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2002 Flashback: Minnesota Halts Moneyball

Billy Beane thwarted by Brad Radke & Co.

Minneapolis - Twins vs. Detroit baseball home opener - Twins win 4-2.%%Twins pitcher Brad Radke was the winning pitcher.

In the cultural cache, Major League Baseball’s analytical era was started by Billy Beane’s early-2000s Oakland Athletics. By prioritizing theretofore unheralded statistics like on-base percentage and walks, Beane was able to field a contending team on a shoe-string budget. A compelling movie—starring Brad Pitt, no less—all but cemented Beane’s legacy.

Yet, Twins fans—while perhaps not “bitter”—may view that narrative as revisionist. At the same time Beane was working his magic, Terry Ryan’s clubs had also created a small-market dynasty, of sorts, via shrewd trading and talent evaluation. On September 6, 2002, both franchises collided at the Metrodome in a contest few around to experience will ever forget.

MLB Photos Archive
Dome Sweet Dome circa 2002
Photo by Richard Orndorf/MLB via Getty Images

From August 13 to September 4 of ‘02, the A’s lined up and shook hands after the final out for a remarkable 20 consecutive games. Three of those victories came at the expense of our boys. It was the story of MLB—the A’s rising from their small-market, crummy-ballpark-by-the-Bay stature to become relevant again for that first time since the McGwire, Canseco, and Henderson days of yore.

That being said, the Twins weren’t slouching towards Fargo—or anywhere else, for that matter—in September of ‘02. Coming into the Labor Day weekend series with Oakland, they were 81-59—12.5 games in front of the nearest AL Central competitor—and closing in on an outright clinch. The atmosphere of 27,409 Dome-dwellers for the first game promised an electric, competitive series. It both was—and wasn’t—at the same time.

The Twins struck early in Game One, with first-inning doubles from Jacque Jones & Corey Koskie. The bats would add on as the innings added up, with Koskie homering and Jones & Cristian Guzman providing run-scoring hits. Green-and-yellow clad starter Cory Lidle (6.2 IP, 5 ER) didn’t have his best rotation turn.

Twins on the board early!
Photo credit should read CRAIG LASSIG/AFP via Getty Images

Of course, one would expect a team on a 20-game win streak to put up an offensive fight. But that wasn’t the case—not with Twins ace (this was pre-starting Johan) Brad Radke carving up Oakland’s not-inconsiderable batting order (Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, Jermaine Dye, etc.). When a final David Justice pop-up harmlessly nestled into Doug Mientkiewicz’s glove, Radke was still atop the bump—a 6 H, 5 K, 1 BB shutout and 6-0 victory! For the first time in 3 weeks, the A’s found themselves in the loss column.

The next two games of the series? Well, much like the musical Bruno, we don’t talk about them (consecutive A’s shutouts from Mark Mulder & Barry Zito). But for that one evening, the Twins had proven they could stand toe-to-toe with baseball’s new phenomenon.

At the time, many mused that Twins/A’s could be a potential postseason pairing in a month’s time—exactly how things played out. But that’s a different story for a later date.

Hocking celebrates the final out
A sneak peak at a future article topic from yours truly