2006: Twins 12, Tigers 1

Sunday September 10, 2006

From Lavelle E. Neal III’s game story in the Star Tribune:

The Twins trounced the Tigers 12-1 on Sunday, a victory that might signal change is coming in AL Central leadership.

It’s not just because the Twins took three of four from Detroit and now sit only two games behind them in the division race with 20 games remaining. Oh no. The path of destruction spans farther than that, including the two series they won over Chicago last month, as well as the series they won in Detroit.

One of those teams is the defending World Series champion. The other once was 40 games over .500 and was in first place by 10 games last month.

“We’ve come out and let them know we’re not a walkover,” infielder Nick Punto said. “In April and May, they thought we were walkovers. Now they know we’re not.”

The Twins also are 24-11 in the division since the All-Star break, winning nine of 11 series. Add it all up and it makes a strong case as to who’s the best team in the division.

The standings don’t reflect that – but that might change.

Two games back. One game back in the loss column.

One of the biggest reasons for the win was the Twins’ Cy Young candidate. Patrick Reusse argued that he should be the MVP:

As long as we can keep that man of principle, La Velle E. Neal III, away from the ballot box, Johan Santana has a shot to be the first starting pitcher to win a big-league Most Valuable Player Award since Oakland’s Vida Blue in 1971.

Mr. Neal, our veteran baseball writer, was one of two voters (along with George King of the New York Post) not to place Pedro Martinez on the 10-player ballot in 1999. This greatly benefited Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez in claiming the honor.

“The award is for guys who play every day, not pitchers,” said Neal, in rejecting Pedro’s rather solid season (23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313 strikeouts) as being worthy of MVP consideration.

On Sunday, as Santana was leaving to a roaring standing ovation after 6- 1/3 scoreless innings in the Metrodome, a colleague asked Neal if seven years later he maintained that stance on pitchers and MVP awards .

“Yes, but I don’t have the vote this year,” he said. “I’m voting for Rookie of the Year.”

That’s one obstacle removed. There are others, such as Boston’s David Ortiz, Chicago’s Jermaine Dye, New York’s Derek Jeter and Twins teammate Justin Morneau, but mostly this: Santana has made a late entrance into the MVP debate.

The first lobbying came recently from ESPN’s Buster Olney. After brief consideration, I found myself saying: “Baby-faced Buster is correct. The Twins are the most unlikely success story – Detroit included – in baseball this season, and the main reason is that on the fifth day, they know they are going to win.”

The Twins wound up cruising 12-1 past Detroit on Sunday, but Santana was required to get 18 outs in tense circumstances before the Twins broke it open.

A second consecutive scoreless outing put Santana’s record at 18-5 and lowered his ERA to 2.75. And his 11 strikeouts put his total at 230.

Those three numbers – 18, 2.75 and 230 – lead the majors.

The last fellow to lead both leagues in the pitching triple crown was the Mets’ Dwight Gooden in 1985. He was OK for a 20-year-old: 24-4, 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts.



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