Twenty years ago, the Minnesota Twins were about to embark on an altogether disappointing campaign. All told, the year 2000 would produce a 69-93 record (the 4th consecutive 90-loss slog), good for dead last in the AL Central and a full eight games back of even fourth place Kansas City.
Long before all that ultimately came to be, however, the Twins welcomed the Tampa Bay Devil Rays into the Metrodome to kick off the ‘00 proceedings. The four-game tilt provided what may have been the most exciting/interesting baseball played by either team (the Devil Rays went 69-92) all season long:
April 3 (Opening Day)
In front of 43,830 members of Twins Territory, Brad Radke jogged to the mound to officially christen the new season. He rocked back into his distinctive windup and fired the first pitch to Gerald Williams—who promptly deposited it over the left field fence.
The rest of the game went no better. Radke gave up 6 ER in 5 IP, including a home run to Fred “Crime Dog” McGriff, and the Twins lost 7-0. At least a young pitching prospect closed out the drubbing with an inning of scoreless relief. That Johan Santana kid might have some potential.
With the Opening Day pomp and circumstance out of the way, Game #2 was played in front of a crowd of 7,020. Yikes. Minnesota’s SP Eric Milton opposed Tampa Bay’s Ryan Rupe and neither were particularly sharp. Heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, TB held a 5-3 lead. That’s when the fun began:
First, a Jacque Jones single scored Butch Huskey to cut the deficit in half. After Twins relievers Travis Miller and Hector Carrasco held serve in the top of the ninth, the Devil Rays brought in closer Roberto Hernandez. With one out, Todd Walker reached on an error and came around with the tying run on a Cristian Guzman double. After Matt Lawton popped out, David Ortiz stepped into the batter’s box representing the last hope for the good guys. He promptly singled, scoring Guzy and allowing that enormous crowd to be blown out of the Dome happy.
Sean Bergman took the hill for the Twins in the third tilt and, well, he stunk (3 IP, 5 ER). LaTroy Hawkins relieved him and did a bit better (4 IP, 2 ER). Unfortunately, TB starter Esteban Yan (7 IP, 1 unearned run) was sharp, and the Devil Rays held a 7-1 margin heading into the bottom of the eighth. Torii Hunter flew out, Todd Walker grounded out, and no comeback seemed imminent. But then...
Guzman singled. Lawton singled. Huskey doubled. Corey Koskie singled. Ron Coomer walked. Jones singled. Midre Cummings doubled. When the dust (astroturf?) had finally settled, the game was tied 7-7!
After “Everyday” Eddie Guardado pitched a clean ninth (retiring noted sluggers Jose Canseco & Greg Vaughn in the process), the Twins had a chance for some more magic. Before an out could be recorded by Tampa reliever Rick White, both Walker and Guzman slapped base hits. This brought Lawton to the plate, who promptly deposited the horsehide deep beyond the right field Hefty Bag. Twins win in walk-off fashion for the second time in a row!
The final game of the series was a rollercoaster slugfest. In the top of the seventh, Miguel Cairo doubled off Joe Mays to give TB a 5-4 lead. In the next frame, though, Coomer’s 2-run single put the Twins back in front 6-5.
Trying to protect that slim margin, Travis Miller allowed a game-tying bomb to Vaughn leading off the ninth. Carrasco then entered (were those two used exclusively as a package deal that year?!) and surrendered the go-ahead run on another Cairo hit.
A leadoff single from Cummings in the bottom of the ninth gave fans hope for a third straight magical finish, but the next three Twins were set down in order.
One of the great things about an Opening Day (or an opening series) is that you “just never know” what will transpire over the rest of the season. In this case, two teams that wouldn’t contend for anything more than draft slots in ‘00 put on a highly competitive, spirited four-game performance. Not until that season’s closing series would such drama be present for Twins fans again.
But that’s another story, for another day.