I don't like to tell old baseball stories from my years covering the Twins because they make me feel . . . old. And unless you're an exquisite story-spinner – colleague Patrick Reusse, for example – the last thing many people want to read or hear is an old scold caught up in telling "back in the day" tales.
But sometimes you have to take one for the readers.
Wednesday night's failure of the Twins bullpen in Cleveland, most notably Emilio Pagan, calls for a story from when I covered the Twins.
During times of bullpen woe, some Twins fans will compare the problems-of-the-moment to the mid-1980s, when Ron Davis was the Twins' closer.
From everything you'd hear, it's hard to imagine that Davis – known as "R.D." – saved 108 games for the Twins from 1982 to 1986. But it was the bad times that made his Minnesota reputation.
That brings us to May 13, 1985. The Twins were playing the Yankees in New York on a night when an 8-0 Minnesota lead in the second inning became 8-1 in the fourth and 8-6 in the sixth. (No, I didn't remember all those details. That's why we have baseball-reference.com, right?)
You know where this is going, right?
In the ninth, Davis was in for the save and started the inning with a walk, a ground out and a fly out. Then he walked Ken Griffey (the original, not the sequel) and Don Mattingly, New York's star first baseman, came to bat.
The deadline for the first edition of the Star Tribune was approaching, the one that would have a story without quotes and, for the most part, a straight-up accounting of what happened on the field and little else.
I started typing: "Don Mattingly's three-run homer . . ."
Davis pitched. Ball 1.
Davis pitched again. Mattingly swung. Yankee Stadium got very, very loud.
". . . in the bottom of the ninth capped a comeback and gave the Yankees a 9-8 win over the Twins."
You won't see that story in newspaper archives because the first-edition story was replaced by the one that captured the angst from the Twins' clubhouse.
Davis teared up in front of his locker.
I wrote this:
"After the deed was done, Ron Davis sat in front of his locker. His head was down, his voice was cracking, his eyes were teary. The words came slowly.
" 'I'm a disgrace,' Davis said. 'I can't keep screwing up like this, for my sake or the team's. It's the lowest point of my life.'
"Don Mattingly had just hit a three-run homer with two out in the ninth inning to give the New York Yankees a 9-8 victory…"
There was more in the soul-scorching clubhouse, where some players were recalling the game from the last week of the previous season when the Twins had turned a 10-0 lead at Cleveland into an 11-10 loss that ended any hope of winning the American league central title.
Kent Hrbek said what many of his teammates were thinking: "I've got one thing to say, OK? If we don't win ballgames like that, it's hard to be a champion, a champion team. We have to start right now., we're not going to lose any more games like that. It's that simple."
Gary Gaetti, also a frequent team voice of the era, said this: "It's getting a little ridiculous. You don't see us doing that to anybody and we have the best hitting team in the league. I haven't seen those pitches when I'm in that situation. I don't see a ball I can really crank out. That's what gets me."
The 1985 season spun further into disappointment. The manager, Billy Gardner, was fired that summer and his replacement, Ray Miller, was fired during the 1986 season and replaced by Tom Kelly. Then came the 1987 season, the World Series title and the Twins were "a champion team."
What happens with the 2022 Twins, and Pagan's place in the bullpen, remains to be seen. You should know that Davis went on from that night to have his best stretch with the Twins — a 2.61 ERA and 21 saves for the rest of the season, without any more memorable meltdowns. Fans greeted him warmly when the Twins returned to the Metrodome, in part because of the vulnerability he showed on that night in New York.
The next season wasn't kind to him, though. A poor start, a loss of his closer's role and a trade to the Chicago Cubs during a West Coast-road trip that August.
One more thing about that night at Yankee Stadium: With Mattingly at the plate, Gardner told reporters he'd been thinking about replacing Davis with a left-handed rookie named Tom Klawitter. Pretty much like the way Rocco Baldelli replaced Pagan with Jharel Cotton, who gave up Wednesday's game-ending homer to the Guardians.
"He threw one more ball and he was [going to be] gone," Gardner said of Davis. "He threw one more ball."