Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Minnesota Twins Decade Retrospective: 2002

Well I am finally coming down to the wire. Unless something unforeseen happens, I may actually finish this silly little project this week. If you aren’t following me on Twitter by now, you should do so. And no, I won’t shut up until you do.

Whether it was the 10 wins of reliever Tony Fiore, or the delightfully nicknamed right field duo of Dusty Kilmohr (Dustan Mohr and Bobby Kielty) the 2002 Minnesota Twins had its share of unsung heroes.

What those unsung heroes managed to produce, was one of the most memorable seasons in Twins history.

After more than a decade of futility (or the Coomer years, as I lovingly call the 90s) the Twins returned to the playoffs in 2002. Fresh off their first winning season since 1992, the 2002 Twins proved right from the start that 2001 was much more than an aberration.

Playing in a notoriously weak division, the 2002 Twins cruised to a 94-67 record and an easy first place finish. A finish, that set up the most memorable playoff run of the decade.

Here are the rules again before I begin:

Successfulness: This one is pretty simple. Most successful team gets the highest score, least successful team gets the lowest score, and the rest fall somewhere in between. More cut and dry than the others, but there is some room for debate.

Memorableness: First off, yes, I know memorableness isn’t a word. I don’t care. Deal with it. This category is simply both how memorable the year was as a whole, and how many single moments stand out.

Likeability: This will be mostly about how likeable the team was, and how enjoyable they were to watch as a fan.

Intangibles: Other basic randomness that makes the year more or less enjoyable.

And away we go…

Successfulness – 10

For fairly obvious, three victories away from the World Series related reasons, 2002 was the Twins most successful season of the aughts.

After coming into the season with uncertain expectations, the Twins won the Central Divison by 13 games. The ease with which they won the division was attributed far more to the strength of the Twins divisional foes (or lack thereof) than the Twins actual talent. Because of this, the Twins went into the playoffs as heavy underdogs.

Continuing to embrace the underdog mentality the team had patented, the Twins defeated the favored Oakland A’s in an ALDS full of memorable moments before coming to a screeching halt against the Anaheim? Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim? California? -- I don’t even remember what the hell they were called that year anymore -- Angels. And of course that bastardly rally monkey.

Was it depressing as hell to watch Adam Kennedy hit three home runs to end the Twins magical run? Yes. Yes it was.

Ultimately, however, the unfortunate ending was nothing more than a blemish on one of the most enjoyable seasons in Twins history.

Memorableness – 9

I feel like of the Twins 94 wins in 2002, 90 of them were comeback wins. Obviously, this is not true, and for dramatic effect I don’t want to look up the actual number because it will probably be disappointingly small.

Point being, the 2002 Twins played in a lot of exciting games -- hell, I think even Denny Hocking had a walkoff hit once.

As exciting as the regular season was, however, what really stands out from 2002 is the Twins wild playoff ride.

I will never forget game one of the ALDS. The Twins were floundering, looking very much like the cute little team that lucked into the playoffs through a weak division (complete with one of those stupid “whose got it?” pop-ups that dropped somewhere between home plate and the pitcher’s mound). At that point everyone was thinking the same thing, “well it was fun while it lasted.”

Then, like they had done all year, the Twins began clawing back. Corey Koskie hit a home run, some other less descript stuff happened (so much for my memorableness), and the Twins ended up winning game one. Suddenly it seemed like the Twins had a chance.

The series continued to go back and forth, and when the teams headed to Oakland for a decisive game five, Twins fans hopes were high and expectations were low.

In that game the Twins, much like they had all year, found themselves in a nail-biter. With a tenuous 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth, the then-loved, now-hated A.J. Pierzynski hit a two run homer to give the Twins a 4-1 cushion. The team added another run before handing the ball over to “Everyday” Eddie Guardado.

Guardado, per usual, managed to give up 3 runs before nailing down the save and sending the Twins to an improbable berth in the ALCS.

Really, that game five was the epitome of the Twins season: keep the game close, score a few late inning runs, hand the ball over to “Everyday” Eddie, have him take the game to the brink before completing the save, and watch Denny Hocking cut his finger in a celebratory dog pile.

That last part actually doesn’t actually help epitomize the season; I just think it is funny.

Likeability – 9

Everything about the 2002 Twins was incredibly likeable. The team didn’t have any real “stars” per se (other than, arguably, Torii Hunter) so there wasn’t anyone to hog the limelight. Everyone got to choose their favorite player, and nobody could really question anyone’s choice because everyone on the team was kind of the same. Well, other than Travis Miller, that is.

Between re-introducing Twins fans to a winning team, appearing on the cover of ESPN The Magazine as the “Team that Saved Baseball,” and finally allowing the post-’91 Twins to be remembered for something other than Little Big League (which was awesome, mind you), it is impossible to argue with the joy the 2002 Twins brought fans.

Intangibles – 9

The Twins started the 2002 season in Kansas City. I remember this vividly because that first game seemed extra important. In reality, opening day means very little in the grand scheme of the season, but after a disappointing finish, and all the “aberration” driven contraction talk in 2001, the 2002 Twins had something to prove.

So when Jacque Jones strode to the plate as the first Twins batter of the season, his at bat seemed like the most important unimportant plate appearance in baseball history.

What happened?

Jones smashed a leadoff home run on the second pitch of the 2002 season.

I knew. I absolutely knew right then and there that 2002 was going to be special. Jones’s home run was just one little moment in a season full of thousands of little moments. But it is one little moment that stands out because of what it meant to all the Twins fans who had been tormented all offseason.

Did that one home run matter in the grand scheme life, or even the grand scheme of the baseball season? No.

But at that moment, nothing mattered more. And that, my friends, is why I love baseball.

Overall – 37


  1. Agreed, the 2002 squad was definitely one of my favorites. Watching them dismantle their opponents on the way to the ALCS after suffering through all those losing seasons, and the threat contraction, and the nearly-averted strike felt like sweet justice. Good stuff!

  2. The last four paragraphs of this breakdown gave me goosebumps. Well done.