Today we're launching a 20-part series in which we look back at each Minnesota Twins season of the 2000s. A rotation of different writers will highlight key moments, unearth forgotten details, and share nostalgic tales from the past two decades leading up to the present. Our first installment covers the 2000 season.
Team Record: 69-93
Finish: 5th Place in AL Central
All Star(s): Matt Lawton (OF)
After their World Series victory in 1991, the Twins won 90 games in 1992 but missed the playoffs. It would be their last finish above .500 in the '90s. The realignment in 1994 created a five-team AL Central, and Minnesota placed fourth or fifth in each of the newly created division's first six seasons.
The world didn't end on Y2K, nor did this momentous milestone disrupt Minnesota's reliable pattern of losing. The 2000 season saw them finish last in the Central with a 69-93 record, but there was a real feeling of progress and momentum in a rebuild being orchestrated by Terry Ryan, who took over as general manager when Andy MacPhail departed in 1994. By this point, the seeds of Ryan's biggest trade – sending Chuck Knoblauch to the Yankees for four prospects in '96 – were bearing fruit, with all four appearing for the Twins in 2000:
- Shortstop Cristian Guzmán took a big step forward in his sophomore campaign at age 22. Though he remained raw and unrefined at the plate (.247/.299/.388 with an OPS+ of 70), his athleticism became unignorable as he notched a team-record 20 triples and stole 28 bases.
- Starter Eric Milton, now an established rotation fixture at age 24, reaffirmed his status as No. 2 behind Brad Radke, logging an even 200 innings with a 4.86 ERA that was solidly above-average for the offense-heavy era.
- Outfielder Brian Buchanan reached the majors for the first time at age 26, debuting on May 19th and making 93 plate appearances with a .232/.301/.305 slash line. He hit 27 homers at Class-AAA Salt Lake in 2000, but only one with the Twins.
- Reliever Danny Mota pitched four times as a September call-up, giving up five earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. It was his only MLB stint.
Mota didn't amount to anything as a Twin, and Buchanan didn't amount to much, but the other two joined an emerging core that would soon lead Minnesota back into contention. Plenty of other familiar names were finding their footing as well. For example:
- Torii Hunter opened as the team's center fielder, but was sent down in late May with a .207/.243/.300 slash line and 32-to-6 K/BB ratio. After putting up a 1.130 OPS with 18 homers in 55 games at Triple-A, he returned in late July and hit .332/.371/.485 the rest of the way. From then on, there was no looking back.
- Corey Koskie spent his first full season as Twins third baseman, slashing .300/.400/.441 in 146 games at age 27 while coming into his own defensively.
- Jacque Jones took over as full-time left fielder at 25 and launched a team-leading 19 homers – 18 of them against righties.
- A.J. Pierzynski, 23, got his first substantive taste of the majors after sipping coffee in 1998 and '99. He took over as primary catcher following a mid-August callup, and his impressive production (.307/.354/.455) convinced manager Tom Kelly to stick with him thereafter.
- Most significantly, a 21-year-old Rule 5 pick named Johan Santana took his lumps as the Twins were forced to keep him on the major-league roster. Working mostly as a low-leverage reliever, the rookie posted a 6.49 ERA in 86 innings, showing no signs of the dominance to come. A meeting with Triple-A pitching coach Bobby Cuellar, who would help him develop a legendary changeup, was still on the horizon.
For now, Radke was leading the pitching staff, while Matt Lawton set the pace offensively, batting third and slashing .305/.405/.460 with 44 doubles and a 63-to-91 K/BB ratio. The club's lone All-Star in 2000, he teamed with Jones and Hunter to form the outfield's "Soul Patrol," embedding some signature character in this scrappy underdog bunch.
The puzzle hadn't yet come together. But pieces were in place.
Team MVP: Brad Radke (SP)
Other Contenders: Corey Koskie (3B), Jacque Jones (OF), Matt Lawton (OF), Eric Milton (SP)
Radke will forever be underrated by many because it's hard now to fathom how wildly different the hitting environment was 20 years ago. He had plenty of outstanding seasons with an ERA above four, and this was one of them. It wasn't even one of Radke's better years, but his 4.45 ERA, 116 ERA+ and 1.37 WHIP over 226 2/3 innings still made him far-and-away the Twins' leader in both fWAR and bWAR.
A reliable workhorse as usual at age 27, Radke averaged 6 2/3 innings per start and threw four complete games. Although he led the American League in losses (16) he also notched 12 wins for a last-place team. This was the fifth in a string of six seasons where Radke made 32+ starts and threw 218+ innings.
3 Most Pivotal Games
April 3rd: Lost vs. Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 7-0
The first pitch from Radke on Opening Day at the Metrodome was launched over the fence by Rays center fielder Gerald Williams for a home run. It was a tone-setter for this game and this season, while also perfectly epitomizing Radke's career-long struggle to find his groove early in games.
April 10th: Lost @ Kansas City Royals, 6-5
The Twins rebounded from their setback in the opener with a pair of walk-off wins. A week later they were 3-4, looking to get back to .500, when they rallied for two in the ninth against Royals closer Ricky Botallico to draw even. LaTroy Hawkins, who'd already thrown 2 2/3 innings in relief of Sean Bergman, was sent out again by Kelly for the bottom of the ninth. He gave up a walk-off homer to Johnny Damon right away, and the Twins lost five of their next six games to dig a hole.
May 13th: Lost @ Chicago White Sox 4-3
In spite of these early trials, the Twins rallied back over the following month. After taking two of three from Cleveland at home, they set their sights on the division-leading White Sox, moving within 2 1/2 games of first place with a series-opening victory at Comiskey on May 12th. The following night, they jumped to an early 3-0 lead, which narrowed to 3-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth. There, Bob Wells coughed up a two-run walkoff homer to Jeff Abbott. This setback sparked a five-game losing streak, and the Twins were never factors in the standings again.
I mentioned earlier that the first pitch thrown at the Metrodome in 2000 left the yard for a home run. That was also true of the last pitch. Lawton hit a walk-off homer against White Sox reliever Kevin Beirne in the final home game of the season on September 28th, a 6-5 win.
Ripken's 3000th Hit
The future Hall of Famer was one of several to check off this milestone under the teflon roof. Cal Ripken Jr. was a mere shell of his former self by now at age 39, but it was still a memorable moment at the Metrodome when he singled against Minnesota's Hector Carrasco on April 15th.
It was the most thrilling comeback of this season, and few since can match it. On May 10th, Minnesota was hosting the five-time reigning division champion Indians, and entered the bottom of the seventh trailing 8-1 before rallying for six runs to move within one. Eddie Guardado gave up a solo shot to David Justice in the top of the ninth, pushing Cleveland's lead back to two. In the bottom half, Ron Coomer drew the Twins back within one, driving in Lawton on an RBI single. Butch Huskey flew out before Midre Cummings stepped in with two outs and delivered a walk-off two-run homer. Twins win 10-9. At the time, it was a huge victory.
Inaugural Twins Hall of Fame Inductees
On August 12th, the Twins officially created their team Hall of Fame, inducting six individuals for the inaugural class: Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek, Kirby Puckett and Calvin Griffith.
One Detail You Probably Forgot
Denny Hocking is generally remembered as a no-hit utilityman, and for the most part he was. But in this year, and this year alone, Hocking actually brought a decent bat, slashing .298/.373/.416 for a .789 OPS that would end up as his career high by more than 100 points.
The Twins had the lowest payroll in the league in 2000, at $16 million. Yes, that is about $2 million less than Jake Odorizzi was slated to make in 2020. Radke was the highest-paid player at $3.5 million, followed by Lawton at $2 million.