Minnesota Twins Top Ten (Eleven) Pitching Performances of the Decade

Yay!  Another list!

Earlier today I asked you how many times Johan Santana would appear on the list of the top performances of the decade.  It turns out that the 63 of you who voted "1-3"...were wrong.  But those of you who voted 4-6, well done!  You get a high five.

You should probably give one to yourself.  Go ahead.  Nobody's looking.

Johan Santana, August 19, 2007
Game Score:  95

I count myself lucky to actually have been at this game, because this was Johan at his best.  Over the course of  eight innings Santana simply destroyed the Rangers, striking out a career-best 17 to set not just a personal record but a Twins record as well.  Here's what I wrote at the time:

On Sunday afternoon, Johan Santana trumped all of the above.  He walked through the ordinary, the successful and the historically great with what appeared to be ease; strike after strike, swing after swing and miss after miss.  Texas was afforded 24 outs through eight innings, and 17 of them went down on strikes.  Through five innings it just looked like another fantastic start from Johan, but by the seventh and eighth innings it was a work of art; a dance choreographed by number 57.  The glare, the windup, the sphere hurtling through space and the awkward swing if one was managed at all, Santana's legs crossed as he steps off the mound toward third base.  And all of it preceeded by the trademark ass wiggle.

Michael Cuddyer's 12th home run of the season off of Kevin Millwood in the second inning was the only run of the day, but it was the only run Johan needed.  Santana struck out every single batter for the Rangers at least once, and only Sammy Sosa reached base off of him on the afternoon.

I still remember it like it was yesterday.  It was a work of art.

Scott Baker, August 31, 2007
Game Score:  93

The two best pitching performances of the decade for the Twins came 12 days apart.  On the last day of August, in the nightcap of a double-header, Baker shutout the Royals under the teflon roof.

And it probably should have been a perfect game.

Across a full nine innings Baker struck out nine, including Alex Gordon three times.  His offense gave him a smattering of offense throughout the game, but Jason Bartlett's two-out single scored both Mike Redmond and Nick Punto to give Baker all the support he'd need.  81 of his 111 pitches were for strikes.  It was all good.

Except Baker was great.  Strike after strike fell across the plate, and whether Kansas City's hitters swung or not it was probably a strike.  Through eight innings Baker was running on a perfect game.  A perfect game.

But in the top of the ninth inning, home plate umpire Jim Wolf wasn't pulling any punches.  He called a couple of borderline pitches balls instead of strikes, and instead of his perfect game Baker walked John Buck to lead off the inning.  Two batters later Mike Sweeney singled for the Royals' first and only hit of the game.

Baker settled for a complete game shutout.  But the perfect game was right there.  Here's what Jon Marthaler had to say at the time.

Santana, July 6, 2004
Game Score:  92

In the summer of 2004 something magical happened.  The Twins were on their way to their third consecutive division title, and they were riding the back of a 25-year old Johan Santana.  It was his coming out party.

From June 9 to the end of the season, across 22 starts and 159.1 innings, Santana never allowed more than three runs in a start...and he only did that twice.  He compiled an ERA of 1.36, he struck out 204 men, and he actually had more strikes looking (17%) than swinging (16%).  Opponents hit a miserable .143/.203/.240.  He won 12 consecutive starts and 13 in a row from July 17 to September 24.  He struck out ten men or more 12 times.

On July 6 he had the best game of that stretch, striking out 13 Royals en route to his only complete game shutout of the season.  His offense gave him four runs, but Torii Hunter's second inning home run was all the insurance he'd need.

This was the greatest stretch of pitching I've ever seen.  If I ever see another Twin match it, I'll consider myself lucky.

Eric Milton, August 1, 2002
Game Score:  92

In the midst of a solid stretch of pitching that would lower his ERA by a run, Milton's complete game shutout left the White Sox eating dust, 15 games out of first place.  He retired 11 White Sox on strikes, with multiple offenses by Tony Graffanino, Aaron Rowand, Frank Thomas and Joe Crede.

A five-run outburst in the fifth helped the Twins and Milton to a 6-0 victory, and the inning was highlighted by a Cuddyer grand slam that plated Cristian Guzman, David Ortiz and Doug Mientkiewicz.

Milton had a few really good games with the Twins.  But games like this were frustrating in a way, because they showed an ability that he couldn't consistently transfer to the mound.  Still, he was just 33 last season and put up a decent line in five starts with the Dodgers.


W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2009 - Eric Milton 2-1 6 5 0 0 0 0 23.2 30 12 10 2 6 20 3.80 1.52

Kevin Slowey, June 29, 2008
Game Score:  89

It's hard, right now, to remember just how good Slowey was at times back in 2008.  Over nine starts late in the season he compiled a 2.45 ERA to help the Twins close the gap on first place.  Throughout the summer he spread a trio of complete games, with two of them the shutout variety.

This is one of those games.

Coming into this start, Slowey had pitched 20 innings of three-run ball over his last three starts.  Against the Brewers he upped the ante, out-pitching the scorching Ben Sheets.  He retired eight on strikes and scattered three hits to silence Milwaukee, giving the Twins a chance to build their offense.  A Jason Kubel single, Carlos Gomez triple, Delmon Young homer and Alexi Casilla double delivered five runs.

When he's healthy, Slowey can strike guys out and pitch deep into games, and it's something I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of this summer.

Santana, September 9, 2006
Game Score:  89

Over his last ten starts of the season Johan struck out 77 in 71.1 innings, to the tune of a 1.77 ERA.  By this point, nobody was surprised.

In the middle of this run Johan had his best game of the season, striking out 12 in Tampa Bay en route to his 17th win of the season.  Allowing just two hits and a walk, the Devil Rays were hopeless to mound a volley as they watched the Twins rack up five extra base hits.  Joe Mauer, Jason Tyner, Bartlett and Cuddyer doubled, and Justin Morneau tripled.

Santana took just 95 pitches (70 for strikes) to get through eight innings, which is surprising considering the 12 strikeouts.  Although with free swingers like Delmon Young, Ty Wigginton and Jorge Cantu in the lineup, maybe it's not so surprising.

It was a big win, with the Twins trailing Detroit by five games in the AL Central at the time, and leading with Wild Card by just half a game.  Here's the game thread.  Old school.

Santana, August 12, 2005
Game Score:  89

Like he did in '04, Santana's late run in 2005 defined his season.  A good year turned into a great one as, from July 27 to October 2, Johan went 10-3 over 95.1 innings with a 1.42 ERA.

On this day in mid-September, the Twins were out of the playoff race for the first time in years.  Injuries and lack-luster performances had taken their toll.  Santana blanked the Athletics 1-0 on a Friday night in Oakland, with Cuddyer's RBI single off Dan Haren to score Lew Ford in the fifth being the only run of the game.

Santana struck out nine A's, with only Mark Kotsay evading his nasty slider-changeup combo.

Brad Radke, May 5, 2005
Game Score:  89

Behind nine runs from his offense (homers from Bartlett and Matt LeCroy), Bradke didn't need to throw a complete game shutout to get the win.  But it's exactly what he did.  Tied at one until the middle innings in this spring matchup, Radke took advantage of a poor Cleveland offense and avoided the early home runs that seemed to plague him early in the year.

Picking up a couple of early strikeouts, Radke kept the Indians off balance until staked to a lead.  He became more aggressive and picked up a few more K's as the game went along to finish with eight on the afternoon.

It wouldn't be Radke's last big-time game, but it was his best of the decade accordning to Game Score. It was extra sweet because we destroyed C.C. Sabathia.

Baker, August 14, 2009
Game Score:  88

It's not really a secret that Baker became a different pitcher after his slow April start, but this is the definitive game of The Real Scott Baker.

In another blowout, Baker's offense gave him plenty of run support by dropping 11 runs on the Indians.  Justin Masterson was chased by the fourth, and it was 9-0 before the game was half over.  But Baker faced the minimum in five innings, and just four batters in the other four innings.  Here's what I had to say in the game recap:

Scott Baker plunked Grady "Afflack!" Sizemore with his second pitch of the night.  That was his only mistake.  For nine full innings Baker managed the Cleveland Indians exactly like a contender should manage a team that just went through a mini fire-sale.  He struck out five, including the challenging Asdrubal Cabrera twice, and allowed just two hits on the night.

After getting a lot of flack (from me in particular) for being unable to hit his spots and missing up in the zone in his last start, Baker showed exactly how good he can be up in the zone last night.    The difference of course being that last night, when he threw those high fastballs, they were exactly where he wanted them to be.  His breaking balls weren't tailing in or out, his off-speed set up a very effective fastball, and in general the results were that Baker had the Indians eating right out of his hand.

Baker scattered two hits and walked none, striking out five.  He was great without striking out masses, who'd have thunk it was possible?

Santana, June 8, 2005
Game Score:  88

Johan's '05 was actually much more consistent than his '04, as he was admirable every month outside of April.  This June performance, his second appearance of 2005 on this list, is proof of that.  He took advantage of a poor Arizona offense (and pitcher) to the tune of nine strikeouts in a complete game shutout.  The Diamondbacks managed just four hits, as Jacque Jones' second inning homer put the Twins up early and for good.

Santana, July 28, 2002
Game Score:  88

In 2002 Santana was still largely being used as a spot starter out of the bullpen, but in spite of success during the year when he did get the mound he was still shuffled back to the 'pen.  His first appearance of the season, on May 31, was out of the bullpen.  He then made seven starts, going 4-1 over 39.2 innings and striking out 49 for a 2.27 ERA, but was then brought back to the bullpen for a three-inning appearance.  Two appearances later, it was July 28.

After this game he would again return to the bullpen, where after three relief appearances (the last a six-inning, nine-strikeout affair) he would again return to the rotation.  He'd last four more starts, striking out 23 in 23.1 innings for a 3.09 ERA, before closing out the season from the 'pen (kicking it off with a four-inning, nine-strikeout affair).  A lot of that makes no sense to me in retrospect.

The game at hand was a breakthrough performance, even if Santana was being held back.  His eight incredible innings were like a vision, a young southpaw with viscious stuff who appeared to be at the top of his game.  Johan sent down 13 Blue Jays on strikes, surrendering just two hits and a trio of walks for the win.  Corey Koskie's first inning double scored Guzman, and Hunter's late game home run sealed the deal for the future multiple Cy Young winner.

The "Almosts"

Francisco Liriano, July 2, 2006  (Game Score:  87)
Joe Mays, August 16, 2002  (Game Score:  87)

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