Reusse: Just as in 1980, surprising contributors fueling Twins’ 12-game winning streak

The 1980 Twins were such a disappointment that manager Gene Mauch turned down the offer of a contract extension, resigned instead and left for his home in the Palm Springs area on Aug. 25.

The Twins' record at the time was 54-71. Johnny Goryl, known as "Groucho" and who was the third base coach, was named interim manager.

The Twins went 11-11 over the next three-plus weeks and then started a nine-game homestand on Sept. 19 at Met Stadium.

Almost as if pulling a cruel prank on the departed Mauch, the feisty Little General, they swept the homestand — three over both the White Sox and Rangers, and then, shockingly, three over the Kansas City Royals, the runaway winners in the mostly feeble American League West.

This September surge was met with modest excitement by Minnesota sports fans, even though — then as now — the primary way to see the local club was in person and not on TV.

The turnstile counts for the five dates (doubleheader included) vs. the White Sox and Texas ranged from 2,377 to 4,066. There were a total of 23,623 attendees for the weekend games with Kansas City.

Geoff Zahn shut out the Royals on six hits. Jerry Koosman beat them the next day. Big hits by Glenn Adams and Rob Wilfong keyed a four-run rally in the seventh and an 8-7 victory for the sweep on Sunday.

The Twins then sat around in Texas waiting for the weather to clear, before sweeping the Rangers in a Thursday doubleheader. And on Friday in Kansas City, they won again — 5-3 behind Koosman.

Twelve in a row.

That run from nowhere did come to an emphatic end the next day, with the Royals winning 17-1 in a one-team track meet on the artificial turf.

John Castino won the team triple crown for those Twins with 13 home runs, 64 RBI and a .302 average. They finished a decisive 26th (last) in MLB attendance at 769,206. Goryl was retained, then replaced early in 1981 by Billy Gardner.

All true, but that unlikeliest of 12-game winning streaks has been surpassed only once in Twins history, by the 15-gamer that ignited the World Series-winning club in 1991.

And now, the lonely guys from 1980 now have company in second place at 12 in a row, following Saturday's 3-1 victory over Boston at Target Field.

The Twins were batting .195 as a team and striking out at an astounding pace (even by previous standards), and they lost for the sixth time in seven games after completing a home series vs. Detroit on April 21.

They were 7-13 and trailing the slap-hitting Cleveland Guardians by eight games in the AL Central. They were without shortstop Carlos Correa, joining third baseman Royce Lewis for a shorter stay on the injured list but wiping away the Twins' strongest asset — the preferred left side of the infield.

Fortunately, the White Sox were coming to Target Field for a series starting on April 22. The Mighty Whiteys were shut out in the opener, then snatched defeat from potential victory a couple of times and provided the Twins a four-game sweep.

And on it has gone — winning three in Anaheim against the Angels and three more on the south side of Chicago.

"Who have they beaten?" came the cry from the critics angry at the Twins' reduction in payroll, and now the difficulty in viewing the team on that magical invention called television.

Now it's been two more taut wins, 5-2 Friday and 3-1 Saturday over the pitching-strong Red Sox, and that makes 12 in a row.

Again, we ask, "How has this streak been possible?"

Well, at the plate, Ryan Jeffers is threatening to become a back-to-back winner as the Most Improved Twin, Willi Castro is producing a run or two on a daily basis and Max Kepler, the "second-half Kep" of 2023 is becoming "first-half Kep," as his manager said Saturday.

It's been Cole Sands transforming himself from a frequent commuter to St. Paul to working the ninth on Saturday. And Steven Okert, a lefty who required only Nick Gordon in a trade with Miami, having the audacity to throw consecutive sliders to strike out dangerous Rafael Devers after being behind 3-1 in the count with the bases loaded.

When you win 12 in a row in the big leagues, it takes the usual suspects and the unusual. It was that way in 1980, and it's that way today, only this time it's May.