strikeouts to his name that evening. The Twins had been getting good contact, but it was straight at a fielder when it happened.
It was at that point that the game opened up, with Kansas City getting a run in the sixth and tacking on three more in the seventh. Meanwhile, the conflict between the Twins fans started to arise.
The rumbling started to get louder after the seventh inning and still no Twins’ batters reached.
“So, at what point can we stop rooting against the Royals and begin to hope to see a perfect game out of appreciation of the sport?” I asked by roommate.
“I am still holding out the Twins can do something, but that would be cool,” he responded.
At that point, I switched my mindset. The chance of a perfect game represented something bigger than just one team. It was a potentially historic moment.
The eighth came and went as Lopez dispatched another trio of Twins, and the mood in the stadium completely changed.
A row in front of myself, two Twins fans were having a conversation with a guy in a Royals cap.
“This would really be something special if (Lopez) pulls it off,” one Twins fan said. The other agreed, and the Royals fan just smiled and nodded in appreciation.
Kansas City went down without too much of a fuss in the ninth, and the tension was palpable as Lopez took to the mound.
The fans moved to the edge of their seats. Twins fans for a fleeting movement cheered for Kansas City.
Lopez fell behind in the count to Max Kepler. With a 3-1 count, Lopez fired a fastball outside and the perfect game was over. The air moved out of the stadium in a single instance.
Fans applauded as Kepler took first, and the feel was the cheer was half because of a baserunner and half out of respect of lost perfection.
Robbie Grossman knocked through a single at the next at-bat to put an end to the no-hitter. It was the third no-hitter broken up in the ninth inning this season.
For Lopez, a sly smile broke out as the ball came through the infield and Grossman reached. A trip to the mound from Royals’ manager Ned Yost followed before Lopez was removed. On his walk into the dugout, the whole of Target Field rose to give him a standing ovation.
From a Twins fan’s perspective, it was a surreal experience. On one hand, you want to cheer on the home team to win. But on the other hand, there was a chance to see something historic, even if it happened against the team you were cheering for.
History will likely forget this game. After all, who remembers the 19 prior instances of a perfect game getting broken up in the ninth other than Armando Galarraga’s infamous play at first in 2009?
But for the fans who stuck through another loss by the Twins on a beautiful Saturday night in Minneapolis, the game will be remembered, even if it meant leaving your team behind and cheering for something greater.