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A wild ‘03 finish vanquishes an old nemesis

John Gordon goes bananas!

Minneapolis, MN., Wednesday, 9/3/2002. (left to right) Angels Pitcher Troy Percival covered home plate as Minnesota Twins Shannon Stewart scored sliding past an injured Anaheim catcher Bengie Molina to win the game. Stewart scored after hitting an in t

I started following the day-to-day activities of the Minnesota Twins in 1996. I estimate some 4,500 games have transpired in that span. For a few, I can remember exactly where I was while watching/listening. September 3, 2003, was one of those occasions.

When we last left the ‘03 Twins, they had acquired Shannon Stewart at the deadline in hopes of a strong second-half push—and the plan seemed to be working! Stewart was the ignitor out of the leadoff spot and by end-of-day 9/2/03 the Twins had pulled to within a game of first place in the AL Central.

7/17/03 - Twin vs Oakland at the Metrodome - Twins new designated hitter Shannon Stewart races towards first base after a hit during the sixth inning, but wasn’t fast enough as he was called out. Stewart was acquired during the All-Star break from the To
Shannon Stewart: Twins spark plug

The Wednesday afternoon of 9/3/03 seemed normal enough, with 11,000+ Twins fans supporting their surging squad. It didn’t look good in the early goings, what with the Anaheim Angels jumping out to a 4-0 lead off MN starter Grant Balfour after three innings, but Matthew LeCroy plated Stewart in the 4th to get on the board and then a three-run rally off future-Twin Ramon Ortiz in the 6th knotted the score at 4-4.

Sadly, the momentum would be short-lived. In the top of 7th, Juan Rincon K’d Tim Salmon—but the ball skipped by catcher A.J. Pierzynski and an Angel scampered home to give the visitors a 5-4 lead. That score held to the 9th, when Anaheim unleashed Troy Percival.

Percival 500th save
“Bahhh Gawddd...that’s Troy Percival’s music!!!!”
Photo by Danny Moloshok/Getty Images

This seemed a mortal blow, as the star closer was nursing a 37-inning scoreless streak against Twins bats. Our guys just DID. NOT. SCORE. off Percy. A.J. Pierzynski quickly flied out and Mike Ryan whiffed to prove the point.

But Justin Morneau worked a full count and drew a walk, bringing pinch runner Dustan Mohr off the bench and Stewart into the batter’s box. I could try to describe what happened next—but only Twins radio announcer John Gordon can do it justice...

As Gordo induced hypertension, I was lifeguarding at my hometown YMCA pool and had the radio dialed to baseball. Why I wasn’t in school that post-Labor Day afternoon? Lost to the sands of time. But I’ll never forget Gordon’s apoplectic call cutting through the dense, humid, chlorine-saturated air. I am eternally grateful no aqua emergency transpired in those moments of baseball chaos, as I’ll admit to being utterly absorbed in the wild finish.

With the victory, the 2003 Twins found themselves tied with the Chicago White Sox for the Central lead, setting up a month-long battle for the crown. More on that coming soon...