|© 2004 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.|
Twins monthly recap10/03/2004 7:00 PM ET
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
The club got off to a solid start despite some adverse situations. Several extra-inning games wore out there bullpen. To get help, 41-year-old lefty Terry Mulholland was acquired from Seattle for $1 to shore up the bullpen. It also didn't take long for injuries to strike. In the second game of the season on April 6, super rookie Joe Mauer and center fielder Torii Hunter were hurt and went on the DL. Mauer missed two months and was limited to 35 games all season because of surgery on his left knee. While Hunter missed two weeks with a hamstring pull, it paved the way for Lew Ford's arrival. Ford played so well that he never went back to Triple-A. Veteran Henry Blanco became a steady replacement in Mauer's place behind the plate.
As more injuries hit key players, the club's offensive production slowed. The Twins hit an AL-worst .245 for the month. Left fielder and leadoff catalyst Shannon Stewart came down with plantar fasciitis in his right foot and went on the DL for nearly two months. Matthew LeCroy proved his mettle as a pinch-hitter, getting three homers in his first three pinch-hit at-bats. LeCroy's ninth-inning grand slam at Toronto sparked a huge 6-5 comeback win in what was one of the more exciting games in 2004. As tough as things got both this month and this season, Minnesota never trailed first place by more than 2 1/2 games.
Mauer returned briefly from the DL and showed his hitting prowess was as advertised. The 21-year-old also slugged his first Major League homer on June 6, a three-shot in the bottom of the eight that gave Minnesota a win over Detroit. Although setup man J.C. Romero's struggles got him briefly sent to the minors to regroup, the Twins' revamped bullpen emerged as one of the league's toughest. Joe Nathan began emerging as a tough closer and eighth-inning man Juan Rincon was 8-3 with a 1.84 ERA in the first half. Although the Twins swept the Mets and Expos in Interleague Play and took two of three at Boston, run support was still an issue -- the club lost four straight to end the month, including being swept at home by the White Sox.
Although Nathan was the club's lone All-Star, it appeared by midseason to be the Summer of Santana. Left-hander Johan Santana went 3-2, but held a 1.17 ERA with 15 walks compared to 61 strikeouts. He was named AL Pitcher of the Month. A heated division dogfight with the White Sox continued. A defining moment was July 26 at Chicago when Hunter's clean, but hard-nosed home-plate collision with catcher Jamie Burke helped give Minnesota an important win. The Twins swept the series and never lost first place again. Mauer played his last game of the season on July 15 because of recurring soreness to his knee. Doug Mientkiewicz also went on the DL with a wrist injury, which cleared the way for Justin Morneau to play first base. Needing power in the cleanup spot, the change became permanent. On July 31, Mientkiewicz was dealt to the Red Sox while Boston was in town. Hours later, Mientkiewicz was in a Red Sox uniform playing against his old team.
Nathan continued his sensational summer as one of the league's best closers, and set a club record with his 25th consecutive save in a win over Oakland on Aug. 7. The streak ended at 27 with a blown save against the Yankees on the 19th. After an 18-inning loss to the A's on Aug. 8, the club struggled and saw a surging second-place Indians team close the gap in the standings to just one game. The turning point of the season came on Aug. 15, when the Twins beat Cleveland at Jacobs Field on Corey Koskie's 10th-inning homer. The Indians faded far from the picture. Meanwhile, Santana was 6-0 with a 2.08 ERA and won back-to-back Pitcher of the Month Awards.
Just like in 2003, the Twins showed they know how to finish a season. They won a stretch of 13 of 15 games to open up September and put serious distance on the White Sox and Indians. Minnesota enjoyed some extra satisfaction Sept. 20 when it clinched its third straight AL Central title at U.S. Cellular Field in front of archrival Chicago's players and fans. Individually, Santana continued to add to his Cy Young Award credentials, by winning his 20th game on Sept. 24, while setting a new single-season club strikeout record. The lefty went 18-2 with a 1.36 ERA in his final 22 starts and 13-0 with a 1.21 ERA after the All-Star break. September proved to Santana's most dominant month of all, as he won five of six starts and boasted a 0.45 ERA to win his third straight Pitcher of the Month Award.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Twins Homepage | MLB.com