Great Missed Opportunity: 2006 Minnesota Twins


The Minnesota Twins great run of Division Titles has run its course. From 2002 until 2010, the Twins won the Central Division Title six times in nine seasons (and narrowly missing a seventh title in 2008 in a one game tie breaker.)

It was a remarkable reversal of fortune for a franchise who was rumored to be contracted after the 2001 season only to go on a wonderful post season run that began in the Metrodome and finished in the beautiful new Target Field.

Chances are few will remember the Twins as an October regular moving forward. The team is in full rebuilding mode and the squad never made it to the World Series, only winning the Division Series in 2002. Teams that don’t win it all seldom are remembered. Teams that fail to win the pennant are even more obscure.

But the year the Twins will probably regret letting the pennant slip away the most is 2006.

So many elements were working in the Twins favor that year to make 2006 potentially the greatest and most loved team in Minnesota history.

Yes, greater than the 1991 World Champions, who Jack Morris led to victory in the greatest World Series of the last 30 years.

Yes, more loved than the 1987 World Champions, who looked like a slow pitch softball team and took advantage of a scheduling quirk that gave them home field advantage over a superior Tigers and injured Cardinals squad.

And perhaps even more revered than the 1965 squad who came so close to beating Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers in the World Series.

This was a star studded team of stars whom Twins fans could claim as their own.

Johan Santana won his second Cy Young Award that year and was establishing himself as the top pitcher in baseball and a potential Hall of Famer.

Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter was one of the most exciting players in the game, hit a career high 31 homers in 2006 to go with his speed and exceptional defense.

Home town hero Joe Mauer became the first AL catcher to become the batting champion, doing so by hitting at a .347 clip and an OPS of .936.

In fact an argument could be made that Justin Morneau was the 4th best player on his own team. But his .321 average, 34 HR, 130 RBI and .934 OPS helped him win the AL MVP.

Luis Castillo, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Bartlett all were terrific in the lineup while Joe Nathan and Dennys Reyes set up one of the game’s top bullpens.

The 2006 season did not start well for Minnesota. Kirby Puckett, the beloved yet secretly troubled Hall of Famer of the 1987 and 1991 teams, died during spring training. The team itself began the season 25-33 and fell far behind the defending World Champion White Sox and the surprising Detroit Tigers.

But two things happened that ignited the Twins: Francisco Liriano emerged as a second ace alongside Santana. Then the Twins dominated the National League in Interleague Play.

Minnesota took 16 of 18 interleague games and made the AL Central a log jam. Eventually they passed the defending champion White Sox and with a wild September clinched a playoff berth despite losing Liriano to injury.

The Tigers needed just one win against the 100 loss Royals at the end of the season to clinch the Central, but they got swept. The Twins moved into a first place tie and on the last day of the season, clinched the AL Central. Game 162 was the only day the Twins had first place to themselves.

The mad dash for the Central title was more than a formality. The Twins would avoid the Yankees, who knocked them out of the post season in 2003 and 2004 (and would do so later in 2009 and 2010.) Instead they drew the Oakland A’s, a fine team but hardly world beaters.

They would have home field advantage in the Division Series instead of starting on the road in the Bronx. And their luck was further extended as the Tigers dusted themselves off and made quick work of New York, winning in 4 games.

But they ran into two problems: Frank Thomas’ bat and a hit that even Torii Hunter couldn’t catch.

Thomas missed the 2005 post season with injuries and did not play in the White Sox World Series run. Now healthy and with Oakland, Thomas launched two homers in the opening game in the Metrodome. Barry Zito out dueled Johan Santana for a 3-2 Oakland win.

Game 2 was another close affair as Boof Bonser pitched 6 solid innings and the score was tied 2-2 in the 7th. With two outs and a runner on in the 7th, Torii Hunter attempted one of his signature highlight reel catches on a line drive by Mark Kotsay. It eluded Hunter and went for a 2 out go ahead 2 run inside the park home run. The A’s would hold onto the 5-2 victory.

By the time the series returned to a carnival atmosphere in Oakland, the series was knotted up. Oakland jumped all over Brad Radke and cruised to an easy 8-3 victory, the only post season series victory to date for the Billy Beane A’s.

The Twins were out and their great comeback against the Tigers was a footnote. It would be Detroit who would go on to win the pennant and lose to a streaking St. Louis squad.

How would the Santana-Hunter-Mauer-Morneau-Cuddyer-Nathan Twins have fared against the Cardinals that year? Would 2006 be the year that Ron Gardenhire had the honor of being the manager of a World Series winner? Would that have been the moment where the Twins had the final laugh against the contraction rumors?

The Twins would go on to be competitive, winning the Central in 2009 and 2010 but being swept by the Yankees in both years.

But those teams did not have the star power of the 2006 squad. By 2008 Santana was a Met and Hunter was an Angel. By then the Twins seemed like the obligatory entry from the Central, an afterthought rather than a legit pennant contender.

The team in 2006, with the elite players hitting their prime and the comeback and the path cleared by Detroit eliminating New York, had everything align to be one of the great teams and highlights in the history of the franchise.

Mauer would have led his childhood team to the title. He and Morneau would have formed the new “M&M Boys” and given that combo some substance with their wonderful style.

Santana’s Hall of Fame credentials would have received a shot in the arm as would have the legacy of Torii Hunter.

Instead a pennant has eluded all of those stars to this day.

Gardenhire’s legacy would be similar to Mike Scioscia’s, whose 2002 Angels won it all and his subsequent Division Titles helped his legacy rather than hurt it.

All of this could have happened if 2006 went their way.

Instead they are just another team who got swept in the Division Series and lost to history.

Alas a great missed opportunity for the Twins.

I couldn’t give less of a crap if A-Rod play poker

Look, I love it when A-Rod does stupid things. It’s good for business. A-Rod gets Yankee fans angry (because after delivering Yankee fans 2 MVPs and a World Series title, enough is enough!)

And other fans hate him because he has the audacity of being handsome, talented and wealthy. And it is good to see people like that fall on their face.

But this latest controversy just seems kind of desperate.
It feels like writers are stretching out their “A-Rod controversy muscles” to make sure they don’t rot via atrophy.

Let me get this straight. A-Rod played poker for a lot of money.
Well, A-Rod has a lot of money. If anyone can go play high stakes poker, it is someone who has made a quarter of a billion dollars.

Is the poker ring illegal? Um… fine. So is jaywalking. I don’t really care if a grown man with a lot of money plays poker.

Lots of drug users were there? Wow. A guys with a lot of money and a lot of testosterone were doing drugs? Next thing you will tell me that people smoked pot before a Phish concert.

So now they are investigating it. OK, fine.

If it turns out that A-Rod put a lot of money on the 2005, 2006 and 2007 playoffs for the Yankees to lose (and he combined for 1 RBI in those series) then give me a call.

If they find out that A-Rod was diving face first into piles of cocaine Tony Montana style, then call the editor.

Until then, this story is more dull than The English Patient… and that’s saying something.

You want to start busting players on something, then how about taking your nose out of them playing cards. How about handing out suspensions for DUIs?

How much scrutiny did Tony LaRussa get driving drunk?
Derek Lowe? Miguel Cabrera?

Or do we need another Jim Leyritz story? Or Josh Hancock?

I’ve never heard of a kid being killed by someone playing cards.

Meanwhile, they have still never designed a microscope powerful enough to detect how little a crap I give about A-Rod’s gambling.

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I admit, it doesn’t look good for the Giants.

I am rooting for them to win the National League Pennant and any team that has Tim Lincecum pitching twice in a series can’t be counted COMPLETELY out.

But it will be a longshot.

There is NOTHING the Phillies can’t do now and their lineup is a little more fearsome than the Braves.

A safe bet would be the Phillies winning in 5 games.

But every once in a while there is a playoff match up that looks like a total mismatch (even worse than this Phillies/Giants NLCS) that turns out to raise a middle finger to all of the predictions.

Obviously there are some great historical upsets… like the 1926 Cardinals, the 1954 Giants, the 1969 Mets and 1988 L. A. Dodgers come to mind.

But let’s look just at the Wild Card era (1995 to present) and see which series looked like no brainers and it turned out the experts had no brain.


1997 ALCS

The Orioles led wire to wire and won 98 games. The Indians won only 86 games and barely squeaked past the Yankees in the Division Series.

The Orioles shut out the Indians in Game 1 and had a 2 run lead in the 8th inning of Game 2.

Marquis Grissom hit a 3 run shot off of Armando Benitez in Game 2. Then the Indians won in 12 for Game 3 and finished Game 4 with a walk off win.

The Indians overcame a brilliant Mike Mussina outing in Game 6 to win in 11 innings and stunned Baltimore.

1997 NLCS

The Braves had won 4 of the last 5 pennants. With a 101 win season, a 5th pennant in 6 years looked all but assured. The Marlins won 92 games and the wild card, but they were playing the varsity team and looked over matched.

The Marlins won a pair early but the Braves tied the series when Denny Neagle threw a complete game shutout in Game 4. With Maddux and Glavine looming in Games 5 and 6, it looked bleak for Florida.

The late Eric Gregg called any pitch that Livan Hernandez threw a strike as long as it didn’t hit the ground. He struck out 15, giving the Marlins the lead.

Tom Glavine imploded in the first inning of Game 6, letting the first four batters read base and having them all score before the Braves even came to bat. It would be all Kevin Brown would need to clinch the pennant.

The Yankees were in full dynasty mode. The Angels had never won a post season series and looked like a bunch of inexperienced kids heading into Yankee Stadium. No doubt this would be a forgettable series much like the Yankees manhandling the Rangers all of those years.

The Yankees rallied to win game 1 in the 8th and took a lead late into Game 2. It was going to be a sweep a la the Yankees/Texas series of the past.

Garret Anderson and Troy Glaus hit back to back 8th inning homers off of El Duque to take the lead in Game 2. Then in Game 3, the Yankees blow an early 6-1 lead and the Angels break the tie with a Tim Salmon home run in the 8th.

David Wells melts down in the 5th inning of Game 4 as the Angels score 8 times and go on to win their first ever playoff series.

Thanks to a 20 game winning streak, an MVP season from Miguel Tejada, a Cy Young season from Barry Zito and 103 wins, the A’s looked poised to stampede into the ALCS. The Twins, who were rumored to be contracted just the year before, were just happy to be there.

A series of Twins blunders gave the A’s a 5-1 lead in Game 1, making it clear that this series was Men versus Boys. Later, the A’s were up 2-1 with Hudson and Mulder ready for games 4 and 5.

The Twins came back to win that Game 1 and scored 11 unanswered runs in Game 4.

A. J. Pierzynski’s homer and David Ortiz’s double broke open a tense Game 5 in the 9th. The Twins would need every run as Mark Ellis homered to bring the A’s to within 1 but Ray Durham, the potential series winning run, popped up to give the upstart Twins a most unlikely series win.

The Tigers slumped badly down the stretch and went from a lock for the Division title, home field in the Division Series and playing the A’s to claiming the Wild Card and going to New York to face a stacked and eager to wipe away 2004 from their memories Yankee team. They were no match.

The Yankees torched Nate Robertson for 5 runs in the third and cruised to an 8-4 Game 1 win. Then Johnny Damon hit a three run shot in Game 2 and it looked like the sweep was on.

Carlos Guillen hit a game tying homer off of Mike Mussina but Curtis Granderson drove the Yankees crazy. He got a run scoring sacrifice fly in Game 2 and gave the Tigers the lead with an RBI triple. In Game 3, former Yankee Kenny Rogers out pitched Randy Johnson in what turned out to be the Big Unit’s final game for New York.

Joe Torre dropped the slumping Alex Rodriguez to 8th in the fourth game and gave the starting assignment to Jaret Wright. He was bombed and the Tigers finished the Yankees in 4.


With the Yankees eliminated in the Division Series, the Mets looked poised to capture the city’s baseball heart. Neither American League team (the Tigers nor the A’s) looked dominating and all they had to do for the pennant was beat an injured and underachieving Cardinals team who won only 83 games.

The Mets shut out the Cardinals in Game 1, scored 3 in the first of Game 2 and were tied going into the 9th of Game 2. The Mets were clearly in control.

So Taguchi hit a go ahead 9th inning homer off of Billy Wagner to give the Cardinals a Game 2 win. Then, behind Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver, took a 3-2 series lead back to Shea.

The Mets forced a Game 7 which was an all time classic. Endy Chavez preserved a tie with a mindboggling catch that turned a go ahead homer into an inning ending double play. Yadier Molina homered in the 9th to give St. Louis the win and rookie Adam Wainwright got Carlos Beltran to strikeout looking with the bases loaded in the 9th to win the pennant. The Mets have never recovered.

Interestingly, there are 6 upsets but only 3 different years. They’ve come in pairs.

Are the Giants as unlikely to win as the 2006 Cardinals or Tigers?
Probably not.

So there is hope.

Maybe one of the Giants pitchers will get Ryan Howard looking to end the series!
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