Wednesday August 20, 2003
For the bulk of the summer of 2003, the Twins found themselves behind in the AL Central Standings. After running away with the division in 2002 with relative ease, the team had hit several speed bumps in 2003. Heading into the break, the Twins were 44-49, in third place in the division, 7.5 games behind surprising Kansas City and half a game behind second place Chicago.
The Shannon Stewart trade the day after the break seemed to provide a spark, however. The team rattled off five consecutive wins out of the break to even their record at .500. The Twins slowly continued to chip into the Royals’ lead. After taking two out of three from the Royals, and with a win in the first game in Cleveland on August 19, the Twins were as close as they had been since July 2 – just 1.5 games out of first place.
The Indians were heading in the exact opposite direction. After dominating the division for almost a decade, they found themselves 18 games below the .500 mark, and well out of contention.
The pitching matchup for game two of the series:
Brad Radke 8-10 5.09 ERA 25 BB 91 K
Brian Anderson 9-9 3.83 ERA 30 BB 67 K
From LENIII’s game story:
The examples were everywhere Wednesday night during the Twins’ 4-3 victory over the Indians: The team is serious about returning to first place in the American League Central Division.
There was Dustan Mohr dropping down a key two-strike sacrifice bunt. There was Torii Hunter making an unexpected dash home on a popup just beyond the infield. And there was Brad Radke grinding through an admittedly sluggish outing.
And three Cleveland errors that led to three Twins runs made the Twins’ effort pay off.
“It was kind of an ugly win,” Radke said.
The Twins also have had more than their share of ugly losses this season but they now are only one-half game back in the Central traffic jam.
Kansas City leads Chicago by percentage points but comes to the Metrodome this weekend for four games against a focused Twins team.
“I’m like a pit bull,” said Hunter, who scored the winning run after tagging up from third on the popup in the seventh inning. “When I taste blood, I’m locked in on you. We are all locked in right now.”
The Twins went 4-1 on the road trip and are 21-12 since the All-Star break. As a result of this surge, the Twins are seeking to return to first place for the first time since June 30. They have spent 52 days in third place but are a victory away from moving up.
“There were guys who didn’t think we would be where we’re at now and were writing us off,” outfielder Jacque Jones said. “We were going to take it one game at a time.
“We were getting bombarded by our own papers, our own media, sometimes by our own coaches. But we keep coming back, and that’s the type of team we have.”
The Twins spent the early afternoon watching the Yankees-Royals game on television. It was entertaining in that Kansas City battled back before losing 8-7. There was little emotion in the clubhouse when the game ended, because the Twins knew it would mean nothing if they lost to the Indians.
Hunter, however, whispered “Thank you” when the Yankees closed out the victory.
A few hours later, teammates and coaches were shouting thank-you’s at Hunter for his heads-up play.
Mohr had just moved Hunter and A.J. Pierzynski to second and third with a nifty two-strike sacrifice bunt. Cristian Guzman lifted a high popup behind second base. Second baseman John McDonald made the play, but his momentum took him a few steps to his right.
Hunter took off for home as soon as McDonald caught the ball, and he dived past catcher Tim Laker’s tag. Laker couldn’t believe Hunter was ruled safe, argued the call and was ejected by plate umpire Scott Nelson.
Before Laker left the field, he tossed his glove and mask toward home plate, then threw a stool that was near his dugout. It was the second time in five days that Hunter scored a controversial run, leading to a catcher ejection and a tantrum.
“You have to take chances,” Hunter said. “If you make an out, everyone is going to talk about you.”
Radke (9-10) gave up three runs on four hits in the first inning, then scattered four hits over the next six innings before handing the ball to the bullpen and packing his bags for a victorious flight home and a chance to return to first place.
“It came pretty easy for us last year,” Radke said of winning the division title. “This is kind of new, to tell you the truth. A couple of years ago, we had a great first half and we fell off the table the second half. This is kind of new for us, not having led like we did last year.
“We’re a little behind and it’s going to be fun this weekend.”
The Twins were just a half game out following the win. Still, it would be a couple more weeks before they would actually find themselves in first place. On September 3 the Twins beat the Angels to move into a tie for first. It wasn’t until September 15th, however, that they found themselves on top of the division alone. They didn’t look back after that point, cruising to the team’s second consecutive division title by going 25-11 after the August 20 game.