There are a lot of reasons why the Minnesota Twins are sweating the ankle injury suffered in the final regular season series by rookie 2nd baseman Luis Arraez, but I don’t think history is one of them. Allow me to try to change that.
You see, twice previously, the Twins have been crowned World Champions, and both times Arraez played key roles in helping win the World Series.
In 1987, the Twins had a light-hitting but good fielding 2nd baseman by the name of Steve Lombardozzi. Generally, a liability with the bat, Lombardozzi, or “Lombo” as he was known to teammates and fans, certainly picked the right time to get hot.
In the series opener against St. Louis, Lombo, who hit just 20 home runs in 6 Major League seasons, took Cards starter Bob Forsch deep for a 2-run homer that started the Twins on their way to a 10-1 victory and a 1-0 series lead. Then, with the Cardinals leading the series 3 games to 2, Lombardozzi’s 5th-inning single broke a 5-5 tie and sent the Twins on a journey to an 11-5, game-6 victory.
How clutch was Lombardozzi? A career .233 hitter, Lombo led all batters in the 1987 World Series with a .412 average in a series the Twins would win in 7 games.
History would repeat itself four years later…Kind of.
By 1991 Lombardozzi was long-gone, eventually replaced by a rookie 2nd baseman by the name of Chuck Knoblauch. Unlike Lombardozzi, Knoblauch showed up and made an immediate impact in all three phases of the game.
Steady with the glove, Knoblauch, or “Knobby” as he was known, not only looked at home in the batter’s box, hitting .281 on the season, the former 1st round draft choice out of Texas A&M University also stole 25 bases on his way to winning the American League Rookie of the Year award.
Like Lombardozzi, Knoblauch saved his best for the biggest stage. With the score tied in the 7th in the final game against Atlanta, the Braves Terry Pendleton hit a rocket with Lonnie Smith on 1st base. Knoblauch deceived Smith by appearing to start a double play, causing Smith to break stride and slow down. Instead of scoring on the play, Smith ended up stranded on 3rd in a game the Twins would ultimately win in extra innings.
Enter Luis Arraez, hopefully not limping.
In a season of surprises, Arraez has been among the biggest and the best. Seeming arriving out of thin air, the 22-year-old Venezuelan has looked like a combination of Rod Carew and Caesar Tovar (old-time Twins legends) since the day he was first inserted into the lineup.
Initially brought up from Triple-A as an injury replacement for DH Nelson Cruz Jr., Arraez managed to turn each at-bat into “must-see TV,” starting with an unlikely performance in a mid-July interleague game against the New York Mets.
Arraez was brought off the bench after then starting 2nd baseman Jonathon Schoop injured an oblique muscle while batting in the 9th-inning. Inheriting an 0-2 count, Arraez fouled off three straight pitches from Mets Closer Edwin Diaz. Arraez then took two balls before fouling off a high fastball and taking ball 3. With a full count, Arraez fouled off a slider at the knees before taking a fastball outside to draw the walk. Starting with an 0-2 count, Arraez made Diaz, whose fastball touched 100 mph., throw 9 pitches before earning the walk. It was a truly remarkable piece of hitting, and this kid was still wet behind the ears.
As you know, baseball is now ruled by metrics, where stats such as wOBA, or, weighted on-base average, and xwBOA, or, expected weighted on-base average (no, I’m NOT making this up), determine a player’s value to the front office.
Metrics be damned, all I know is that from the moment Arraez arrived the Twins have been a better, more versatile baseball team and it would be a real shame if he’s not able to go full speed in the playoffs, especially considering the Twins postseason history with young 2nd baseman.