GOTW: Opening Day 2001

April 3, 2001
Comerica Park

Minnesota Twins (0-0) @ Detroit Tigers (0-0)

Pre-Game

In 2000, the Twins and the Tigers were both franchises facing hard times. It had been seven years since either team had seen a winning season. The Twins won the World Series in 1991, but fell off the map a few years later, struggling to stay above the .400 mark, much less .500.

Detroit was in pretty much the same situation, though they earned a few more wins than the Twins over the past several years. The glory days of the 80’s (1984, 1987) seemed a long ways away to a team that hadn’t had a winning season since before the strike of 1994. The franchise was expecting a boost from the new stadium opened in 2000, but had yet to have any success in the new building.

If it weren’t for the Kansas City Royals, an equally bad team in the 1990’s, the Twins and Tigers would have been fighting for fourth place in the five-team AL Central every year. The teams found themselves in familiar positions in 2000, comfortably out of the division race:

Team Name                        G    W    L    T   PCT    GB    RS   RA
Chicago White Sox              162   95   67    0  .586     -   978  839
Cleveland Indians              162   90   72    0  .556   5.0   950  816
Detroit Tigers                 162   79   83    0  .488  16.0   823  827
Kansas City Royals             162   77   85    0  .475  18.0   879  930
Minnesota Twins                162   69   93    0  .426  26.0   748  880

There was, however, some quiet optimism among the Twins and their fans; and for good reason. While they had endured eight losing seasons in a row, the Twins had built a young pitching staff, anchored around veteran Brad Radke, that had become the envy of many other teams. The feeling was that the Twins were one good hitter away from contending, and the hope was that the hitter would develop from within.

The Twins and the Tigers opened up the 2001 season with a two-game series at Comerica Park. The first game was an afternoon game.

Managers:
Tom Kelly 15th Season (15th with Minnesota)
Phil Garner 10th Season (2nd with Detroit)

*All stats from 2000

Pitchers
Brad Radke 12-16 4.45 ERA 1.38 WHIP vs
Jeff Weaver 11-15 4.32 ERA 1.39 WHIP

Twins Lineup 4.6 RPG
1. Cristian Guzman SS .247/.299/.388 8 HR
2. Luis Rivas 2B .310/.323/.414 0 HR
3. Matt Lawton RF .305/.405/.460 13 HR
4. Corey Koskie 3B .300/.400/.441 8 HR
5. David Ortiz DH .282/.364/.446 10 HR
6. Torii Hunter CF .280/.318/.408 5 HR
7. Jacque Jones LF .285/.319/.463 19 HR
8. Doug Mientkiewicz 1B /429/.400/.429 0 HR
9. A.J. Pierzynski .307/.354/.455 2 HR

Tigers Lineup 5.1 RPG
1. Roger Cedeno RF .282/.383/.398 6 HR
2. Damion Easley 2B .259/.350/.416 14 HR
3. Bobby Higginson LF .300/.377/.538 30 HR
4. Tony Clark 1B .274/.349/.529 13 HR
5. Billy McMillon DH .301/.388/.472 4 HR
6. Deivi Cruz SS .302/.318/.449 10 HR
7. Juan Encarnacion CF .289/.330/.443 14 HR
8. Shane Halter 3B .261/.302/.366 3 HR
9. Brandon Inge C (1st ML Game)

The Game

Baseball Reference boxscore and play-by-play

The scoring began in the Twins half of the second inning. With one out, David Ortiz and Torii Hunter hit back-to-back singles. Ortiz scored on a Jacque Jones ground out to give the Twins a 1-0 lead.

After starting the game with a walk, Brad Radke retired nine in a row to get the Twins through the first three innings.

In the top of the fourth, the Twins added to the lead with a David Ortiz solo home run off of Jeff Weaver. The Tigers answered in the bottom of the frame by getting two consecutive hits off of Radke to start the inning. A Tony Clark grounder to second scored Bobby Higginson to cut the Twins’ lead in half.

The Twins were unable to capitalize on a Doug Mientkiewicz triple that started the fifth inning, a sign of things to come for both teams. Over the course of the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, both teams were able to get hits off of the starting pitchers, but neither was able to turn those hits into runs.

That changed when A.J. Pierzynski launched a lead-off double in the eighth. He eventually scored on a pinch-hit sacrifice fly by Denny Hocking.

LaTroy Hawkins came on to close the game in the ninth, but ran into some trouble. A lead off walk, a wild pitch, and a single suddenly cut the Twins’ lead to just one with no outs. After walking a second batter with one out, Hawkins was pulled in favor of Bob Wells, who ended the game when Shane Halter lined into a double play.

Stars of the Game
1. Brad Radke MIN 8 IP 6 H 1 R 1 BB 2 K
2. David Ortiz MIN 2-4, 2 R, HR, RBI
3. Jeff Weaver DET 9 IP 6 H 3 R 3 BB 4 K

Post-Game

Despite the adventure in the ninth inning (a problem that would plague the Twins throughout 2001), the Twins built off of the initial win in Detroit to put together a pretty good start to the season. The team won 14 of its first 17 games to jump to an early lead in the AL Central. The Twins remained in the AL Central driver’s seat, for the most part, until a four game sweep at the hands of the Devil Rays in early August knocked them out of the division lead for good.

Though the 85-77 record was only good enough for second in the Central, the Twins benefited from the experience of a winning season and being close in the pennant race relatively late in the season. The very next year the team began a run of four out of five AL Central titles, and they are among the favorites to win a fifth in 2007.

One of the other favorites in 2007 is the Tigers, but they took a different path than the Twins. Detroit lost 96 games in 2001, but the worst was yet to come. Triple-digit losses in 2002 and 2003 finally gave way to somewhat respectable 90-loss seasons in 2004 and 2005. The 13-year long “rebuilding project” finally paid off for Tiger fans in 2006, when the team rode a 95-67 regular season record to a Wild-Card berth and eventually and AL Pennant.

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