On the eve of the year's first series against the Yankees, which some are calling the first true test for this Twins team, we thought it might be an appropriate time for a little retrospective. I'll admit that the recent history of this matchup hasn't been favorable for Minnesota, but hopes are high with a team that looks, at least on paper, like the strongest I've seen in my lifetime. Tom Pelissero at ESPN Twin Cities posted today about the failures of the Gardenhire Era, but we're going to take a look at the end of the previous regime. The Twins currently sit at 22-12, their best start since they jumped out to a 29-12 record in 2001, Tom Kelly's last year as manager. Coincidentally, this was the last season the Twins won both a series at Yankee stadium and the season series against New York, finishing 4-2 against the 3-time defending World Series champs. For a trip down memory lane, AK and I are going to briefly recount each matchup of the season.
Yankees at Twins
Game 1: April 30th, 2001. Twins Win 2-1.
Doug Mientkiewicz saves the day in this one with 2 hits and 2RBI as both Radke and Pettite go the distance. On a side note, does anyone out there remember those Twins commercial spots that were running on TV and Radio while Mientkiewicz was with the Twins? If not for those commercials, I would not be able to spell Doug's last name. Anyway. Tino Martinez was his typical Twins-killing self, but Radke was vintage Radke limiting the hits and walks and pitching efficiently.
Hey, was this the last time Soriano had a 4 hit game? I kid, I kid. Hard to score runs when you're going up against a Mike Mussina in his prime and he Ks 10 and walks zero in a complete-game effort. Mussina would go on to be one of the best pitchers in the AL in 2001 winning 17 games and finishing 5th in the Cy Young voting. Eric Milton pitched well in this one, but when the offense behind you only musters 3 hits, it doesn't really matter how well you pitch.
Game 3: May 2nd, 2001. Twins win 4-2.
EVERY Twins fan that is older than 20 remembers this game. The perfect storm came together on this night: $1 hotdog night, $3 beer night and student night...oh, and one Chuck Knoblauch. Having asked for and received a trade out of Minnesota to the Yankees in 1998, Knoblauch was not a popular player. Up until this point, Knoblauch had been a 2nd basemen and therefore somewhat insulated from the wrath of fans, save for a hearty round of boos when he would come to bat. Being in left field, however, put him a that much closer to the fans and, well, a mix of youth, domedogs, and alcohol birth a night Twins fans will never forget. It started right before the 6th inning with fans throwing beer cups, hotdogs and golf balls at Knoblauch. He had been treated similarly on the Monday night game, but this was a new level. Joe Torre took his team off the field and they stayed off the field for 12 minutes and the umps even considered calling the game a forfeit. Order was eventually restored and the game continued only to be interrupted a 2nd time in the 8th inning. You can re-live the moments here and here. Lost in all the drama was a great pitching performance for the Twins by Joe Mays, a 4 for 4 game by Doug Mientkiewicz...and most importantly a series win for the Twins against the Yankees.
Twins at Yankees
Game 1: May 8th, 2001. Twins win 2-0.
In the midst of an All-Star campaign that saw him go 15-7 with a 4.32 ERA, Eric Milton tossed a gem here, blanking the Yankees on four hits and striking out seven. Cristian Guzman went 3-5 with a home run (a very rare sighting indeed), and Doug Mientkiewicz added an RBI double, providing all the offense the Twins would need off El Duque. Interestingly, both Guzman and Milton were part of the package that the Yankees sent to Minnesota to acquire Knoblauch in 1998.
Game 2: May 9th, 2001. Yankees win, 2-0.
The Twins got another solid pitching performance from Joe Mays, their other All-Star pitcher, but Roger Clemens returned the favor from the night before. He dominated the Twins over eight innings, striking out eight and walking only one, and Rivera nailed down the save. Again, Guzman and Mientkiewicz provide the bulk of the Twins' limited offense. Knoblauch got some measure of revenge for his debris shower at the Dome by homering off of "Steady" Eddie Guardado in the 7th, providing the go-ahead and winning run.
Game 3: May 10, 2001. Twins win 5-4.
This was a bit of a wild one. Mark Redman (a name that prompted more of a "who was that guy" reaction rather than nostalgia) got the start for the Twins and was effective, limited the Yankees to two runs on two hits in six innings of work. Entering with a four-run lead thanks to more hot hitting from Dougie Baseball (who was hitting .412(!) at this point in the season) and a nice 3 for 4 day from current Public Enemy #1, Redman exited after giving up a 7th inning home run to Derek Jeter and walking Paul O'Neill. Bob Wells proceeded to give up a single to Bernie Williams and then a game-tying three run home run to Tino Martinez later in the inning, eventually sending the game into extras. In the top of the 10th, Pierzynski lined a double and Guzman followed with a bloop single. With a runner on third, catcher Joe Oliver allowed a passed ball on an 0-2 fastball from Rivera, allowing AJ to score from third. Latroy Hawkins pitched a scoreless bottom of the 10th for his 11th save. The Twins won the series 2-1, and there was much rejoicing.
So what's the point of this? It's obviously not some attempt to relive the "glory days," but we mostly just found it fun to look at old box scores and remember the times when the likes of Koskie and Radke patrolled the artificial turf. (And who knows, maybe TK had some sort of tricks up his sleeve that season.) Nor is this a reason to wallow in failure or make excuses, because this is a new season and there's plenty to be hopeful about. This series isn't going to make or break the 2010 Twins, nor did it for the 2001 squad. But the bottom line is that the road to a championship likely goes through New York, so hopefully the Twins can take a step tonight towards getting past whatever mental block they have about playing in the Bronx and show that they're ready to be serious contenders.