Read an Excerpt
Imagine a Season in which the Twins Never Lose
By Dave Wright
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2010 Dave Wright
All rights reserved.
April 1, 2002 Minnesota 8, Kansas City 6
A Good (But Harrowing) Start for the New Boss
The day started well for new Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. Sixty residents of his hometown of Okmulgee, Okla., descended upon Kansas City's Kaufmann Stadium to wish their favorite son good luck in his first major league game as Tom Kelly's replacement. Some three hours later, Gardenhire and his fellow Oklahomans' hearts were still beating fast. The Twins slapped five home runs but needed a terrific Torii Hunter catch in shallow center field to hold off the Royals for an 8–6 win.
"I don't know if Nervous Nelly is the right word but I couldn't sit down," Gardenhire said after his first game. "It was very exciting."
The excitement started when Jacque Jones drove the season's second pitch over the fence in right-center field. Later in the first inning, David Ortiz went deep. Brian Buchanan, whose appearance in the lineup was perhaps the most interesting decision of Gardenhire's first regular-season day on the job, followed suit the next inning. Alas, starter Brad Radke didn't have it and was chased in the fifth inning, giving all up six Kansas City runs. At that point, the Twins' longball bats returned. Hunter hit a solo shot in the sixth and Jones drilled a three-run shot to center in the seventh to put the Twins back ahead for good.
However, Gardenhire quickly found out that nothing that day would be easy. It was still 8–6 in the ninth inning when new closer Eddie Guardado entered and retired the first two batters he faced. He then walked Carlos Febles and ex-Twin Chuck Knoblauch to bring the winning run to the plate in the form of Neifi Perez. When Gardenhire first saw Perez's liner head toward Hunter, he assumed it was an easy out. The ball hit a wind pocket, however, and suddenly tailed down. Fortunately, Hunter was tearing in at full speed and made a knee-high catch to end the game.
Later, when he started to breathe again, Gardenhire was told that Major League Baseball wanted the official lineup cards for all Opening Day games. "They'll have to find it if they want it," he said. "If they want a copy, they can have a copy. I'm keeping the original."
At a Glance
WP: Romero (1–0)
S: Guardado (1)
HR: Jones 2 (2), Ortiz (1), Buchanan (1), Hunter (1)
Key stat: Multi-homer opening day for Jones
April 3, 1996
Minnesota 16, Detroit 7
A Wild Afternoon in the Metrodome
The 12,256 fans on hand at the Metrodome on this afternoon had good reason to expect to see a high-scoring game. The Twins and Tigers had scored 30 runs between them in splitting the first two games of the season. But nobody was prepared for what happened on this day, including a two-inning segment in which a combined 17 runs were scored. By the time the calculators had finished spinning, the Twins had a 16–7 victory that reminded third base coach Scott Ullger of his minor league days. "This was like a Pacific Coast League game," said Ullger, who managed in that league for three seasons. "You score a couple of touchdowns, kick a couple of extra points and hold on."
Dave Hollins' two-run homer in the second inning wasn't much of a cushion for Minnesota starting pitcher Frankie Rodriguez. Cecil Fielder's three-run homer capped a six-run third inning that also ended Rodriguez's workday. His replacement — Pat Mahomes — became the pitching story of the day when he retired Mark Lewis on a groundout to end the inning and started a 4 1/3-inning scoreless effort that would finish with his gaining the victory.
Down 6–2, the Twins chased Scott Aldred with five runs in the bottom of the third inning. Catcher Mike Durant made a successful major league debut with a leadoff single. Three more singles, a walk, an error and a sacrifice fly followed. Roberto Kelly then singled sharply to produce two more runs and the comeback was complete. In case the Tigers had any ideas of returning the favor, the Twins combined doubles by Chuck Knoblauch and Ron Coomer, a walk, a sacrifice fly, a pair of Detroit errors and another Durant single the next inning for six more runs.
Things mercifully settled down from there and the Twins eased their way home, finishing the opening series with a team batting average of .377.
FUN WHILE IT LASTED
For Durant, that Wednesday afternoon game would be about as good as it ever got in what amounted to a short stay in the big leagues. Called up from the minors because of an injury to Matt Walbeck, Durant stayed with the team until mid-June. He returned for a brief spell in July and again in September. But he recorded his last big league hit on June 8 before going hitless in his final 22 at-bats and finishing with a lifetime big league batting average of .210. k
At a Glance
WP: Mahomes (1–0)
HR: Hollins (1)
Key stats: Coomer 3-for-4, 3 RBIs
April 5, 2004
Minnesota 7, Cleveland 4
Living Up to Expectations
It was The Kid's first game back in town since playing for his dad's Air Freight Unlimited amateur team. But Joe Mauer, described by Torii Hunter as "20 going on 30," seemed impervious to it all. He seemed blissfully unaware that, when he stepped behind the plate to open the season against the Indians, he would be only the fifth 20-year-old catcher in a major league game in the past 40 years. The list of predecessors at that tender age behind the plate included a Hall of Famer (Johnny Bench), another guy who may get there some day (Ivan Rodriguez), Bob Didier and, ironically, a former Twin (Butch Wynegar).
Instead of worrying about history, Mauer's biggest concern hours before game time was helping out his mother, Theresa, who had managed to get 929 tickets for the game but suddenly needed four more.
The dutiful son took care of his mom's request and then went to work. In addition to taking over behind the plate and guiding a pitching staff that had won 90 games the year before, Mauer was facing a rugged customer on the mound: CC Sabathia.
Although he had come in with much hype after being the first player taken overall in the 2001 draft, Mauer won his teammates over early with his calm, no-nonsense demeanor.
Mauer's story was one of many plots this Opening Day. Although the team had won its second straight division title in 2003, the Twins had shown little offense when they lost their first-round playoff series to the Yankees. The final game — an 8–1 loss at home — made for a rough winter, and the team seemed anxious to make amends right away.
Sabathia, however, had other plans. The 6-foot-7 southpaw gave up two hits and fanned nine batters. Meanwhile, Minnesota starter Brad Radke was suffering from a bad case of homeritis. Travis Hafner hit a pair of longballs and Jody Gerut hit one. Fortunately, all three home runs were solo shots and it was only 4–0 when Sabathia left the game in favor of the Indians' bullpen.
Relieved they could see the ball again, the Twins began bashing it. Mauer, who had walked earlier, led off with another free pass. Cristian Guzman singled him to third. Shannon Stewart's grounder moved Guzman to second, and both runners came home on Michael Cuddyer's single. Later, Corey Koskie doubled and Torii Hunter singled to get two more runs and send the game into extra innings. Mauer singled to open the ninth but was left stranded. With one out in the 11th inning, Matthew LeCroy walked. Mauer doubled his major league hit total with another single, and one out later, Chad Durbin, a free-agent pickup over the winter, tried to sneak a fastball past Stewart. Instead, Stewart snuck it over the left-field fence for the game-winning blow.
As for Mauer, he finished his first big league game by going 2-for-3 with two walks, drawing praise from players on both sides for his poise behind the plate. It would not be the last time this would occur.
A SHORT BUT MEMORABLE SEASON
Unfortunately, Mauer's first season in the majors didn't last long. The night after his successful debut, Mauer heard something "pop" in his left knee while he chased a foul ball. He had surgery to repair a medial meniscus tear on April 8 and, after a short stint in the minors, returned to the major leagues on June 2. He hit his first career big league homer a few days later and rattled off a four-hit game against Kansas City on July 7. But the knee was still sore and he finally shut it down for good in mid-July. In 35 games, he hit .308 (33-for-107) with eight doubles, six home runs, and 17 RBIs. It was enough to be named the team's top rookie in a vote of the local media. Two years later, he would become the first catcher in 64 years to win a batting crown when he hit .347. He won a second batting title in 2008 with a .328 mark. He had offseason surgery that caused him to miss spring training and the start of the 2009 season. After rehabbing in Florida, he returned to town to make his debut with the team against Kansas City on May 1. It didn't take long to get acclimated. Sidney Ponson's third pitch to Mauer disappeared over the left field fence. By the time the weekend series was over, Mauer had gone 7-for-10 and the Kid was back. By the end of the season, batting title No. 3 was in his hand, earned with a .365 average.
At a Glance
WP: Rincon (1–0)
HR: Stewart (1)
Key stats: Mauer 2-for-3 with 2 BBs in first MLB game; Stewart 3-run HR wins it
Few players have ever lived up their hype better than the St. Paul native who was the top amateur draft pick in the country in 2001. It took him just 2Â1/2 years to advance to big leagues. When he arrived in 2004, he singled twice in his first major league game. Unfortunately, a knee injury in his second big league game held him to just 35 games that season. Once healthy, he has been sensational, becoming the only AL catcher to win a batting title (he has now done it three times in five seasons), setting a new record with a .365 mark in 2009.
April 6, 1973
Minnesota 8, Oakland 3
Born to Hit
Every major league team has them — the players who, in the view of their fans, should be enshrined in Cooperstown. Perhaps the two most noteworthy Twins in this department both took center stage in the team's 1973 season opener, an 8–3 victory over the Oakland A's, the defending World Series champions. Bert Blyleven, who would go on to win 20 games in a season for the only time in his career, gave himself a nifty gift for his 22nd birthday, a complete-game 10-hitter. On this night, he had to share the spotlight with the man who many feel that, if his knees could have stayed sound, would have been a slam-dunk for the Hall.
Tony Oliva had already won three batting titles and been named American League Player of the Year twice. However, a fourth operation on his right knee had left Oliva a shadow of his old form. But the man could still hit. His two-run homer in the first inning was the first longball struck by a player in the American League's newfangled designated hitter position. Hitting fourth (in part because Harmon Killebrew was out of action with a sore knee), Oliva took Catfish Hunter out of the yard for a two-run shot that started the Twins on their way to ruining the night for 38,207 Oakland patrons. Oliva had company rounding the bases. Jim Holt hit a solo homer and Larry Hisle, making his debut as the leadoff batter, had four hits and also left the yard.
Oliva later singled and drove in three runs total. But he sounded like he was still adjusting to his new gig. "I like getting the hits but being the designated hitter is tough. You get cold sitting on the bench. When the other players grab their gloves to go play defense, you want to go with them," he told reporters afterward.
As it turned out, Oliva adjusted very nicely to the DH role. He played more than 400 games in that role over the next four seasons before retiring after the 1976 season with a .304 career batting average. Once the DH became part of the American League rulebook, Oliva never played in the field again.
A CAMEO ROLE AT SECOND BASE ... AND ONE LAST NIGHT OF GLORY
Gene Mauch became the Twins' manager in 1976. Mauch was an innovative guy, and he liked to get as much offense as he could possibly muster. At the start of the 1976 season, Oliva's knees were so bad that he couldn't even handle the regular DH role early in the season. So, Mauch penciled him in the starting lineup four times as the leadoff hitter playing second base. It was always a road game so there was no danger of Oliva ever having to go into the field. Unfortunately, the experiment didn't go very well. Oliva went 0-for-3 with a walk in a game at Boston. On that occasion, Jerry Terrell, who was playing second base in the field that day, ran for him. Oliva's knees improved enough that he could DH a few games here and there. But he was hitting just .140 when he faced the league's best known pitcher, Detroit's Mark Fidrych, on July 20 at Met Stadium. For one night, the old touch returned. Fidrych pitched a complete game in an 8–3 win but Oliva went 4-for-4 and drove in a run. In the ninth inning, after Oliva's fourth single, Fidrych tipped his cap toward first base.
A reporter approached Fidrych later and asked him why he tipped his cap to Oliva.
"Who's Oliva?" Fidrych asked.
"The guy who got the four hits," came the reply.
"Oh, that guy," Fidrych said. "He's good."
At a Glance
WP: Blyleven (1–0)
HR: Oliva (1), Holt (1), Hisle (1)
Key stats: Oliva hits first HR by Twins DH; Blyleven CG; Hisle 4-for-5
April 7, 1970
Minnesota 12, Chicago White Sox 0
Making Friends on Day 1
It was one of those small transactions that didn't draw a lot of attention. As the 1970 spring training camp was winding down, the Twins made a deal with the Washington Senators, sending them two pitchers (Joe Grzenda and Charley Walters) who weren't part of new manager Bill Rigney's plans in exchange for an outfielder with the rather unlikely name of Garrabrant Ryerson Alyea. Little did everybody know that Alyea, known to most of the world as Brant, would pay such an impressive first dividend.
The Twins, defending Western Division champs, opened the 1970 season with a 12–0 thumping of the White Sox at Comiskey Park. Right-hander Jim Perry picked up where he had left off in 1969, tossing a six-hitter with six strikeouts for a complete-game win. Alyea, who had hit just .249 in limited action the year before, garnered the majority of the headlines by going 4-for-4 with a pair of home runs and seven RBIs. The latter figure still stands as the most ever for an Opening Day performance.
"I thought I might go to the Twins in 1969 because I heard Billy Martin (the manager that season) liked me and it was clear Ted Williams (Washington's manager) wasn't fond of me," Alyea recalled later. "When Martin was fired in the offseason, I still thought I would get moved but I didn't know where." As it developed, left field was an open spot for the Twins and Alyea was given the first crack at the job. He started modestly, knocking home a run with a first-inning single. He singled again in the fourth to no avail. In the fifth, he ended Tommy John's day with a three-run homer that gave Minnesota a 6–0 lead. Two innings later, Alyea hit another three-run shot as part of six-pack inning that put the game away. White Sox manager Don Gutteridge was suitably impressed. "We have a book on Alyea," he told reporters after the game. "But today, we were looking at the wrong page."
SECOND VERSE ... SAME AS THE First
Alyea had a productive 1970 season, batting .291 with 12 doubles and 16 home runs in just 258 at-bats. He even duplicated his two-homer, seven-RBI effort in a 7–6 win in the first game of a Labor Day doubleheader against Milwaukee. This time, he started fast, nailing Lew Krausse for a grand slam in the first inning. He added a three-run shot in the third and also singled in the seventh inning. In 1971, he got off to another torrid start and was hitting .333 on May 9. But he fell into an awful slump and finished the season at .177. Oakland acquired him in the offseason. In 1972, he managed just nine hits in 50 at-bats and disappeared from the MLB scene for good.
At a Glance
WP: Perry (1–0)
HR: Alyea 2 (2)
Key stats: Alyea sets MLB Opening Day record with 7 RBIs; Perry shutout
April 8, 1988
Minnesota 6, Toronto 3
There's No Place Like Dome for Gladden
During his long run as manager of the Minnesota Twins, Tom Kelly was renowned for his droll way of phrasing his thoughts. He tended to understate and underplay wins and losses together. Thus, several heads looked up with surprise when he told reporters near the end of the 1988 spring training camp, "We're a little better than we were last year."
After all, the 1987 team had won the first World Series title in club history, blowing out Detroit in five games and then outlasting St. Louis in an exhausting seven-game set.
The one constant of that team was its repeated success at the Metrodome. The Twins had a league-best 56–25 win-loss mark there that season, adding six straight postseason triumphs to the log.
After opening the season with a pair of losses at New York, the club returned to its old lair and picked up where it had left off. In front of the largest home crowd in team history, the Twins defeated Toronto 6–3.
Bert Blyleven was his usual solid self on the mound for the Twins, scattering two runs on six hits over six innings before Juan Berenguer and Jeff Reardon finished.
But the night belonged to Minnesota outfielder Dan Gladden, who turned in a remarkable performance that will be remembered for years to come.
All Gladden did on this night was:
· Open the Twins' scoring with a solo home run in the first inning off Toronto's ace, righty Dave Stieb
· Hit an RBI single in the second inning for the team's second run
· Greet Stieb's replacement, Mark Eichhorn, with an RBI double in the seventh
· Greet Eichhorn's replacement, David Wells, with a "pure" steal of home
· Finish off the night (and the Twins' scoring) with a solo home run off Wells in the eighth inning, the first multi-home run game of his career
Excerpted from 162-0 by Dave Wright. Copyright © 2010 Dave Wright. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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