On a calm October night in the Bronx, the Twins slayed a dragon and put themselves in the driver’s seat against one of baseball’s giants. Unfortunately, the rest of the series wouldn’t go in Minnesota’s favor, and the Twins have yet to win a playoff game since October 5, 2004. Let’s revisit that fateful night and see how the team put together a winning formula. Can the current Twins learn anything from the last time the team won a playoff game?
Johan Santana’s Seven Shutout Innings
It’s no coincidence that Santana was on the mound for the Twins’ last postseason victory. He is arguably the most dominant pitcher in team history and was in his first Cy Young season. The Yankees scattered nine hits versus Santana over seven frames. New York had runners in scoring positions in five of the seven innings, and batters reached base in every inning.
Some opportune plays helped Santana get out of some possible jams. The first inning ended with an unconventional double play, with Santana striking out Bernie Williams and Henry Blanco throwing out Alex Rodriguez when he tried to steal third base. In the second inning, Torii Hunter threw Jorge Posada out at home after trying to tag up on a deep flyball. Santana also coaxed double plays to help him in the fourth and fifth innings. He was removed with a 2-0 lead and posted seven shutout innings with five strikeouts and one walk.
Just Enough Offense
The Twins were facing off against future Hall of Famer Mike Mussina in Game 1, so offense would be challenging for both teams. Shannon Stewart got the Twins on the board with an RBI single in the top of the third inning. Michael Cuddyer led off the inning with a single on a 2-1 pitch. On the next pitch, Henry Blanco executed a sacrifice bunt to move Cuddyer into scoring position. Mussina got ahead of Stewart with a 0-1 count before the Twins outfielder broke up the shutout.
Jacque Jones added an important insurance run in the sixth inning. He had arrived at Yankee Stadium just hours before the game after attending his father’s funeral. Jones was notoriously known as a pull hitter, but this home run went to the opposite field and snuck the ball over the fence at the old Yankee Stadium. Jones’ emotions were running high, and he helped give the bullpen a little more breathing room for the final innings.
As he crossed home plate, he showed how he felt about his father, pointing to the sky. "You know who that was for," Jones said following the game. "He's watching me like he always has even when he was here with us. I know he's excited, and I was excited."
Zeros from the Bullpen
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire turned the game over to the bullpen in the eighth inning. Juan Rincon was the first reliever out of the pen and came in to face the 2-3-4 batters in the Yankees line-up. After a flyball from Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield earned a four-pitch walk. Luckily, Rincon was able to get Bernie Williams to hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the innings. Joe Nathan entered in the ninth inning with a chance to preserve a 2-0 Twins victory. Both of the first two batters (Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui) flew out on two pitches. Ruben Sierra was the third batter of the inning, and he worked a full count before flying out to right field to end the game.
The Yankees went on to win the next three games in the series, including two games that went extra-innings. It was a frustrating way for the series to play out, but the recipe followed by the 2004 team might help the 2023 Twins to end their playoff losing streak. It will likely take a strong performance from the team’s starting pitcher, zeros put up by the bullpen, and enough offense to outpace their opponent.
Some strange plays can be involved in October baseball, as the Twins saw with Santana on the mound. It is up to the team to make the most of every opportunity. Can the current Twins follow this formula for October success? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.