Coming into early June of 2002, the Minnesota Twins held a 3-game AL Central lead over the Cleveland Guardians. This was rather unfamiliar territory for both squads, what with Cleveland having taken all but one division crown dating back to 1995.
But on June 4, the Twins sent a message in front of 14,029 Dome dwellers, slipping by the Guardians via a 23-2 margin.
Jacque Jones, Corey Koskie, & Dustan Mohr all homered for the home club, while Jones, Mohr, A.J. Pierzynski, and Luis Rivas bagged four hits apiece. A ten-run 7th inning proved to be the coup de grace. Only Cristian Guzman & Denny Hocking didn’t collect a safety for MN that day. Taking the brunt of the carnage for CLE: Ryan Drese (3 IP, 5 ER), Charles Nagy (2 IP, 9 ER), & Mark Wohlers (0.1 IP, 5 ER). Somewhat hilariously and predictably, the only two Guardians runs came from Jim Thome solo dingers off Twins SP Rick Reed.
But that beatdown wouldn’t prove to be the most memorable Twins contest that week.
On June 10, the Twins hosted the Atlanta Braves for the first time since Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. I was there with my Aunt and remember seeing many ‘91 highlights on the Jumbotron—especially Kent Hrbek’s gentle redirecting of Ron Gant.
Right away it looked like this one might be as big a laugher as the aforementioned Cleveland whomping, what with the Twins banging out 5 first-inning runs off Greg Maddux. I recall the indoor atmosphere being pretty insane at that point!
But then—as most Hall of Famers are wont to do—Mad Dog settled down, went 7 innings, and didn’t allow the plate to get dirtied again. In the meantime, the Braves chipped away with long balls from Vinny Castilla, Chipper Jones, & later-to-be-a-Twin Henry Blanco. By the time nine innings had transpired, the score was knotted at five.
Seeing as how ghosts—especially the running kind—were only present in 80s movie franchises and Scooby-Doo reruns at that time, the game simply played on as usual into extra frames. The 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th went by with little note. In the middle of the 14th, my Aunt and I stood up to do the 14th-inning stretch, in which the Dome PA replayed Take Me Out To The Ballgame—a truly bizarre experience.
When the bottom of the 15th began with Braves pitcher—and former Golden Gopher—Kerry Ligtenberg coaxing a Brian Buchanan whiff and Hocking groundout, it looked for all the world as if the contest might spiral out into the known universe forever. But then, back-up catcher Tom Prince punched a single through the infield. In short order, Guzman hit a frozen rope high off The Baggy (TM) . As God is my witness, I have never seen a human being run so hard—and look so slow doing so—as Prince motoring around the bases. He slid into home just before Gary Sheffield’s throw to give the good guys the marathon victory.
By the end of June ‘02, the Twins had extended their division lead to 6 games—and it only increased from that point.
This week, the 20-years-later Twins begin a stretch of eight games with Cleveland out of the next 11. They’ll start that endeavor with the slimmest of leads—1 game—over the Guardians in the Central. Here’s hoping by the end of June ‘22 that number will be a bit more crooked with the Twins still sitting in the catbird seat.