July 10, 2015: a day which will live in infamy in the history of Detroit Tigers baseball. The Tigers were three games above .500, just 1 1/2 games behind the Minnesota Twins in the AL playoff race. The upstart Twinkies were improbably sitting in second place in the AL Central Division, occupying the final wild card spot.
The four-game weekend series in Minnesota was the Tigers' chance to right the ship, taking their rightful place in a playoff spot and relegate the Twins to the basement, where many had expected them to finish before the season began. Detroit had won seven of the nine games between the two teams in 2015 heading into this Friday night contest, including a 4-2 victory the previous night. The Tigers had just put together two series wins against the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners, and had won five of their previous seven games.
Everything was going according to plan as Justin Verlander pitched 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball, shutting down the Twins on five hits. He struck out six batters and walked just one. The Tigers had home runs from Victor Martinez, Yoenis Cespedes, and J.D. Martinez. Six runs and 12 hits later, the Tigers were leading 6-0. With the offense clicking and vintage Verlander dealing again, all was right with the world.
Brian Dozier, who had just learned that he came up short in the "final vote" for a spot on the AL All-Star team, drove in the Twins' first run with a two-out single in the eighth inning, knocking Verlander out of the game. The Tigers tried to answer in the top of the ninth when Ian Kinsler led off with a double and Yoenis Cespedes followed with a single, but the two Martinez boys and Alex Avila all popped out in succession to end the threat.
With Bruce Rondon on the mound, Joe Mauer led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a typical #TwinsHit, an infield single to Kinsler. Rookie Miguel Sano hit a ground rule double, then Rondon struck out Trevor Plouffe to leave runners on second and third with one out. Eddie Rosario, another rookie, singled home a run to make it 6-2, which finished Rondon's evening.
We know what happened from there. Joakim Soria couldn't close the door, capped off by a 380-foot liner into the left field seats by Brian Dozier.
This game, in a nutshell, was the story of the Tigers' season.
"That one stunk," Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said. "Can't pout about it. Got another game, and we'll come back and go at it again."
Former Tiger Torii Hunter had a different perspective.
"Dozier right now is definitely our MVP. He's doing everything he can to will this team to win, and it showed tonight."
The Twins would go on to win the next two games, heading into the all star break with a 3 1/2 game lead over Detroit. Dozier would eventually be selected to the All-Star team ahead of the Tigers' Ian Kinsler. Joba Chamberlain was released after that game by the Tigers, who would become sellers at the trade deadline. The Tigers have gone 26-39 since Dozier walked them off, sinking into last place and out of the playoff picture. The Twins have continued to play near-.500 ball, and remain on the cusp of making the playoffs.
It was the Minnesota Twins who ruined the Tigers season in the 1987 ALCS, and the Twins who stole the division in 2006 on the last day of the season. It was the Twins who were left standing after 12 innings in The-Game-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named in 2009.
What might have been a turning point for the Tigers' season turned out to be their Waterloo. The team turned around and headed south for the winter. Now, the Tigers have a chance to play the role of spoilers, having already won the season series against Minnesota, with 10 victories in 16 games. All that remains is a three-game series in Detroit, starting tonight.