The 10 Greatest Twins Moments in the Ron Gardenhire Era

Collin Kottke@CollinKottkeCorrespondent IIIMarch 15, 2013

The 10 Greatest Twins Moments in the Ron Gardenhire Era

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    It’s always fun to reminisce a little bit. 2013 might be the last season with Ron Gardenhire in the manager position, so now is a good time to look back at the best moments that have happened over the past 11 seasons.

    Six division titles, two AL MVPs, a two-time Cy Young award winner and a brand new stadium have all come to fruition during the Gardenhire regime. 2013 may hold a moment or two for this list or it might just hold a couple for a worst-of list.

    But until the 2013 season unfolds, let’s sit back, enjoy and see how many obvious moments I missed!

Francisco Liriano’s No-Hitter: May 3, 2011

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    The no-hitter has become commonplace in Major League Baseball over the past couple years, but their memorable if one of your own hurlers does it. Most people didn’t have money on Francisco Liriano joining the no-hitter parade, but he did.

    Liriano had one of the most interesting no-hitters by also issuing six walks in the ballgame. Obviously, no walks is a much bigger feat, but six free passes does take off a little of the accomplishment.

    It was the first Twins no-no since Eric Milton on Sept. 11, 1999 and the only no-no of the Ron Gardenhire era.

Avoided Contraction: May 26, 2006

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    Remember back when the Twins and the Expos were supposed to be contracted? Oh, those were the days! Bud Selig really got his way with both teams still being in existence 12 years after targeting the two as teams to be knocked off.

    Sure, the Expos became the Washington Nationals, but they’re still around with a sparkling new ballpark, just like the Minnesota Twins with their own magnificent Target Field.

    Narrowing down the fight against contraction isn’t easy to do, but the most memorable moment from the fight was when then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the bill featuring new stadium funding into law on the field before a game against the Seattle Mariners on May 26, 2006.

Jim Thome’s 600th Home Run: Aug. 15, 2011

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    Not many players have hit 600 home runs; only eight men have and Jim Thome hit No. 600 in a Twins uniform. Just a year earlier, he surpassed Twins icon Harmon Killebrew on the all-time home run list by belting two out in a game, and also that’s how he hit 600.

    In Detroit, Thome belted home run No. 599 in the sixth inning and right away in the next inning he hit No. 600.

    Thome won’t make the Hall of Fame wearing a Twins cap, but he was a fan favorite in Minnesota and did something few men have while wearing a Twins uniform. 

A.J. Pierzynski Trade: Nov. 14, 2003

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    I know many Twins fans don’t hold A.J, Pierzynski to the highest of regards, but he was a very serviceable catcher for the ball club. A nice bat and a good glove made him a Twins All-Star representative in 2002. That all being said, the A.J. trade was one of the best moves in team history.

    A.J. was due for a big payday, which he got in San Francisco. In A.J.’s one year in San Fran, he made $3.5 million, but Terry Ryan saw that coming and traded the hot catcher for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser.

    Boof Bonser never really resulted in much. He hung around the bigs with the Twins for three years, only winning 18 games in 96 appearances with a 5.18 ERA.

    Francisco Liriano is the best thing that never happened for the Twins. Liriano was a master in his rookie season, but needed Tommy John surgery and never came back to that dominance. He showed flashes but he ultimately was more frustrating than promising. He gave enough to the Twins to be a positive out of the trade.

    The real steal of the deal was the acquisition of Joe Nathan. He came up as a starter in the Giants system in 1999 but never really panned out,  after going back to the minors he was brought back up in 2002 as a reliever and found success. No one could see what was going to happen.

    In his first season in the Minnesota bullpen, Nathan converted 44 saves and was an All-Star. In his career with the Twins, Nathan converted 260 saves (a team record), made four All-Star teams, finished top five in Cy Young voting twice and cemented his place as the franchise’s best closer.

    Not to mention the A.J. trade also paved the way for Joe Mauer to make the big-league squad.

    So not only did this trade bring in the infamous Boof name and one of the most interesting starting pitching cases there has ever been, but it also gave the Twins their franchise closer and made way for one of the best catchers in the game.

Joe Mauer Winning First Batting Title

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    Joe Mauer winning his first batting title can’t be narrowed down to a single day, but it was a great moment for Mauer, the Twins and Major League Baseball. Mauer broke down some catcher barriers with the feat.

    Before Mauer won the batting titles, catchers weren’t really asked to do much in the sense of batting average, but now they are depended upon more in that department.

    Since winning the 2006 AL batting crown with an average of .347, Mauer has won two additional titles. Over in the National League, Buster Posey has also won a batting title while mostly being behind the dish.

2002 ALDS Victory: Oct. 6, 2002

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    The Twins have won six AL Central Division Championships during the Ron Gardenhire reign, so the day the Twins actually had some playoff success had to make the list.

    The Twins were not favored to beat the Moneyball 2002 Oakland A’s and it didn’t look like they would right away. Minnesota won Game 1 in Oakland, but then went on to drop the next two including one at the Dome. They came back to win the final game at the Dome and the final game of the series in Oakland behind the arm of Brad Radke.

    Radke only gave up one run in six and two-thirds innings and that was a solo home run to Ray Durham in the bottom of the third. It was a close game throughout with the Twins only holding a 2-1 lead heading into the ninth when they exploded for three runs behind a two-run A.J. Pierzynski homer and a David Ortiz RBI double.

    It’s a good thing the Twins got those insurance runs because closer ‘Every Day’ Eddie Guardado came into the game and gave up a three-run jack to Mark Ellis. After that, though, Guardado shook it off and got the Twins out of it with the A’s leaving a runner on first.

    This was the last time the Twins ever won a playoff series. Eleven years ago. A shining moment to reflect upon, but it also shows the grime of lack of playoff success.

Johan Santana 17 K’s: Aug. 19, 2007

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    If you’ve never heard of Johan Santana, there are three things you need to know:

    -          He was dominant and one of the best pitchers in the league as a member of the Twins

    -          When he was traded from the Twins to the Mets, the Twins got nothing in return

    -          He hasn’t found nearly the success with the Mets that he had with the Twins

    Aug. 19, 2007, showed Johan at his best. Pitching at home against the Texas Rangers, Johan could not be denied. He pitched eight masterful innings, only giving up two hits (both to Sammy Sosa) and had 17 strikeouts.

    Johan didn’t have much run support on that day, a solo home run by Michael Cuddyer was the only run either team got across the plate. After eight innings, Santana handed the ball off to Joe Nathan, who converted the save and closed the book on one of the most memorable games in the Johan saga.

Last Day of 2006 Season: October 1, 2006

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    2006 looks really exciting on paper. The Twins had three All-Stars in Joe Mauer, Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano. Santana won the Cy Young award while winning the AL Triple Crown for wins, strikeouts and ERA.

    Justin Morneau won the AL MVP as the first Twin to win since 1977. Joe Mauer was the first AL catcher to win the batting title.

    In even more funnier facts, 2006 was Mike Redmond’s ‘Smell ‘Em’ campaign and the year White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen coined the Twins as the little piranhas.

    Not only did that all happen, but the Twins needed to work to win the AL Central. On July 26, the Twins were 8.5 back of the division-leading Tigers.

    Flash-forward to the last day of the regular season and the Twins needed a win and a Tiger loss to clinch the division. The Twins did their job beating the White Sox, 5-1 but they still needed some help.

    Almost all of the Metrodome crowd stayed under the Teflon sky and watched the Tigers/Royals game on the big screens. The Royals had lost 100 games that year, but swept the Tigers to end the season and when that final out was recorded, the crowd at the Dome went nuts and the players ran out on the field.

Opening of Target Field: April 12, 2010

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    It had been almost 30 years since the Twins were the host in an outdoor game. The memories of Memorial Stadium and the outdoor world had all faded away into the turf and Teflon roof of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

    April 12, 2010 would have made the list no matter what happened on that day, but the Twins winning 5-2 over the Red Sox also makes it that much better.

    Target Field also symbolizes that the Twins aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, letting the Twins fans forget all about that contraction thing. Not to mention, Twins fans got a really pretty stadium out of the deal.

Game 163: Oct. 6, 2009

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    Do you want to know what it feels like to be the center of the sports world? Just ask the Metrodome about Oct. 5 and 6 of 2009.

    On October 5, newly acquired Viking quarterback Brett Favre led the Vikings to a 30-23 victory over the rival Green Bay Packers. To make it more exciting, it was a Monday night game and Favre’s first game against the Packers where he threw three touchdowns and 271 yards.

    If that wasn’t dramatic enough for you, it was only the appetizer for one of the most memorable baseball games in recent memory: the tiebreaker for the American League Central title between the Detroit Tigers and the Minnesota Twins.

    In the top of the third, the Tigers got on the board first thanks to a Magglio Ordonez RBI single and a two-run homer by Miguel Cabrera. The Twins got a run on the board after an error by Tiger pitcher Rick Porcello let Twins third baseman Matt Tolbert scamper home, leaving the score Tigers 3, Twins 1 after three innings.

    The next run didn’t occur until the sixth when right fielder Jason Kubel belted a home run off of Porcello cutting the Tiger lead to a run. The Twins scored again the next inning when second baseman Nick Punto singled to lead off the inning and two batters later, shortstop Orlando Cabrera homered off Zach Miner. This gave the Twins a 4-3 lead after seven innings.

    The Twins had the ball in the hands of their reliable bullpen and their set-up man Matt Guerrier in the top of the eighth when it was quickly tied up by the Tigers courtesy of a Maggilo Ordonez solo jack.

    From then on the game just got more intense, leading to extra innings, where the teams traded runs in the 10th frame with a RBI double for Brandon Inge for the Tigers and an RBI single for Matt Tolbert. On the next play, Alexi Casilla tried to score on a Nick Punto liner to left but to no avail; it was 5-5 after 10 innings.

    The 12th is when the magic happened for the Twins. Fernando Rodney was on the hill for the Tigers and gave up a leadoff single to the speedy Carlos Gomez. Next up was Michael Cuddyer, who grounded out, but did his job and advanced Gomez to second.

    The Tigers then intentionally walked Delmon Young to get to Alexi Casilla; who came through with a clutch single, scoring Gomez and winning the Twins the AL Central Crown.

    It was one of the most memorable games in Twins history and a very appropriate way to close out the Metrodome…we’ll forget about what the Yankees did to the Twins in the Dome during the division series.