GOTW: My Favorite Game from 2006

August 9, 2006
Comerica Park

Minnesota Twins 66-46 3rd AL Central @ Detroit Tigers 76-37 1st AL Central

Pre-Game

The Twins had been about as hot as a team could be. Since June 8 they had put together a 41-13 record, but seemed unable to make up ground in the AL Central. On June 7, they were in fourth place, 11.5 games behind surging Detroit. As the Twins’ incredible streak rolled on through the summer months, the Tigers seemed to be matching them almost win for win. Heading into a three game series in early August, the Twins had made up exactly two games on the AL Central leaders.

It seemed inevitable that the Tigers would finish their run to the AL Central crown in 2006. Just three years before, Detroit was in contention for the worst record in ML history (a record they avoided, in part, by beating the Twins on the last weekend of the season). Now, with Jim Leyland managing, the Tigers were good, on their way to being the best team in baseball. The offense was relentless all year, and were able to score enough runs to win games behind a solid young pitching staff.

With all of the talent the Tigers were sporting in 2006, a lot of the buzz was surrounding a young fire-baller out of the bullpen. Joel Zumaya had hit 100+ on the radar gun on several occasions in 2006, and actually saw a “103” on the board in the first game of the series against the Twins. Zumaya had been nearly un-hittable, and was sporting a microscopic 1.14 ERA since May 20.

The team in the other clubhouse was likely thinking of their chances to grab the AL Wild-Card, being so far out of the division race behind a red-hot leader. In fact, on August 8, they found themselves only 1.5 games behind the Yankees for the Wild Card lead. More frustrating was the fact that their rookie pitching phenom, Francisco Liriano, was likely to end up on the disabled list by day’s end.

Justin Morneau came into the game with 29 home runs on the season. That number is significant because the Twins had not had a 30 home run hitter in almost 20 years.

The teams split the first two games in a couple of well-played August ball games in front of a hot Detroit crowd. The stage was set for a great pitching match-up in the rubber game.

Managers:
Ron Gardenhire 5th Season (5th with Minnesota)
Jim Leyland 15th Season (1st with Detroit)

Pitchers (ERA/FIP/WHIP):
Johan Santana (L) 12-5 3.22/3.22/1.08 vs
Jeremy Bonderman 11-5 3.81/3.24/1.20

Twins Lineup 5.19 RPG
1. Luis Castillo 2B .284/.342/.371 3 HR
2. Nick Punto 3B .313/.403/.418 0 HR
3. Joe Mauer C .367/.445/.534 10 HR
4. Michael Cuddyer RF .266/.356/.497 16 HR
5. Justin Morneau 1B .323/.377/.600 29 HR
6. Torii Hunter CF .279/.351/.456 15 HR
7. Jason Kubel DH .273/.314/.443 8 HR
8. Jason Tyner LF .316/.362/.327 0 HR
9. Jason Bartlett SS .364/.432/.479 1 HR

Tigers Lineup 5.23 RPG
1. Placido Polanco 2B .298/.330/.365 3 HR
2. Craig Monroe DH .273/.308/.501 19 HR
3. Ivan Rodriguez 1B .307/.332/.447 9 HR
4. Magglio Ordonez RF .300/.348/.476 16 HR
5. Carlos Guillen SS .309/.391/.510 13 HR
6. Marcus Thames LF .273/.346/.587 21 HR
7. Brandon Inge 3B .246/.306/.469 20 HR
8. Vance Wilson C .283/.306/.458 4 HR
9. Brent Clevlen CF .455/.538/1.091 2 HR (14 PA)

The Game

36,339 gathered at Comerica Park for game three of the series. The Twins jumped ahead early in the top of the first when Nick Punto doubled home Luis Castillo with no outs. In the early innings, it looked like that might be enough run support for Johan Santana, who didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning.

Santana and Bonderman exchanged scoreless innings until the bottom of the sixth. Santana’s performance was highlighted by the strikeout (he had seven through the first five innings), while Bonderman seemed to be keeping the Twins’ lineup off balance.

In the Detroit sixth, Brent Clevelan, who had some success off of Santana in his career, led off the inning with a triple. Placido Polanco singled him home to tie the game.

The Twins answered in their half of the seventh. With one out, Jason Kubel drew a walk off of Bonderman. With Josh Rabe pinch-running, Jason Tyner singled to center to send Rabe to second. After a Jason Bartlett “productive out” pushed the runners up, Luis Castillo singled Rabe home to reclaim the lead for Minnesota.

Santana got himself into trouble in the bottom of the seventh with a lead-off walk to Carlos Guillen. It was only his second free pass of the game, but it came around to haunt the Twins when Brandon Inge hit a home run to left field to put the Tigers ahead.

In the top of the eighth, with Joe Mauer at first due to a lead-off walk surrendered by Jamie Walker, Joel Zumaya entered the game for the Tigers. Zumaya promptly struck Michael Cuddyer out on three straight called strikes to set up his match up with Justin Morneau.

Zumaya went with his best pitch, a fast ball, on the first pitch. Justin Morneau did the unthinkable, turning on the pitch and sending out, just inside of the right field foul pole for his 30th home run of the season. More importantly, the Twins were ahead to stay.

Juan Rincon, Denys Reyes, and Joe Nathan retired the final six Tigers in a row to close out the series win for the Twins.

Baseball-reference boxscore and play-by-play

Stars of the Game
1. Johan Santana MIN 7 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 10 K
2. Justin Morneau MIN GW-HR
3. Luis Castillo MIN 4-4 1 R, 1 RBI

Post-Game

The 2006 fate of these two teams split following this series. Here are the AL Central Standings after play on August 9 from Retrosheet:

Team Name                        G    W    L    T   PCT    GB    RS   RA
Detroit Tigers                 114   76   38    0  .667     -   594  447
Minnesota Twins                113   67   46    0  .593   8.5   585  512
Chicago White Sox              112   66   46    0  .589   9.0   637  549
Cleveland Indians              112   48   64    0  .429  27.0   602  570
Kansas City Royals             113   40   73    0  .354  35.5   517  680

Detroit went 19-29 over their last 48 games, including dropping their last five of the season putting their spot as AL Central champs in a vulnerable position.

The Twins went 29-20 over the same stretch and were able to overtake the Tigers and win an improbable division title.

Team Name                        G    W    L    T   PCT    GB    RS   RA
Minnesota Twins                162   96   66    0  .593     -   801  683
Detroit Tigers                 162   95   67    0  .586   1.0   822  675
Chicago White Sox              162   90   72    0  .556   6.0   868  794
Cleveland Indians              162   78   84    0  .481  18.0   870  782
Kansas City Royals             162   62  100    0  .383  34.0   757  971

It was the Tigers who had more post season success, however, defeating both the Yankees and the Tigers in the AL playoffs before falling to St. Louis in the World Series. The Twins, on the other hand, were swept in the first round.

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3 Responses to GOTW: My Favorite Game from 2006

  1. Beth says:

    Oh, man, do I remember that game. I rarely get a chance to watch a game, much less on a Wednesday night, but I happened to have dinner with my aunt and uncle that night, and my aunt excused my uncle and I while she cleaned up so we could watch the game. We were both very excited when Justin hit his home run. That was amazingly wonderful!

  2. Beau says:

    My two favorite games were:

    1)Justin Morneau’s broken bat single off Mariano Rivera

    2)Mauer and Cuddyer’s back to back jacks in the 9th to tie a game that we eventually won in extra-innings.

    In fact, my favorite games seem to coincide with Will Young’s WPA charts. If there’s a sharp, sharp incline right at the end, odds are they’re going to stick in my memory.

  3. Scot says:

    Beau- I was at the first game you list, against the Yankees. Good memories anytime the Twins beat the Yankees.

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