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Playoff Playbacks, part three: The 2000’s, Gardy, and the Piranhas

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Break out your Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears compact discs.

BBA-ALDS-TWINS GUARDADO-ATHLETICS John G. MABANGLO/AFP/Getty Images

This is part three of a four-part series going back in time to the playoff races in Minnesota Twins history in preparation for this year’s team’s playoff run that starts with the American League Division Series on Friday. You can read part one here, which reviews the post-seasons in 1965, 1969 (nice), and 1970. Part two is here, where you can relive the ‘87 and ‘91 World Series.

1994 saw the birth of the American League Central, a few years after the Minnesota Twins last won the World Series - and made the playoffs. Since the 1991 World Series, the Twins finished either fourth or fifth eight out of ten years. A rebuild of sorts was in store. The Tom Kelly era ended when he resigned after the 2001 season, ushering in the Ron Gardenhire years of Minnesota baseball. The 2002 campaign saw no batters on the Twins roster reaching the 30-homer mark nor the 100-RBI mark. Jacque Jones and A.J. Pierzynski hit .300 on the dot. Torii Hunter notched 94 RBI and 23 stolen bags. The pitching rotation included Johan Santana (2.99 ERA, 137 K), Rick Reed (3.78 ERA, 121 K), Kyle Lohse (4.23 ERA, 124 K), Eric Milton (4.84 ERA, 121 K), and Brad Radke (4.72 ERA, 62 K). Eddie Guardado earned 45 saves in 51 chances while the bridge included J.C. Romero (1.89 ERA) and LaTroy Hawkins (2.13 ERA). This team won the A.L. Central crown with a 94-67 record, 13.5 games ahead of the Chicago White Sox.

In the first taste of postseason action since 1991, the Twins faced the Oakland Athletics, who were winners of the A.L. West with a 103-59 record. It took all five games of the best-of-five series to determine who advanced to the Championship Series. Oakland had home-field advantage, so the series started in the Athletics’ Coliseum. I’m not going to break down how bad the first couple innings of game one went, but if you have some time, I highly recommend reading Corey Koskie’s take on it. Needless to say, the Twins shook off the nerves and came back from down four runs to win game one, thanks to a Koskie two-run homer, a Doug Mientkiewicz solo shot, and a Pierzynski RBI triple.

Joe Mays and Tony Fiore combined for five innings and nine earned runs in game two while Mark Mulder held the Twins to one run over six innings to get the Athletics the win in game two. Rick Reed allowed four runs in game three while Barry Zito allowed only three earned runs in his start to get Oakland a 2-1 series lead in Minnesota. The Twins avoided elimination in game four and force a game five thanks to a seven-run fourth inning, courtesy of some wild pitches and sloppy Athletics defense. Mientkiewicz got two hits and an RBI while Koskie and Hunter also had RBI hits in the inning en route to an 11-2 win.

Game five included a Radke-Romero-Hawkins combination that went eight innings, allowing seven hits and one earned run - a Ray Durham homer in the bottom of the third. The Twins led 2-1 going into the ninth inning thanks to RBI singles from Denny Hocking and Matt LeCroy in the early part of the game. Dustan Mohr drew a walk from Billy Koch and Pierzynski added a couple insurance runs with a two-run homer on the next pitch. David Ortiz hit an RBI double to add one more run, which was absolutely needed. The Eddie Guardado Experience lead to a single, groundout, and a double to lead to a Mark Ellis three-run shot in the bottom of the ninth, bringing Oakland to within one run. With two outs, Durham was up to bat and on a full count, popped out to secure the Twins a trip to the ALCS.

On the doorstep of the World Series, Minnesota faced the Anaheim Angels, who beat the New York Yankees in their ALDS set. Starting in the Twin Cities, the Twins won game one thanks to a four-hit performance from Mays going eight innings and a Guardado save. A Koskie RBI double was the difference. Reed started and struggled for the Twins in game two, allowing six hits and two homers - a Darin Erstad solo bomb and a two-run shot from Brad Fullmer. A three-run sixth featuring RBI singles form Koskie and Mientkiewicz was too little, too late, as the series became knotted at one game each.

The series moved to Anaheim, where another close game took place, but this time ended in an Angels victory. A Garret Anderson solo homer off of Eric Milton in the second inning was the only run until the bottom of the seventh when Jacque Jones hit an RBI double off of Jarrod Washburn to tie the game. Hawkins and Johan Santana would bridge the gap to J.C. Romero, who served a solo homer to Troy Glaus in the bottom of the eighth. Game four resulted in Radke and John Lackey trading zeros until the seventh inning, when the Angels came through with two runs. Romero and Michael Jackson (not the singer) would make matters worse as they allowed five runs in the bottom of the eighth, putting the game out of reach and giving the Angels a 3-1 series lead.

Ortiz and Pierzynski each had RBI hits in game five to give the Mays and the Twins a 2-0 advantage. Mays gave back three runs, all on solo shots - two hit by Adam Kennedy and one from Scott Spiezio. Minnesota battled back against the Angels bullpen in the top of the seventh to take a 5-3 lead, but a brutal 10-spot in the bottom of the frame put the Twins away for good, including yet another Kennedy homer - a three-run shot off of Santana. The Angels went on to face the San Francisco Giants and win the World Series.

The Twins signed Kenny Rogers in the offseason before the 2003 season. David Ortiz entered free agency. Juan Rincon became more established in the bullpen. Although none of the starting rotation had an ERA below 4.00, the Twins had seven batters hit double-digits in home runs; Pierzynski, Mientkiewicz, and Jones were north of .300 with Koskie and LeCroy just below the mark. Hunter was able to notch 102 RBI, but everyone else was floating in the 60s for RBI totals on the year - a balanced offense that got them to 90-72 and another A.L. Central title.

This began the “curse” of the New York Yankees, as the Twins drew the top seed in the American League with the Yankees record of 101-61. To Minnesota’s credit, three of the four games were close; all four games in the series had the losing team scoring only one run.

Johan Santana got the nod for game one and went four innings, allowing three hits and no runs. Going for the Yankees was Mike Mussina. In New York, Luis Rivas got the Twins on the board first with a sacrifice fly to plate Cristian Guzman in the third inning. Torii Hunter hit an RBI triple in the top of the sixth and then scored on an error. Rick Reed, J.C. Romero, LaTroy Hawkins, and Eddie Guardado bridged the gap to close the door on the Yankees, winning game one by a score of 3-1.

A Bernie Williams sacrifice fly got the Yankees on the board first in game two. However, a solo shot from Hunter off of Andy Pettite evened the score entering the seventh inning. Unfortunately, two RBI singles by Alfonso Soriano and Jason Giambi got the Yankees the lead for good to even the series at one game for each team.

The scoring for game three was early in the contest within the safe confines of the Metrodome. Kyle Lohse started for the Twins, allowing a two-run home run to Hideki Matsui in the top of the second and an RBI single to Bernie Williams in the third, giving New York a 3-0 lead. A Pierzynski solo homer off of Roger Clemens gave Minnesota a run, but Clemens and Mariano Rivera kept the Twins from scoring any more.

Game four included a six-run fourth from the Yankees, including three RBI doubles and an RBI single from Williams, Matsui, Nick Johnson, and Soriano off of Santana and Juan Rincon. Michael Cuddyer got an RBI knock in response, but one run was less than what the Yankees scored. David Wells and Gabe White tag-teamed for a one-run, nine-hit performance to send the Yankees to the ALCS. They’d beat the Boston Red Sox to get to the World Series, where they would fall to the Florida Marlins in six games. Hunter earned his fourth Gold Glove in as many seasons.

The 2003-2004 offseason was busy for the Twins as they acquired Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser from the Giants. Eric Milton was sent to the Philadelphia Phillies for Carlos Silva and Nick Punto. Henry Blanco, Jose Offerman, and Terry Mulholland were signed from free agency. Joe Mauer made his debut, but was sidelined with knee injuries. Lew Ford led the team with a .299 batting average. Koskie (25 HR, 71 RBI), Hunter (23 HR, 81 RBI), and Jones (24 HR, 80 RBI) had the power. Johan Santana turned in a 20-win season with a 2.61 ERA and 265 strikeouts. Nathan converted 44 of 47 save opportunities with Juan Rincon and J.C. Romero setting him up. The Twins once again won the A.L. Central Division with a 92-70 record. Once again, the Twins found themselves facing the Yankees.

Once again, Minnesota started the series off on the right foot. Mike Mussina started for the Yankees and allowed a single to Michael Cuddyer to begin the third at Yankee Stadium. Henry Blanco would lay down a bunt to move him over and allow Shannon Stewart to bring Cuddyer in on a single to left field and strike first. Jacque Jones hit a solo homer in the sixth to make it 2-0 in favor of the Twins and secure a game one victory. Johan Santana went seven innings, allowing nine hits and striking out five while Rincon and Nathan finished up the game.

Brad Radke started game two for Minnesota while Jon Lieber opposed for New York. Radke would give up five runs in 6.1 innings, including solo shots from Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, and Alex Rodriguez. Lieber allowed three earned runs in 6.2 innings, handing the game off to Tom Gordon. Gordon went into the eighth for the Yankees, allowing a single to Hunter. Manager Joe Torre got the hook out and called upon the league leader in saves, Mariano Rivera, to finish the frame. However, rookie Justin Morneau and Corey Koskie had other plans:

With the game tied at five each, Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan patched it together for Minnesota into the 12th while Tanyon Sturtze pitched for the Yankees. Torii Hunter hit a homer for the Twins in the top of the 12th, but Nathan and J.C. Romero blew the lead, allowing an RBI ground-rule double to Rodriguez and a sacrifice fly to Hideki Matsui, getting walked off with the series tied at a game a piece.

Game three was at the Metrodome and Jones got started with a solo homer in the bottom of the first off of Kevin Brown. Carlos Silva got the call to start the game for the Twins and allowed five singles in a row, giving the Yankees a 3-1 lead. After a single followed by a Bernie Williams two-run homer and another single in the sixth, Silva got the hook from Ron Gardenhire in favor of Romero, who got the hook with runners on second and third in favor of Jesse Crain. Crain gave up a two-RBI single to Derek Jeter and the game was essentially on ice. The Twins attempted a comeback in the bottom of the ninth by scoring three runs, but Rivera got Jones to ground out to end the threat.

Game four saw extra innings action for the second time in the series. With a “win or go home” game, the Twins struck first with a Hunter sacrifice fly in the first inning. The Yankees would tie it off of Santana in the third with an RBI single from Matsui. Koskie had a sacrifice fly of his own to get Hunter home in the fourth. Henry Blanco of all people hit a solo homer off of Javier Vazquez in the fifth with Lew Ford notching a two-RBI double, giving the Twins a 5-1 lead. However, Juan Rincon had other plans as an RBI single and a Ruben Sierra three-run homer tied the game in the eighth inning. Kyle Lohse was called upon for some extra-inning work, but Alex Rodriguez was able to double off of him in the 11th, steal third, and then score on a wild pitch to give the Yankees the lead. Rivera, in his second inning of work, got Jose Offerman to ground out, Matt LeCroy to fly out, and Shannon Stewart to ground out and secure another trip to the ALCS for the Yankees for the second year in a row.

After an underwhelming 2005, the Twins came back in 2006. The M&M Boys were established hitters, combining for 47 homers and 214 RBI. Hunter added 31 homers of his own while Cuddyer piled on 109 RBI. Nick Punto, Jason Bartlett, and Luis Castillo were part of the Piranhas. Santana turned in a great season with a 2.77 ERA and 245 strikeouts. Francisco Liriano added to the rotation with his 2.15 ERA and 144 strikeouts while Joe Nathan earned 36 saves along with a 1.58 ERA. Dennys Reyes had a 0.89 ERA in 66 games? I certainly do not remember that. The Twins won the A.L. Central by one game over the Detroit Tigers with a record of 96-66.

Facing the Oakland Athletics in the playoffs, the Twins had home field advantage. Game one saw a great pitching matchup between Barry Zito and Johan Santana. Both pitchers went eight innings, but Zito would come out on top. A rocky second inning was what tarnished Santana’s game, as he allowed a solo homer to Frank Thomas and an RBI double to Marco Scutaro. Rondell White would get a solo shot of his own in the seventh off of Zito, but another Thomas homer - this time off of Jesse Crain - gave the Twins the loss, even though an RBI groundout from Torii Hunter plated one more run in the bottom of the ninth.

Boof Bonser and Esteban Loaiza faced each other in game two of the series. Bonser allowed two RBI hits - one to Scutaro and one to Jason Kendall - and giving the Athletics a 2-0 lead. The Twins would come back with back-to-back solo jacks from Cuddyer and Morneau in the sixth inning to tie the game. However, Mark Kotsay would hit an inside-the-park two-run homer to give Oakland the lead for good, and giving them a 2-0 series advantage.

The scoring in game three started with an Eric Chavez home run off of Brad Radke, followed by an RBI double form Scutaro later in the inning to give the Athletics a 2-0 lead. Dan Haren started for Oakland and would induce three groundouts from Castillo, Punto, and Mauer, giving little time for Radke to rest. A two-run homer from Milton Bradley pushed the lead to 4-0, which was enough to punch the Athletics’ ticket to the ALCS. Hunter and Morneau provided solo homers of their own in the losing effort.

Although the 2006 postseason was disappointing for the Twins, Minnesota won a number of accolades that year. Justin Morneau was named Most Valuable Player in the American League. Johan Santana won the A.L. Cy Young Award and the pitchers’ Triple Crown. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau won Silver Slugger Awards while Torii Hunter won yet another Gold Glove.

Tomorrow, Jon will wrap up the series with some memories from 2009, 2010, and 2017!