This is part eight 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 2004 Twins faced little competition within their own division. They spent 145 days in first place, clinched the division with 12 games remaining, and ultimately won by 9.0 games over the second place Chicago White Sox. While the 2002 and 2003 Twins won with a roster full of unknowns, 2004 saw the emergence of four true superstars: Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Joe Mauer, and Justin Morneau. Never since have the Twins been a stranger to national media attention. Unfortunately, the Twins have not won a playoff game since 2004 either.
The biggest news story of 2004 was one of the greatest tragedies in recent human history. In the closing days of the year, a magnitude 9.3 earthquake under the Indian Ocean launched a tsunami that ravaged coastlines fom Australia and Indonesia to India and even Eastern Africa. More than 230,o00 people were killed, and countless more were left homeless. In the Ukraine, the presidential election was so hotly contested that opponents poisoned eventual winner Viktor Yuschenko. The United States had a contentious election, too, as incumbent George W. Bush defeated Senator John Kerry by 3 million votes. Fortunately, nobody was poisoned during that race.
Minnesota voters paid close attention to the presidential contest, but many of them cared even more about another election: the American League Cy Young balloting. In 2004, a Twins pitcher finally emerged as a true ace, capable of shutting down any opponent at any time. Santana had his best year, leading the AL in ERA (2.61), WHIP (0.92), strikeouts (265), and numerous other pitching categories. He was especially unhittable after the All Star break, with a perfect 13-0 record, a 1.21 ERA and an unbelievable .78 WHIP. Unlike Presidnets Bush and Yanuschenko, Santana won his election in a landslide, receiving all 28 first place votes.
|2004 Twins at a Glance|
|Record||90-72, first in American League Central|
|Heavy Hitter||Justin Morneau, .271/.340/.536, 19 HR|
|Ace Pitcher||Johan Santana, 20-6, 2.61 ERA, .92 WHIP, 265 K|
|All Stars||P Joe Nathan|
|Clinched Division||September 20, with 8-2 win over Chicago|
|Postseason Results||Lost to Yankees in ALDS, 3-1|
Backing up Santana was a solid group of pitchers. Workhorse Brad Radke won 11 games, and probably should have won about six or seven more if he’d gotten decent run support. Carlos Silva chipped in 14 wins and a respectable 4.21 ERA. The bullpen was a question mark at the beginning of the year with the departures of LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado, but fans soon forgot those names. Juan Rincon made a great setup man, and Nathan, acquired from San Francisco before the season, had his first of many great years as the Twins’ closer.
The season started badly for the Twins’ hitters, as one superstar prospect lost his season to injury. But it ended on a positive note when another superstar prospect began to contribute to the big league team. Joe Mauer debuted to much fanfare, collecting two hits and two walks on Opening Day. But the next game, he suffered a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup until June. Six weeks later, injuries forced him out of the lineup for the rest of the year. By that time, 23 year old first baseman Justin Morneau had made a big impression. He hit 19 home runs in less than half a season of play, and made Doug Mientkiewicz expendable.
Mauer and Morneau were not the only contributors to the 2004 offense, just he most famous. The team’s other star player, Torii Hunter, enjoyed another solid year, knocking 23 home runs and collecting his fourth straight Gold Glove. Third Baseman Corey Koskie also hit well with 25 home runs and a team-leading .837 OPS. Jacque Jones chipped in 24 homers. By far the most surprising performance came from outfielder Lew Ford. The 27 year old was a one-year wonder in 2004. He posted a stellar .381 OBP to go with 15 homers and 20 steals.
These contributions helped the Twins coast to the division title, but there would be no coasting through the postseason. In the ALDS, they again faced the New York Yankees, the defending AL Champs who had ejected the Twins from the playoffs in 2003. Once again, the Yankees, winners of 101 games, were heavy favorites. But the Twins struck first in Game 1. Shannon Stewart hit an RBI single in the third inning, and Jones added a homer in the sixth. That was more than enough for Santana, who blanked the Yanks over seven innings for a 2-0 win.
Sadly, that was the last playoff win for the Twins, and not just in 2004. They fell 7-6 in 12 innings in Game 2, lost 8-4 in Game 3, and dropped another extra inning contest in Game 4 (6-5 in 11 innings), thus ending the 2004 pennant run. Ultimately, 2004 belonged to the Boston Red Sox, who went on to beat the Yankees in a dramatic ALCS and sweep the Cardinals in the World Series. The Twins, who have been to the playoffs three times since 2004, have been swept in the ALDS each time. Thus, their Game 1 win over New York is just an obscure footnote.