This is part six in a series examining every Twins team that has made the playoffs. Whether the current version of the Twins is 20 games over .500 or stuck in last place, fans can always hold onto memories of successful teams past.
The Minnesota Twins were reborn in 2002.
The championships of 1987 and 1991 failed to usher in a generation of prosperity for the team, and it suffered through eight losing seasons in the mid and late 90s. Fan interest waned along with team talent, and by 2000, a dismal campaign in which the Twins finished 69-93, barely one million people (just over 12,000 per game) bought tickets to sit in the Metrodome’s seats.
And suddenly, the turmoil ended. In 2001 the roster full of young unknowns actually managed to be competitive in the AL Central. And in 2002, manager Ron Gardenhire’s first year in control, the Twins captured the Central Division crown with 94 wins. It was the first of many playoff runs for Gardenhire, and the end of bad baseball in Minnesota. Soon the Twins would be perennial contenders in the American League, and Minnesota fans would no longer be embarassed by their Major League squad.
The Twins were not the only thing on people’s minds in 2002, which was a turbulent year for America. The nation was just beginning to recover from the September 11th attacks, and U.S. troops had been sent to Afghanistan in response. Later in the year, Congress voted to authorize a second war, in Iraq. 2002 was the year that Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash shortly before the fall election. And in Washington, the DC Sniper wreaked havoc, killing 10 people before being arrested.
|2002 Twins at a Glance|
|Record||94-67, first in American League Central|
|Heavy Hitter||Torii Hunter, .289/.334/.524, 29 HR, 94 RBI|
|Ace Pitcher||Rick Reed, 15-7, 3.78 ERA, 188 IP|
|All Stars||P Eddie Guardado, OF Hunter, C A.J. Pierzynski|
|Clinched Division||September 15, with 5-0 win over Cleveland|
|Postseason Results||Defeated Athletics in ALDS, 3-2; Lost to Angels in ALCS, 4-1|
Back in Minnesota, a bumper crop of new players had emerged with the breakout 2001 team, and they continued to grow strong in 2002. Corey Koskie” href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/k/koskico01.shtml” target=”_blank”>Corey Koskie and Doug Mientkiewicz” href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/mientdo01.shtml” target=”_blank”>Doug Mientkiewicz became fan favorites in the infield, as did Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones in the outfield. Hunter’s powerful performance (29 home runs and 37 doubles) earned him a trip to the infamous 2002 All Star Game. David Ortiz” href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/o/ortizda01.shtml” target=”_blank”>David Ortiz was the primary DH and backup first baseman. He hit 20 home runs for the Twins, just a small glimpse of the slugging talent he would display after signing with the Red Sox in 2003. Another young player did end up staying with the Twins. Outfielder Michael Cuddyer” href=”http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/cuddymi01.shtml” target=”_blank”>Michael Cuddyer saw his first extended Major League action in 2002, and he has been a fixture with the team ever since.
The 2002 pitching staff was a patchwork affair, thanks to a series of injuries. Brad Radke, Eric Milton, and Joe Mays had all enjoyed solid seasons in 2001, but all three suffered injuries and inconsistency in ’02. Milton only missed a few starts and went 13-9, but Radke was held to 21 starts and Mays just 17, and all three had ERAs over 4.70. But a few new pitchers stepped up in their place, including veteran Rick Reed (winner of 15 games with a solid 3.78 ERA) and a couple of youngsters named Kyle Loshe and Johan Santana. Santana pitched out of the bullpen most of the year, but he managed to lead the team in strikeouts (137), the first of many years he would do so. Eddie Guardado was stellar as a closer, saving 45 games and striking out 70 in 67 innings. Joining him in the ‘pen were LaTroy Hawkins, Tony Fiore, J.C. Romero, and Michael Jackson (no, not that Michael Jackson), all of whom pitched very well.
In the 2002 ALDS, the Twins experienced a couple of firsts. Not only was this their first playoff appearance since the division series format was created, it was also the first time the Twins faced an AL postseason opponent who was not from the Eastern Division. Instead, they took on the AL West champion Oakland Athletics, owners of a 103-59 regular season record, including a 20 game August/September winning streak. The A’s featured a trio of aces in their rotation: Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder.
Down two games to one against the heavy favorites, the Twins erupted for 11 runs in Game 4 at the Dome, taking advantage of a series of Oakland mistakes in a seven run 4th. Back in Oakland for Game 5, the Twins eked out a slim 2-1 lead heading into the 9th before piling on three more runs. They needed them all, as Eddie Guardado gave up three in the bottom of the ninth. But the lead held, and the Twins eliminated the A’s.
In the ALCS, the Anaheim Angels awaited. Like the A’s, the Angels were heavy favorites, thanks to a 99-63 record. And since staff leader Radke had started the final game against Oakland, Mays, owner of a 4-8 regular season record and a 5.38 ERA, got the ball in Game 1. Shockingly, he pitched 8 strong innings en route to a 2-1 Twins win. That was the last highlight, though, as the Angels swept the next four games of the series and eliminated the Twins.
While the 2002 Twins failed to reach the World Series, they did manage to establish a new dynasty in the American League Central. the names on the roster have changed since then, but the recent winning tradition and annual high expectations are unchanged. This team was a trendsetter.