Jim Crane was approved as the new owner of the Houston Astros starting with the 2013 season, and part of the deal was that he agreed to move the Astros to the American League.
This was being done so that the leagues could go to three five-team divisions, and that the Milwaukee Brewers – near and dear to Commissioner Bud Selig’s heart -- would not have to be the team to return to its AL roots.
This meant Houston would be making annual visits to Minneapolis. The Astros had not been at Target Field as a National League team, so their first visit was in August 2013.
The Twins came up with a three-game sweep. The winning pitchers were Brian Duensing, Caleb Thielbar and Ryan Pressly, It wasn’t a surprising result, since the Astros were on the way to a 51-111 record that would be the worst in the majors.
The building project had gone very well by the time the Astros arrived at Target Field on Memorial Day 2017 to start a three-game series.
The Astros had been over .500 in 2015 and 2016, including a 3-2 loss to Kansas City in a 2015 division series. And now they had become a beast, 35-16 and leading the AL West by 10 games when arriving to take on Paul Molitor’s Twins over the last three days of May.
In Game 1, Erv Santana was stout for seven innings and the Twins were leading 8-2 when Molitor went to Pressly, now 28 and finally harnessing the high-90s fastball and big curve.
Pressly retired one batter, allowed three hits, a walk, a hit-by-pitch and was charged with five runs. He was finished by Marwin Gonzalez’s two-run single.
Craig Breslow followed. He retired one batter, allowed three hits and three runs. Matt Belisle was next, allowing two hits, a walk and three runs that scored on Carlos Beltran’s home run.
The Astros scored 11 runs in that eighth and won the game 16-8, with 18 hits and 31 total bases.
The next night, the Astros won 7-2, with what proved to be modest totals of 10 hits and 14 total bases. Starter Mike (Snitch) Fiers went six innings for the win, outpitching the Twins’ Jose Berrios.
The series finale turned out to be a blood bath. Twins starter Hector Santiago’s looping off-speed stuff and slow fastball were no match for the Astros.
Also, Tyler Duffey – making the transition the bullpen – gave up four runs without getting an out. Pressly gave up two runs without getting an out.
The final score was 17-6. This time, the Astros had 19 hits, with six home runs launching them to 39 total bases. The last of the half-dozen came from Gonzalez in the ninth against Chris Gimenez, the Twins’ backup catcher and overused righthander.
For those three games, the Astros outscored the Twins 40-16, and the tote board read 84 total bases for the visitors.
Molitor, a Hall of Fame player and baseball man who had seen a few tricks to gain an advantage in his days, reported hearing no well-timed beating on a garbage can from the visitors dugout.
Jason Castro and Gimenez, the Twins’ veteran catchers, reported no unusual buzzing sounds heard from underneath the jersey of Jose Altuve, the 2017 MVP-to-be and No. 1 on my official ballot, then and now.
On Tuesday, the Astros were at Target Field for a start of a best-of-three series in MLB-'s first-ever Round of 16.
Pressly is now Houston’s closer. Duffey is the Twins’ best reliever. Thielbar is back in the majors after a five-year absence. Gonzalez is in his second season with the Twins, not hitting much, but valuable for his versatility in the face of ongoing injuries to the lineup.
And the nucleus of that Astros attack from 2017 … it's still there, and capable of doing damage at any moment.