Just recently, a highly-official Twinkie Town poll named the Chicago White Sox the biggest rival of the Minnesota Twins. Over the past few decades, those clubs have had quite a back-and-forth, including such classic moments as:
-The infamous 2006 Piranhas that unnerved Ozzie Guillen.
-An epic late-’08 series at the Metrodome.
In 2021—and for perhaps the foreseeable future—Minnesota and Chicago look set to battle for AL Central supremacy again.
But this rivalry was cultivated before Bombas, Big Jim, or aquatic anthropomorphism. It was birthed under the Teflon in September of 2003...
In 2002, the Twins had suddenly shaken the rust off nearly a decade of incompetence to win the AL Central going away. The sequel—as so often happens—couldn’t capture the same magic. At the All-Star break, Minnesota found itself 7.5 games behind the division-leading Royals, and only the acquisition of Shannon Stewart jump-started a comeback push. By mid-September, the standings were as shuffled as your grandparents’ favorite set of 52—KC had fallen precipitously, while the Pale Hose & Twins had taken residency atop the heap (tied in the loss column).
The two clubs couldn’t have been more different. While Chicago featured a slugging arsenal the likes of Paul Konerko, Carlos Lee, Magglio Ordonez, Frank Thomas, Carl Everett, Jose Valentine, & Joe Crede, the Twins were pitching (especially bullpen) and defense-driven.
In the first of a three-game set, Brad Radke toed the rubber against 19-game winner Esteban Loaiza. In front of nearly 33,000 Dome denizens, the good guys jumped out to an early 3-0 lead thanks to a sacrifice fly, groundout, and wild pitch. The Twins Way (TM). Little-known reserve outfielder Michael Ryan—he of 68 total PA that year—extended the lead to 4-0 with an RBI single in the third inning. More from him later.
The Sox sniped a run off Radke in the sixth, but Torii Hunter answered quickly by driving in Lewwwwwww Ford. An Everett home run off LaTroy Hawkins in the final frame proved meaningless as the Twins secured the 5-2 victory.
The next night, 40,000 Twins Territory Faithful crossed the air pressure threshold for Kenny Rogers (our guy) vs. Jon Garland (theirs). As with the night before, the Twins jumped out to an early lead thanks to a dinger from none other than Mr. Ryan. Keep in mind, this was a player who posted a career .395 SLG% and whose physical characteristics resembled that of your garden-variety ectomorph. The absolute antithesis to Chicago’s burly sluggers.
The Gambler largely held those big boys quiet (6.1 IP, 2 ER), while the trio of J.C. Romero, LaTroy Hawkins, and Eddie Guardado were flawless fireman. The Twins captured the 4-2 victory and everyone was blown home happy.
Looking for the sweep, 40,000 more Dome-heads—some presumably armed with brooms—showed up for the finale. This time, Everett drew first blood for Chicago, with a two-run single off Kyle Lohse in the first inning.
It would be a short-lived advantage, however, after Shannon Stewart drew a leadoff walk against Bartolo Colon (hehehe) and got to trot home when Jacque Jones put one in the RF seats. 2-2.
Two innings later, a Doug Mientkiewicz double got Jones to the dish again, where the same result transpired. 4-2 Twins.
In the top of the seventh, the White Sox would mount a bit of a threat against Lohse, with Aaron Miles doubling to cut the lead to 5-3. But from that point, the aforementioned trio of Romero, Hawkins, & Guardado were again perfect in allowing the home team to shake hands.
Oh yeah...Mike Ryan also got a hit and scored a run :)
I’ll never forget a TV camera shot into the White Sox dugout, where skipper Jerry Manuel seemed incredulous that his lineup of big boppers was held to 7 runs in three contests and the victors featured the heretofore unknown Michael Ryan. Just pure, unvarnished disbelief.
Buoyed by the broomstick performance at home, the Twins wouldn’t relinquish AL Central control the rest of the way in ‘03, ultimately capturing their second consecutive division crown.
Until 2003, Minnesota and Chicago hadn’t crossed paths in competitive fashion all that much. In the one-division AL of the 1960s, the Twins clashed with New York, Boston, Detroit, and Baltimore. In the 70s and 80s, the Twins weren’t usually good enough to feud with, well, anyone. The 90s saw Cleveland dominate the Central.
But over the course of that early-2000s clash, the shape of a rivalry began to coalesce: a scrappy, plucky Twins bunch against a beefy, all-or-nothing Sox brigade. Copy and paste for basically the decade’s duration.
Here’s to—potentially—a few fun years of that rivalry being renewed, albeit with the roles largely reversed.