A magical season has cometo a crashing halt for the Minnesota Twins. The Twins gave up a playoff-record 10 runs in one inning to the Anaheim Angels, whose 13-5 victory brought baseball's American League pennant to southern California for the first time.
The Twins came into game five of the American League Championship Series determined to score runs. Their production in each of the two previous games in Anaheim had been singular -- one run in each game. By the second inning of game five, Minnesota had doubled that output and held the lead over the Angels for the first time in three games.
While they were happy to get on the scoreboard first, centerfielder Torii Hunter says the Twins stayed focused on the task ahead of them.
"When we had the two-run lead, we really didn't think about anything. We just tried to play every inning and get some more runs. Because you need more runs, there's no telling what those guys can do, " Hunter said.
The Angels got a run back in the third inning on an Adam Kennedy home run, then took a three to two lead in the fifth when Kennedy hit another homer.
When the Twins starting pitcher, Joe Mays, got in trouble in the sixth, Manager Ron Gardenhire brought relief pitcher Johan Santana in from the bullpen and he quickly disposed of the Angels threat. Then, in their half of the seventh, the Twins scored three runs to regain the lead. Things were looking bright for Minnesota. It didn't last.
The bottom of the seventh inning was a catastrophe for the Twins' relievers.
Not since the Hoover administration had a baseball team allowed 10 runs in a single inning of a postseason game.
The Angels hit nine singles in the seventh. There was also a walk, a hit batsman, a wild pitch, and the third home run of the game for Adam Kennedy, a player who hit only seven homers in the entire regular season.
In the Twins dugout, Gardenhire shook his head in amazement. "We've got some pretty good pitchers out there. I mean, it's not like we're throwing Double-A guys out there," he said. "We're throwing our best bullpen guys. And we just couldn't get it done today. You've got to tip your hat to the other side over there. Our bullpen's been as good as anybody's all year long and we couldn't stop them. Two nights in a row, we just couldn't stop them."
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski helped four different Twins relievers strategize what to do to bring an end to an inning that for the Twins seemed as interminable as it was excruciating.
"It's a shame because we'd battled back. We scored off their unscoreable bullpen and we had the lead. We battled. Once it got rolling in the seventh inning, we tried everything -- different pitches, different pitchers. It just didn't seem to work," Pierzynski said.
By the time the seventh inning did finally end, it was all over but the shouting. Although, the shouting never really stopped in Anaheim. The Angels lost the first game in this best-of-seven series, then beat the Twins four straight times.
Joe Mays, who was the winning pitcher in game one, says the Twins were loose rather than tense after starting the series with a victory. "I think after that everybody kind of relaxed a little bit. Then they took the next two right from us. And it made it a little tough. I think guys might have tensed up a little bit. But today, it was balls to the wall. We had nothing to lose. They had us backed into a corner and we went out there and tried our best. It's just, today wasn't our day."
When it was over, the Twins tried to ease the bitterness of the loss by taking note of how sweet the 2002 season was.
That was the approach taken by team president Jerry Bell. "We had a good year. We can't forget that. There's only four teams playing today and we're one of them. So, I think that's what I'll remember. We'll carry this into next year. And we still have a young team. We'll be there next year, we have a good chance."
This was the Twins best season and first playoff appearance since their last World Series title in 1991. It came in a year when the team nearly became extinct. A court ruling upholding their lease at the Metrodome foiled Major League Baseball's plan to downsize by eliminating the Twins and Montreal Expos.
After winning the central division and reaching the American League's Championship Series, Pierzynski says the Twins have no need to apologize.
"It was a long season. It was great season as a team. We played well and we didn't give up. We have nothing to hang our heads about. It's just a shame it had to end this way," he said.
A Major League Baseball season is an odyssey that begins with spring training in February and continues through October's playoffs and World Series. Every day along the way players share games, practices, meals, flights, and hotels with one another.
This was a coming-of-age season for the Twins' 26-year-old rightfielder, Dustan Mohr. He says his strongest memories of the year will be of sharing the battles and the fun with his teammates.
"We knew in spring training we were capable. It's a special thing to be part of -- as young as we are and as good a group of guys as we have. The hardest part is not losing, it's the disappointment that I know we all feel together right now. Because we worked so hard to get to this point and it just didn't work out for us. But we'll be back again next year," Mohr said.
Leftfielder Jacque Jones plans to apply his memories of this year in future baseball seasons. "I'm going to remember all the things that we accomplished and the situations that we were in. And I'm going to remember it as a learning experience."
There's a consensus among the Twins that they'll be wiser for this year's experience, but it's not easy for them to specify just what it is they learned. Even their manager, Gardenhire, has trouble with that, though.
"I'll have to sit back and think about those questions. Right now, you don't feel like you learned a whole hell of a lot because we got beat. But I know we learned something. We got some experience. Everybody talks about experience, we got it. We got experience. We got past the Oakland A's, which was pretty good," said Gardenhire.
Upsetting the A's to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs was the highlight of the season for several of the Twins, who seemed to thrive on the idea that they were not expected to win. That motivation may be diminished next year, as baseball's leading authorities adjust their expectations of the Twins.
But firstbaseman Doug Mientkiewicz is already anticipating the team will again have trouble getting its due respect.
"I'm sure they'll just say that we're in the weakest division, we should win it. But that was a big part of us beating Oakland, man, was not just for us but for our division. To say, 'Y'know what? There are some good teams in our division, too.' And we took care of that. This can only help us. We got a taste. We know how to react now. It's not going to be new to us anymore. And hopefully it'll bring us all together," Mientkiewicz said.
The Angels are champions of the American League for the first time in their 41-year history. They'll represent the league in the World Series against either the San Francisco Giants or the Saint Louis Cardinals of the National League.