This summer, we’ve reminisced on the 2003 Minnesota Twins and their quest for a second straight AL Central title. Along the way, small but vital contributions from the likes of Todd Sears & Michael Restovich have been noted and appreciated. There is one more “candle in the wind” to examine—and it comes at that season’s crucial moment.
On the morning of September 16, 2003, the Twins held the narrowest of a 0.5 game lead over the Chicago White Sox for Central supremacy. That night, the Metrodome hosted the South Siders for the start of a critical 3-game series.
In front of 33,000 frenzied faithful, the Twins jumped out to an early 3-0 lead over the Sox. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Michael Ryan singled (one of two knocks) to extend the margin to 4-0 en route to a 5-2 victory behind Brad Radke’s (7 IP, 1 ER) strong start.
“Michael WHO???”, you might be asking. Drafted in the 5th Round out of Indiana (PA) HS in 1996, Ryan had obtained a cup-of-coffee (11 PA) in 2002. Called up in August ‘03 to ameliorate OF depth issues, Ryan provided an unexpected spark down the stretch—never more apparent than against the Tighty Whities.
Now with 40,000 fans smelling blood in the water, Ryan homered off Chicago starter Jon Garland to start the scoring. Behind that and a solid start from The Gambler (6.1 IP, 2 ER), the Twins nailed down a 4-2 with the Romero-Hawkins-Guardado bullpen trio.
Again, 40,000 broom-toting rooters watched Ryan single off Bartolo Colon (tee-hee!) in a tight 5-3 victory for Kyle Lohse (6.2 IP, 3 ER, all clubhouse doors intact). A Romero-Hawkins-Guardado encore sustained the sweep!
Did Ryan single-handedly stymie the Sox? Certainly not. But I’ll never forget the look on CHW manager Jerry Manuel’s face when the youngster kept coming through in the season’s biggest series. It was a visage that screamed “I have Paul Konerko, Carlos Lee, Carl Everett, Magglio Ordonez, & Frank Thomas—and MICHAEL RYAN is going to knock me out of the postseason picture”. The Twins never relinquished control of the AL Central.
For the duration of 2003, Ryan put up this stat line: 68 PA, 7 2B, 5 HR, 13 RBI, .393 BA, 1.195 OPS, 207 OPS+. Basically, he was Barry Bonds for a month. Ryan’s torrid play even garnered him a spot on the ALDS roster. All of this is even more amazing considering Ryan’s career line: -0.8 WAR, .258 BA, .696 OPS, 82 OPS+. After short stints with the Twins in ‘04 and ‘05, Ryan was out of baseball for four seasons before resurfacing in Anaheim for 41 PA in 2010.
One of baseball’s remarkable aspects is that you can’t run the team through a superstar like football, basketball, or hockey afford the ability to do. On the diamond, all nine must bat in order. So while names like Radke, Hunter, Koskie, & Mientkiewicz are remembered with fondness—and rightfully so—the success of 2003 would not have been possible without contributions from the likes of Michael Ryan, Mike Restovich, & Todd Sears.
“Your candle burned out long before your legend ever did” (Elton John)